Happy 25th Birthday, World Wide Web

by Heike O’Sullivan
When I was in secondary school, in the mid-1980s, some maths genius guys in my grade started attending after-school classes in a new-fangled subject called ‘Informatics’. During recess, they were excitedly waving around paper covered in noughts and ones, and said they were learning to write computer programs. The rest of us looked at one another and went to play five-a-side.
Many of our afternoons were taken up with travelling to a variety of public or university libraries, to carry out research for an essay, later for college papers or dissertations. We sometimes waited for weeks for a badly needed book currently lent to someone else, took pages and pages of hand-written notes, paid for photocopies and sometimes day passes to subscription libraries.
When I started travelling to Ireland as a tourist, I would write to the German office of Tourism Ireland in Frankfurt, or return one if their many adverts in the German print media, where one would tick boxes of those publications one was interested in. They would then post stacks of accommodation listings, maps, brochures on horse riding, or hiking, or cultural sites – all free of charge to the potential tourist. Once the decision to travel was taken, I would then write to the relevant hotels or B&Bs, riding stables etc, to book my holiday. Alternatively, one would walk into a travel agency and book a package holiday, entirely at the agent’s mercy regarding the quality of accommodation and price.
Taking a shine to an item of clothing or home decor in a magazine or on the telly, I would spend days and weeks searching for it in shops in my hometown. I would either eventually find what I was looking for, or do without it. How easy life has become since then.
Carrying out research for school or work, we now generally just have to sit down at our computers and have a wealth of global, up-to-date information at our finger tips.
Before we go on holidays, we now access the trusty WWW and are able to view, compare and book flights, accommodation or activities in minutes, knowing pretty much what we’re letting ourselves in for thanks to detailed descriptions, photographs and customer reviews.
If we can’t find a specific item we wish to buy in a shop in our area, there is a very good chance that we can order it from the other side of the country or even the world. Even small businesses now usually have websites through which billions of potential customers can purchase chocolate handcrafted in Bonane, or book a room in a B&B in Kenmare.
When family members go and live abroad, communication is no longer restricted to a long awaited and much-cherished letter, we can now sent emails, photographs, even video clips, or meet them via Skype, instantly and at no or low cost. There have been reports of teenagers “chilling” together in the same room, engrossed in the screens of their smartphones whilst talking to each other on WhatsApp or Facebook, instead of having a conversation face to face. Now, this might be taking the Internet lark a liiiiittle bit far…
The principle of the Internet as we know it today hails back as far as the 1960s. In 1989, English computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee, then working for CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research) in Switzerland, invented the World Wide Web (WWW), a service operating over the Internet and effectively linking computer users worldwide.
Previously only available to a comparatively small number of select users, the WWW became publicly available on 8th August 1991. Unfortunately, there were only very few computers able to browse the Internet at the time.
On 30th April 1993, CERN took the monumental step of making the WWW software freely available, leading to its rapid adoption and dramatic development. The impact of Tim Berners-Lee’s invention on global communication, culture and commerce has been absolutely enormous. It would be fair to say that most of us would not want to do without it.
So therefore: Happy 25th Birthday, WWW, and many more to come!!!