WWW Project Turns 30

Three Ws stacked one over the other and slightly offset, set in progressively darker teals. Thirty years ago, on April 30 1993, European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) announced the World Wide Web project. While the web existed before then, this marks its release into the public domain.

Eight days and thirty years ago, Mosaic 1.0 was released (you might recall I wrote up a little tribute). In the span of about a week, the first generally-available web browser and the public release of the underlying web platform kicked off a revolution in communication.

I was all ready to write up a brief history, expanding on my 2013 post, when better write-ups than I could offer landed in front of me:

From the W3C:

Today marks the 30th anniversary of the release of the World Wide Web into the public domain, for general use, and at no cost, on 30 April 1993 by CERN.

This quiet gesture, advocated by Web inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee, has had implications beyond what he or anyone imagined at that time: the Web, free for everyone, has changed our lives.

Please, join me in taking a moment to appreciate the impact and the sheer magnitude of the revolution that started just two years prior. “Try it”, Sir Tim noted in his August 1991 email introducing the World Wide Web – and since then, billions of people have.


In May 2003, coinciding almost exactly with the tenth anniversary of CERN’s decision, W3C adopted a Patent Policy to enable continued innovation and widespread adoption of Web standards developed by the World Wide Web Consortium. The W3C Patent Policy governs the handling of patents in the process of producing Web Standards. The goal of this policy is to assure that Recommendations produced under this policy can be implemented on a Royalty-Free (RF) basis. By adopting this Patent Policy with its commitment to royalty-free standards, W3C laid the foundation for future decades of technical innovation, economic growth, and social advancement.

To date, W3C has published more than 11,000 specifications, of which 470 are web standards.

The post goes on to rattle off a lengthy list of standards, agreements, and ongoing efforts.

History of the Web compares and contrasts the license-free web with another internet protocol at the time, Gopher:

For a while, in the early 90’s, the web was in competition with Gopher, an alternative Internet-backed protocol developed at the University of Minnesota, and named for the school’s mascot. Gopher shared some philosophical preferences with the web, but it was, in practice, something entirely different. Gopher was hierarchical by design, a stark contrast to the sprawling, nonhierarchic hyperlink of the web. Gopher also put resources behind search and design of sites years before technologies like Google and browsers like Netscape would do the same for the web.

As a result, it was pretty popular. Maybe more so than the web. But there’s a reason we don’t hear much about Gopher these days.

In February of 1993, the University of Minnesota made an announcement. In specific commercial usage of the protocol, they would be charging licensing fees. Not large fees, and not in all cases. But, in some small way, they would be restricting access.

Overnight, sentiment shifted. Internet users took to BBS boards and mailing lists to express outrage about Gopher’s decision. IBM declared that they wouldn’t support internally any protocol with restrictive licensing. The world began searching for alternatives.

As an Internet Old I remember enjoying Gopher and then abruptly not enjoying Gopher because of that licensing announcement. I recall the Usenet (another destination on the internet that was not the web) forums blowing up in outrage — the kind of outrage you can only get from a whole lot of higher-education-affiliated internet users in the pre-monetized online spaces of the early 1990s.

While I think the web would have won out over Gopher anyway, its niche existence was likely hastened by University of Minnesota’s licensing decision.



As a fellow old, I used Gopher in college. This would have been 1993-1996. Ah, the memories. Starting email addresses with smtp. Dot matrix printers.

In response to Meagan. Reply

An unsecured port 25 so I could HELO forged email to my friends…

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