Happy birthday, World Wide Web

Today marks the 25th birthday of the World Wide Web. It was 25 years ago that a young English computer scientist, (Sir) Tim Burners-Lee, presented a technical paper proposing the system. ‘Vague, but exciting’ was the response.

That makes the web around 15 months younger than myself. Which is crazy because the web has literally change the world in that time.

The first ever web page is still online. View the source code and you’ll notice that HTML hasn’t changed much in 20 years. I think that’s remarkable.

The idea of the web is relatively simple: documents, usually marked up using HTML, are linked together using hyperlinks. But what makes it so powerful is its low barrier to entry: anyone with a computer and an internet connection can contribute. HTML is really easy to learn. Spend a small amount and you can buy server space to host your own website. Or, if you don’t want to build your own website, you could signup for a Twitter account, a Tumblr blog or even edit a Wikipedia entry. The point is anyone can contribute to the web.

That has made the web a truly fantastic resource. 25 years ago we used Encyclopedia’s to find obscure bits of knowledge. 15 years ago we were using Encyclopedia Britannica CD-roms. Now, we just Google it. And we can access it all on our phone. The sum of all human knowledge in our pocket. If that had been said 25 years ago, no one would have believed you.

I’m worried that we’re living in the golden age of the web. The openness that makes the web so wonderful is under threat. Governments are showing a willingness to invade our online privacy. ISP’s are beginning to throttle services in an attempt to make more money.

What happens in the next 5 to 10 years is crucial. I just hope I’m here in 25 years, working on an open web where I can write and publish whatever comes to mind. That’s not guaranteed.

Here’s to the best invention of my life time.