In late summer of 1991, an information technology consultant named Tim Berners-Lee posted an unassuming message to the alt.hypertext newsgroup, making public a project he had been working on for the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN). He began, "The WorldWideWeb (WWW) project aims to allow links to be made to any information anywhere."
With that memo, Tim Berners-Lee changed the world. No one -- not even Berners-Lee himself -- saw it coming. Not on this magnitude.
That's not to say that futurists weren't able to contemplate a digitally interconnected society. From H.G. Wells (who in an essay entitled "The Brain Organization of the Modern World," envisioned a future in which all knowledge would be readily accessible via microfilm) to Asimov to Anderson to Gibson, science fiction has offered visions of technological marvels: Interstellar space travel. Intelligent robots. Awesome computers (albeit the size of living rooms and often lacking monitors). And some kind of interconnected network that would allow humanity to interact on a global scale.
In the '60s and '70s, the notion of a worldwide network of computers was very real. Thanks to the U.S. Department of Defense, ARPANET, an early version of a packet-switching network and the precursor to the modern-day Internet, was fully functioning.
Since those early days, the growth of the World Wide Web has been nothing short of extraordinary. And that's understating it. The Web's impact on human existence is equal to -- perhaps even greater than -- that of Johannes Gutenberg's printing press. Consider: In 15 short years, it has become a dominant form of mass communication, media, shopping, socializing, sex, education, entertainment, and self-expression.
So how did we get to this point? And now that we're here, what's next? Join us as we trace the early days of the World Wide Web and explore the key factors in its exponential growth. We have answers, theories, and more.
Be sure not to miss our sidebar on the great browser wars and our in-depth look at the phenomenon known as Web 2.0. And for you history buffs, there's a pop-up World Wide Web timeline and an image gallery showing browsers from the past 15 years.