back to article 25 years ago: Sir Tim Berners-Lee builds world's first website

There are just under a billion web domains registered in the world today, and over four billion webpages, by some estimates. We've come a long way: it all started to come together just 25 years ago in a small office at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN). On December 20, 1990, a Fellow at CERN, Tim Berners- …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What is this "web domain" you speak of and where do I register it?

    /snarky /coat

    1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Yes. And URI scheme names are canonically in lowercase, so it should be "the http: in URLs", not "the HTTP:" as the article has it.

      (And, arguably, it should be "in URIs", though HTTP URIs are always URLs,1 and there's some sentiment in the W3C and IETF URI working groups that we should deprecate the URI abbreviation and simply use the term "URL", as the URL/URN distinction is not widely recognized. And many careful writers would prefer that "http:" in the phrase above be enclosed in quotation marks, since we're talking about the literal string per se and not the URI scheme it names.)

      You might think a tech site would go to a bit of trouble to get the technical details correct. Unless you're a regular reader, of course.

      'tis a good day for snark indeed.

      1More precisely, they're always syntactically URLs, even though they're not always semantically URLs. That is, some times they do not in fact "locate" a resource, but are used purely as names. It's a largely-pointless distinction only a computer-scientist-philosopher could love. I like it a lot.

  2. Pompous Git Silver badge

    To this date he's never posted a cat picture online

    Maybe he thinks there's already enough pussy on the web...

  3. Gene Cash Silver badge

    I remember when it was the "World Wide Wait" because transfer speed was so slow, watching a page load was pretty close to watching paint dry.

    I remember seeing a PC struggling with NCSA Mosaic in the uni labs and thinking "this'll never fly"

    As usual, I've kept my 100% score of being wrong on major things.

    1. Stuart 22

      "I remember when it was the "World Wide Wait" because transfer speed was so slow, watching a page load was pretty close to watching paint dry."

      Re-live the experience by turning your ad-blocker off ...

    2. Stoneshop Silver badge

      NCSA Mosaic

      Hmmmyes, on a VAX/VMS with DECWindows, 19" BW monitor. No cat pictures then, and just the occasional moving GIF.

    3. Tom 7 Silver badge

      When I read about this idea

      and ISDN line would put you in debt for life and a 10meg hard drive was a lot less.

      I'm not sure where the phrase 'never under estimate the bandwidth of a lorry load of tapes' came from but the internet didnt seem viable,

      Having said that I had a 2.4Gbit fibre optic 't switch' for $5 rejected cos the company decide it didnt do that sort of thing any more and now they pay a fortune for slower heaps of shit.

      1. Crazy Operations Guy

        " 'never under estimate the bandwidth of a lorry load of tapes'"

        Andrew S Tanenbaum in his book 'Computer Networks'.

        The exact quote is: "Never underestimate the bandwidth of a station wagon full of tapes hurtling down the highway."

        1. Yes Me Silver badge

          Re: " 'never under estimate the bandwidth of a lorry load of tapes'"

          Andy got that from CERN, where it was literally what we did.

        2. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

          Re: " 'never under estimate the bandwidth of a lorry load of tapes'"

          Andrew S Tanenbaum in his book 'Computer Networks'.

          Specifically the final paragraph of 2.2.1, "Magnetic Media". Page 57 in the second edition (1989).

          The book's older than the WWW and still relevant. Of course things like the Nyquist Limit don't go out of fashion.

  4. Flywheel Silver badge


    I'm still running a gopher server - no ads, great speed. Still not convinced about WWW though..

    1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: Gopher

      You should give WAIS a try.

  5. Mark Simon

    The best thing about the Web …

    … is that the whole thing is open. HTTP, HTML and all of the protocols that underlie the web are free for everyone to use, to analyse and to be involved in. Even the networking protocols which carry all of the traffic.

    It’s worth noting while modern IT companies make truck loads of cash charging fees and suing everybody else how much we have all benefited from a free and open Internet.

    1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: The best thing about the Web …

      "modern IT companies" also gave us most of those protocols used in the "free and open Internet". Yes, some - such as HTTP - came from research institutions and academia; but a great deal of it was the result of work done at for-profit organizations, and paid for by a combination of government grants, investors, and profits from commercial IT products.

      It's the result of a huge and diverse community of contributors. (And a great many efforts went nowhere or flamed out after a brief period of use, too.) There's no single, simple economic system that produced the modern Internet.

  6. kmac499

    Altogether Now

    Happy Birthday to you

    Happy Birthday to you

    Happy Birthday Dear http://www.whatever

    Happeeee Birthday toooooo you.

    Just another example of my long held belief, that although IT stuff is built on the shoulders of all our predecessors. Real advances are made by individuals or very very small teams.

    1. ArthurHH
      Thumb Up

      Re: Altogether Now

      @Altogether Now

      "Real advances are made by individuals or very very small teams."

      As are all things useful.

      My long held belief over the span of 50 years in IT.

      As a project manager my boss contributing more headcount was a bad thing, slowing the project down rather than accelerating progress.

  7. Graham Marsden

    As soon as I read the subject line...

    ... I was thinking "Yeah, but how long before the first kitten pic was posted?"

    (Followed by "I bet it was after the first porn appeared...!")

    1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: As soon as I read the subject line...

      I don't believe anyone's identified the first, but general consensus is that the "cat macro" phenomenon became widespread in 2005. So we're somewhere around the tenth anniversary of Caturday and Lolcats.

  8. Hawkeye Pierce

    Over 4 billion web pages?

    Well yes, there are over 4 billion web pages...

    ... but as Google index over 40 billion and they only index a small percentage of the Internet, I'm not sure what you were actually trying to say?

    1. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

      Re: Over 4 billion web pages?

      I wondered about that - an average of 4 pages per website seems a tad on the low side...

      1. Sykobee

        Re: Over 4 billion web pages?

        Oddly enough, with the rise of single-page javascript web applications the number of "pages" per website is dropping over time... although the amount of information shown via them continues to rise.

        Indeed the biggest barrier of single page web apps is the fact that a full page reload makes it easy to cycle even more adverts into our eyes. Which means reloading loads of mostly-unchanging content each page reload and worse, reinitialising a load of javascript.

        For example, this website could be a single page webapp (online article viewer) with most top-links being filters, and the stuff on the right being direct links to articles (again, presented by the webapp). The only other pages would be the mostly static stuff linked in the footer.

        1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

          Re: Over 4 billion web pages?

          with the rise of single-page javascript web applications the number of "pages" per website is dropping over time

          Yes, one problem is that the metric for "web page" is not well-defined. Static pages are easy enough to count (conceptually), but as you say they're increasingly rare. Do you count distinct URLs that produce distinct resources, as measured by their output? Even if you screen out obvious "error pages", though, there are link-farming sites that generate pages for any URL; you have to screen that crap out too. And then you have to deal with the dynamic content (like ads and "personalized" content) that differs between retrievals of the same resource, as named by a given URL.

          So really all these "X pages on the web" figures are just pulled out of the air.

          In any case, what does it matter? Milton is said to have read every book available to him in English, French, Latin, and Hebrew (I think that's the list). No one today can possibly read a sizable fraction of all the web pages available in a single language. There's more out there than any one of us will ever see. Exactly how much is irrelevant for most purposes.

          Now, if you're, say, trying to archive the web, it's of some interest (as are all those issues above with dynamic content). But for ordinary punters? Just make up a big number. I say there are 46827356492 web pages, as of right ... now.

  9. ZSn

    Straight glass or handle?

    As a student I was working just down the corridor from him in December that year. I remember one of the computer students going on about how a new service to rival ftp and gopher was being created. I ignored her and concentrated on my experiment and the beers from restaurant 1 (is *that* barman still there?). Another world shattering event that I managed to be near and completely ignore.

    He may have wanted only text - but the first thing that went on it was pornography. The first site that I actually saw was over the shoulder of a high energy physicist a year later and it was showing a lady doing something unmentionable with a beer glass - prompting the comment from a fellow female student: 'at least she didn't try that with a glass with a handle on it'.

    1. Little Mouse

      Re: Straight glass or handle?

      a lady doing something unmentionable with a beer glass

      Was she drinking Fosters?

    2. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

      Re: Straight glass or handle?

      And Star Trek pics. Hard to say which was uploaded first, but in the early 90ies at least 90% of the pics on 'the net' were porn or Star Trek (and a few that were both, IIRC). The cat pictures are so 'Web 2.0'...

  10. David Webb


    One man, one idea, one project, billions of people benefiting. Sir Tim should be awarded a Nobel prize every single year for the rest of his life.

    1. Sykobee

      Re: Goodness

      Yeah, but he also enabled the Daily Mail Comments Pages.

    2. Yes Me Silver badge

      Re: Goodness

      Actually, two men (TimBL and Robert Cailliau), and iirc a woman actually wrote the first browser.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    I was an BBS and Gopher aficiando, and started seeing posts raving about WWW. The first time I saw it I realized Berners-Lee had make VonNuemans dream come true.

  12. thomas k

    To this date he's never posted a cat picture online

    But, but, but ... you mean, that's *not* why he invented it?!

  13. alexmcm

    Good Advice from the original website

    Put up some data

    There are many ways of doing this. The web needs both raw data -- fresh hypertext or old plain text files, or smart servers giving views of existing databases. See more details , etiquette.

    Suggest someone else does

    Maybe you know a system which it would be neat to have on the web. How about suggesting to the person involved that they put up a W3 server?


    If only I could think of a neat idea. In plain text obviously. Then this W3 thing might take off.

  14. Dr Paul Taylor

    Why did he have to invent

    such a verbose, unreadable language as HTML that was incapable of representing mathematics when he was surrounded by physicists who were already by that time writing all of their papers in the far superior language LaTeX?

    1. Crazy Operations Guy

      Re: Why did he have to invent

      How is HTML unreadable? As far as languages go, its probably the most readable one out there. JavaScript can be a bit ugly, but its no worse than C++, .net, or PHP.

    2. MacroRodent Silver badge

      Re: Why did he have to invent

      LaTeX? At the time, formatting a few ages of LaTeX into DVI took several minutes on a VAX (never mind printing it). Presumable Sir Tim wanted something simpler to make the system interactive. I am also guessing he wanted to be compatible with SGML, which at the time was touted as the final solution to documentation problems. HTML syntax is based on it. The earlier HTML specifications actually formally represented the language as an application of SGML, which is (or was) a kind of general toolkit for specifying document formats.

      1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

        Re: Why did he have to invent

        The earlier HTML specifications actually formally represented the language as an application of SGML

        HTML up through version 4 is an SGML application. It has two serializations: a straight SGML one, and an XML one. And since XML is an SGML application, both of those are SGML applications.

        HTML 5 has its own serialization, which is not an SGML application AFAIK, and an XML serialization, which perforce is an SGML application.

        There were a number of good reasons to make HTML a (quite simple) SGML application. SGML is an international standard, and was back when HTML was invented. Numerous SGML parsers existed, for a wide range of platforms. It has a long history, evolving as it did from IBM's GML, which in turn was inspired by DEC RUNOFF (which also inspired UNIX's roff). It's easy to use and forgiving, though unfortunately that led to a vast corpus of invalid and poorly-written HTML content. It has mechanisms for precise specification and machine validation, but casual practitioners don't have to know about them. It's extensible and flexible.

        As someone else pointed out above, LaTeX, despite its advantages for text and mathematical layout, is much more resource-intensive and slower; it also was overkill on the relatively low-resolution graphical displays of the time, to say nothing of text-mode browsers. Decent LaTeX output sometimes requires changes to the input - no one wants to throw together a quick web page and get "overfull hbox" errors.

        As it is, we can be grateful that TBL didn't use Display Postscript.

        1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

          Re: Why did he have to invent

          I'll also add that for mathematics on web pages we now have MathML and TeX mathematical typesetting via Javascript, so that particular problem is pretty well settled. It seems to me that most sites these days that want to typeset mathematics just use MathJax, which lets you use TeX $...$ notation or MathML or some other things. That's convenient for page authors and for people posting UGC (comments and such).

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    From the CERN FAQ

    "In the long term, when there is a really large mass of data out there, with deep interconnections, then there is some really exciting work to be done on automatic algorithms to make multi-level searches. "

    Nomination for understatement of the last few decades.

    The rest of the CERN site is interesting reading as well, brings back memories...

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The first website outside of CERN

    Came up on an IBM mainframe and was written in Rexx (according to Sir Tim's book).

  17. Lexxy

    Ahead of the curve in so many ways

    Tim knew the potential on his hands. A few notes from his prototype website (


    "Things to be done"

    Form processing

    If you can edit hypertext, you edit a hypertext form and return it. To be able to submit a form back to the server would allow special search patterns, administrative processing, electronic voting, ...

    Search engines

    Now the web of data and indexes exists, some really smart intelligent algorithms ("knowbots?") could run on it. Recursive index and link tracing, Just think...


    "Just think" indeed Tim! I can't help but read that and feel a proud sense of nostalgia.

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