May 09, 2011, 10:12 AM — We often consider 21 to be a coming-of-age year, and the World Wide Web's impending 21st birthday will be no different.
The Web will officially hit adulthood this coming Christmas, which will mark 21 years since computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee first initiated communications between an HTTP client and a Web server, thus marking the dawn of the so-called "information age" that defined the 1990s. The linking of hypertext with transmission control protocol is now so routine that we forget how revolutionary it really was at the time. Even Berners-Lee, in a question-and-answer session posted on the World Wide Web Consortium in 2008, seemed to downplay his own role in creating such a world-changing technology.
"Lots of hypertext systems had been made which just worked on one computer, and didn't link all the way across the world," he wrote. "I just had to take the hypertext idea and connect it to the TCP and DNS ideas and -- ta-da! -- the World Wide Web... the inventing it was easy. The amazing thing which makes it work is that so many people actually have made web servers, and that they all work the same way, on the Internet. They all use HTTP."
Berners-Lee today maintains that the only way the Web will remain a viable force into the future will be if it maintains that spirit of collaboration and openness that helped it to become so successful more than two decades ago. After all, he notes, his goal in creating the Web was to make something that could be used by everyone and not just an academic, business or government elite.
"I didn't know what would happen [with the Web] but I knew I wanted it to be a universal space," he says. "I knew from the get go that it was very important that it not be relegated to any particular circle."