Power Players

The Web turns 30 today — this is the feedback its inventor got when he pitched the idea to his boss in 1989

Sir Tim Berners-Lee inventor of the World Wide Web waves to photographers as he arrives at Guildhall to receive an Honorary Freedom of the City of London award on September 24, 2014 in London, England.
Peter Macdiarmid | Getty Images

The World Wide Web is 30 years old today.

Three decades ago — on March 12, 1989, to be exact — British computer scientist Sir Tim Berners-Lee submitted his proposal for what would become the World Wide Web to his boss at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN).

Today, Berners-Lee is considered an internet pioneer. However, the feedback that Berners-Lee received from his boss for the revolutionary idea in 1989 was not quite as exuberant as you might expect.

"Vague, but exciting…" was the simple, and somewhat understated, hand-written reaction scribbled on Berners-Lee's proposal by his boss at CERN at the time, Mike Sendall.

Happily, Sendall approved Berners-Lee's proposal and, a year later, Sendall gave Berners-Lee permission to buy a high-performance NeXT computer (built by Steve Jobs, after he left Apple, and designed for technical and scientific work) that would become the world's first web server.

Berners-Lee had submitted his idea in a paper titled "Information Management: A Proposal," in which he argued for the creation of an information management system he described as "a large hypertext database with typed links." The idea was to offer universal access to use the then-nascent internet, not just to communicate, but to store and access vast troves of online documents and data.

Internet has reached a tipping point, says creator of the web
Internet has reached a tipping point, says creator of the web

While the internet itself already existed in 1989 — in the form of large networks of connected computers — Berners-Lee's proposal is now credited as the first step toward the World Wide Web as we know it today. The "web" (as it's now commonly called) refers to the way we typically navigate the internet by clicking on hypertext to visit websites and access various types of data online.

Berners-Lee built the world's first website in 1991, using the same NeXT computer to create a page simply titled "World Wide Web," featuring links to additional pages with information on himself, his team of scientists and the history of their project, among other things.

The website's landing page described the World Wide Web as "a wide-area hypermedia information retrieval initiative aiming to give universal access to a large universe of documents." Today, we just call it "the web."

Meanwhile, Berners-Lee himself has become fairly outspoken about the direction the web has taken in recent years. On Monday, he published a letter saying the web is no longer a "force for good" and laying out three "sources of dysfunction" on the modern internet. Those include malicious online behavior like government hacking and online bullying, as well as companies' pursuit of advertising revenue that can result in the spread of misinformation and the exploitation of users' personal information.

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