Happy 25th Birthday, Web: What Would We Do Without You?

April 30, 2018

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On April 30, 1993, “Informer” by Snow topped the Billboard charts, “Indecent Proposal” led the box office, and President Bill Clinton celebrated his 100th day in office.  However, it also marked a different type of cultural phenomena that quietly changed the way we live and work today. On this day in 1993, CERN put the World Wide Web software in the public domain.

So what, you ask?

Simply put, the World Wide Web (WWW or web to, well, all of us…) is a system that runs on the Internet. Invented decades ago by Tim Berners-Lee at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (known as CERN), the web was originally created so scientists around the world could share data more quickly. However when it became public it took on a life of its own, enabling the URLs and hyperlinks we use to share documents and resources around the world.

While today, the web and the internet are virtually synonymous, this was not the case in 1993. Outside of academic communities, few people knew what a server or browser or network was, let alone an “app.”  They definitely didn’t expect to hand over their pagers for smart phones that would enable them to download movie times and tickets in an instant.

Now we’re in a world where we can access millions of websites at the touch of a screen; where we can order pizza, book a hotel and schedule a meeting simultaneously and without speaking a word; where we can follow the everyday stories of our friends down the street as easily as near-strangers across the globe; and where we can read the news as it’s breaking through live pictures and videos from the site.

The FleishmanHillard technology practice has been talking about this milestone for a while. In analyzing its sweeping impact on the way we communicate, do business and generally interact with the world around us – we asked a few colleagues what it was like before this moment, and how it changed our worlds and industries.

Here are some anecdotes.

“I Remember When… As a journalist, we had to use phonebooks to track down people’s numbers and addresses (and pay phones to make calls from the field). I also remember the incessant chatter of the AP machine constantly typing out breaking news and stories – blanketing our newsroom in giant ribbons of paper. Thank God for the internet.”

 

“I Remember When… The web launched. I was in junior high. My family did not have a computer at my home as they were still pretty expensive for recreational usage, so my access to the Internet was limited to when I was in school. Get this: I never even had an email address until a few years later when I needed one to look for a job!”

 

“I Remember When… My college roommate, circa 2008, was packing to study abroad when she paused, furrowed her brow and asked, in earnest, ‘Will France have the Internet?’”

 

“I Remember When… I tried downloading a song (Kelis’ “Milkshake,” of all things) from LimeWire while staying at hotel and ended up getting a $150 charge for using the hotel’s dial-up internet. I also remember having to run a really long telephone cord from the wall outlet to my computer to play Neopets after my parents would tell me to go to bed.”

 

“I Remember When… I would run home from school to make sure my Neopets were fed. Neopets was a fun community where you could chat with friends from around the world and one-up them with your tricked out pet.”

 

I Remember When… I finally had a tool (MySpace) that made it easy to schedule my friend group’s biweekly meetups at Jellybeans (the local roller rink hotspot). Before that, I had to awkwardly call their landline phones.”

 

“I Remember When… I accidentally leaked my brother was engaged on social media. He got phone calls from all of my aunts as he was breaking the news to my parents (luckily not before!). They say social spreads like wildfire – lesson learned.”

 

So let’s just take a moment to realize that had the events on April 30, 1993 never taken place, we would live in a very different world from the one of today. It’s nearly impossible to overstate the profound impact the web has made on our society. It’s truly changed the world as we know it.

Happy birthday, WWW.

 

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