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The World Wide Web Turns 25

A retrospective as the Web hits the quarter-century mark.

March 16, 2014

It's difficult to imagine life without the Web, even though a large majority of Americans spent part or most of their lives without it. But it was only 25 years ago this week that British computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee published the proposal that is widely considered to be the birth of the World Wide Web.

When Berners-Lee published "Information Management: A Proposal" at the European Organization for Nuclear Research, he set out to achieve a practical goal: to make the troves of information at the institute, known as CERN, more accessible to the scientists there by using hypertext to share information. Instead, he touched off a revolution.

Today, more than 2.7 billion people around the world acess the Web. Here is a look back at the Word Wide Web's meteoric rise since 1989.

1990: Berners-Lee develops the first Web page and server, naming it the WorldWideWeb, on a NeXT computer for scientists at CERN.

1992: A photo of the musical group Les Horribles Cernettes, featuring the wives and administrative assistants of CERN scientists, is the first photo posted to the Web. Jean Armour Polly popularizes the phrase "surfing the Internet."

1993: On April 30, CERN makes the WorldWideWeb software available to the public. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology's student newspaper, The Techis the first newspaper to develop a Web presence. In December, The New York Times publishes its first article about the Web, in which the print paper describes Mosaic, one of the earliest Internet browsers, as a "map to the buried treasures of the Information Age." 

1994: Netscape—the brainchild of Marc Andreessen and Jim Clark—launches. Yahoo also gets its start this year, and the first banner ad appears. By the end of the year, 11 million Americans are online, as are the White House and United Nations. Berners-Lee founds the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) to create worldwide standards for the Web.

1995: Microsoft introduces the new Web browser, Internet Explorer, setting off a "browser war" with Netscape. Jeff Bezos and Pierre Omidyar touch off the e-commerce revolution with the launches of Amazon and eBay. John Wainwright orders the first book off Amazon: Douglas Hofstadter's Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies: Computer Models of the Fundamental Mechanisms of Thought. Omidyar is baffled by one of the first items auctioned off over eBay: a broken laser pointer. Quietly, Craig Newmark starts Craigslist as a way to advertise events in San Francisco.

1996: Hotmail becomes one of the first Web mail services. An animated baby dancing to "Hooked on a Feeling" captivates the country, becoming one of the earliest viral videos.

1997: Netflix opens for business, mailing DVDs to subscribers. John Barger originates the term "Web log"—known today simply as a blog—on his online journal, Robot Wisdom, which chronicles everything from James Joyce to artificial intelligence.

1998: Sergey Brin and Larry Page launch Google, setting up shop in Susan Wojcicki's garage. Pew Research finds that 20 percent of Americans are getting their news via the Web, up 16 percentage points in three years.

1999: One year after the Digital Millenium Copyright Act becomes law, 19-year-olds Shawn Fanning and Sean Parker launch the file-sharing service Napster, to the chagrin of music executives but the delight of college students. The Internet Corporations for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) takes over management of the Web's domain names.

2000: On March 10, NASDAQ reaches a high of 5,048.62. By the end of the year, it is down more than 72 percent—the dot-com bubble has burst. AOL buys Time Warner for a whopping $165 million. The New York Times predicts the future convergence of old and new media.

2001: Jim Wales creates Wikipedia. A federal judge shuts down Napster. Google awes users with the launch of Google Earth. Americans are spending an average of 83 minutes online per session.

2003: The social-media revolution begins with the introduction of Myspace, and Apple debuts its Web browser, Safari. Britney Spears and Harry Potter are the two most popular searches on Google. 

2004: Google moves into Web mail with the launch of Gmail. Mark Zuckerberg creates in his Harvard dorm, initially only available to college students. 

2005: Reddit is founded. YouTube debuts with a video posted by cofounder Jawed Karim about the awesomeness of elephants' trunks. The number of people connected to the Internet worldwide tops 1 billion, and broadband overtakes dial-up connections.

2006: Jack Dorsey inaugurates the launch of Twitter with the tweet: "just setting up my twttr." Republican Sen. Ted Stevens is lampooned by the media after describing the Internet as a "series of tubes" during a hearing on net neutrality.

2007: Chris Messina proposes the first hashtag (#barcamp). Steve Jobs unveils the iPhone. "Charlie Bit My Finger" becomes a YouTube video sensation, and remains the fifth most popular YouTube video of all time. 

2008: Google launches Chrome. Barack Obama's presidential campaign makes savvy use of the Web. More than half the U.S. population used participated in the presidential campaign via the Web, according to Pew Research. 

2009: Twitter breaks news of the U.S. Airways crash into the Hudson River, revolutionizing how news is reported and consumed. The "Craigslist Killer" sends chills down America's spine.


2010: Facebook reaches 400 million active users. Pinterest and Instagram are founded. Wikileaks upends the U.S. intelligence and diplomatic community with the release of thousands of classified documents.

2011: Twitter and Facebook are used to organize the revolutions of the Arab Spring. The Egyptian government responds to protests by unplugging the Internet.

2012: The e-commerce market tops $1 trillion, according to eMarketer. Internet companies flex their power with a widespread Internet blackout to protest the Stop Online Piracy Act. President Obama's tweet declaring victory in the 2012 presidential election gets more than 800,000 retweets—making his tweet the most retweeted ever. South Korean performer Psy's "Gangnam Style" becomes the most watched YouTube video ever, with nearly 2 billion views to date.

2013: Eighty-seven percent of Americans are connected to the Internet, according to Pew Research. Twitter hits 143,199 tweets per second, a new record, during an airing of the animated film Castle in the Sky in Japan. Miley Cyrus is the most searched person on Google. Americans are spending on average more than five hours per day online, almost double the amount of time in 2010.

2014: The U.S. cedes remaining control of the Internet, partially a result of the damaging effects of ongoing revelations about the U.S. government's surveillance program.

Sources: Pew Research Internet Project, San Jose Mercury News, and Evolution of the Web

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