The Web at 20: It Changed Everything

Happy Birthday, Interwebz! How far you've come. See, if the Internet drew its first breath in the fall of 1969, it took its first steps toward its potential on August 6, 1991. Took awhile there. But it was this first step that was just the beginning.

In the Beginning

The World Wide Web, or the internet that we now know and love, started off as project by British computer scientist and theorist Tim Berners-Lee while he worked at CERN. It was there that he built the first website on a NeXTSTEP computer—think a Mac, but really old and really ugly—running the very first browser, appropriately named WorldWideWeb. The site didn't have any bells and whistles. No ads or banners. Just links, little nuggets of text that make a database approach to learning and sharing ideas—really, the meat of what anyone on the web does to this day—possible.

Web 1.0

By '92, Berners-Lee had uploaded the very first picture to the web (don't they look charming?), but it was still pretty far from reaching critical mass. It was in 1993, when he and CERN officially announced that the web would be open to everyone, that the games really began. Over the next several years, people started flocking to browsers like Mosaic, Netscape Navigator, and Internet Explorer to start browsing all these new sites. Anyone with some HTML know-how could make a website about anything they wanted. Somewhere out in California, Larry Page and Sergey Brin were working on the first beta of Google. Meanwhile, more and more people started using services like Prodigy, Compuserve, and AOL to get online. Remember all those install disks? And dial-up?? Yeah, good times.

It was also during this mid-to-late-90s boom that the Internet started turning into a big fat bubble. Businesspeople were attracted to the web to make quick and easy money. People invested like crazy, resulting on a lot of publicly traded dot-coms entering the market. But it wouldn't last; by late 2000, most of the companies tanked. The bubble burst.

Web 2.0 and Beyond

Out of the ashes of the dot-com era came Web 2.0. The age that we still live in. And the hallmarks of this age? Blogging and social networks. This is the age of participation. When anyone can join MySpace. And then leave MySpace for the more spartan and user-friendly Facebook. Err.. And when everyone can talk about leaving Facebook for the more spartan-er and user-friendlier Google+, even though it's basically Work Facebook. At present, we live in an age of media saturation, wherein our very lives are hyperlinked. Hell, it's also why you're here. And, as much as we love it—as much as we find it keeps us connected and brings us closer—we still grapple with the kind of closeness all this new stuff engenders and how scary it can get.

But business is booming. There's money in the web now. There isn't a business or governmental entity worth their salt that isn't online in some fashion. CNN's iReport, their citizen journalism project that brought ordinary people into the news process, just turned five years old. That's just a start, and it wouldn't be possible without the internet. We walk around with it in our pockets, connected to things like Foursquare and Instagram. And we forget about it. Truly, no change is so great and so complete until it's taken for granted.

Put it this way. The web has changed the world. It will continue to change the world. And it's barely out of college. Something to think about. [The Next Web]


You can keep up with Kwame Opam, the author of this post, on Twitter, Facebook, and occasionally Google+.