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Tim Berners-Lee (b. 1955)
The World Wide Web transformed the Internet from an academic curiosity into a dominating technology touching the lives of virtually every person on the planet. Although variations of the web’s key elements previously existed, the explosive growth of the web was due almost entirely to Tim Berners-Lee’s vision of a worldwide information commons, combined with the web browser and web server that he created while working at CERN, the European Laboratory for Particle Physics.
The web combined the ideas of hypertext—text with links—and electronic publishing, with a critical twist: the information publisher and the reader didn’t have to be on the same computer. Instead, individual web documents (as they were called at the time) were designed to be downloaded over the internet using the Hypertext Transport Protocol (HTTP) that Berners-Lee invented. The documents themselves were designed to be authored in a relatively simple subset of the Standard Generalized Markup Language (SGML) that Berners-Lee also invented, called the Hypertext Markup Language (HTML). Unlike other hypertext systems, HTML links were embedded directly in the text of a document. For inventing the World Wide Web, Berners-Lee was awarded the 2016 A.M. Turing Award.
The web was successful because, unlike other efforts at the time, it had few technical or legal encumbrances. Any computer connected to the internet could run a web server, which any internet user could reach by downloading and running a web browser. As a result, organizations and individuals could publish information to the global community without having to ask anyone’s permission.
The web became the internet’s second killer app (after email), and it soon far exceeded the first. Indeed, by the mid-1990s, people and businesses were connecting to the internet so that they could access the web, and companies were being formed for the singular purpose of creating and operating websites. Within 10 years, the web had become the greatest single engine of education, communication, and wealth creation that the world had ever seen. Nothing would ever be the same again.
SEE ALSO First Mass-Market Web Browser (1992)
Through the World Wide Web, people and data are constantly connected, revolutionizing how the world communicates and exchanges information.