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The web at 30

One of the world's most important inventions was 'born' in March 1989 and celebrated its 30th birthday in 2019. Read the article to find out what it is.

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Thirty years ago, this website and any other websites were impossible to imagine. Some people had computers in their homes, but they didn't use them for much. Maybe they just used them to play games or type letters to print out and send by post. But, in 1989, a British computer scientist called Tim Berners-Lee changed everything and one of the modern world's greatest inventions was born: the World Wide Web.

The World Wide Web vs. the internet

Now, let's make sure you're not confused about something. We're not talking about the beginning of the internet itself. Most people use the words internet and web as if they're the same thing. But, in fact, the internet is much older than the web, and they're two different things. The internet was developed in the early 1970s by Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn. It is basically a huge network made up of smaller networks of computers that deliver packets of information to other computers. When this information is in the form of webpages, that's the World Wide Web.

The idea that started it all

So, in 1989, when Tim Berners-Lee was working at CERN (the European Organisation for Nuclear Research) in Switzerland, the internet already existed. But it was nothing like it is now because there were no webpages. Hard to imagine, isn't it? Email also already existed (Queen Elizabeth II famously sent an email in 1976) and so did the idea of domain names, for example britishcouncil.org. Another tool that already existed was hypertext to jump from one document to another. But, without the web, none of it was as useful as it is now. 

Berners-Lee got very frustrated at CERN because all the scientists had different kinds of computers. You could connect the computers with cables, but they couldn't 'speak' to each other. If you wanted information, you had to know exactly which computer that information was on and sit down in front of it and log in. Berners-Lee wrote a report that suggested a way of putting the internet, domain names and hypertext together into one system. This 'imaginary information system which everyone can read' was later called the World Wide Web (and that's why website addresses start with 'www'). At the time, his idea was so abstract that his boss called it 'vague but exciting'. Two years later, in 1991, the world's first website was built at CERN: http://info.cern.ch (the site you can see now is a copy made in 1992).

The web today

Today, thirty years later, that idea is still exciting. The web is just part of the internet, but it is the part that connects us to the rest of the world. The telephone meant that one person could connect with one other person. Television meant that one person's ideas could reach millions of people in their homes. But, with the web, everyone who has internet access is connected and anyone can contribute to the information on it.

Digital divide

The idea behind the web is to connect people and help them understand each other. But not everyone in the world has internet access – only 55 per cent of people, according to internetworldstats.com. Half the world's population lives in Asia, but only half of Asian people have the internet. In North America, 95 per cent of people have internet access and so do 85 per cent of Europeans. North America and Europe make up only 15 per cent of the world's population, but together they make up 25 per cent of the world's internet users. Compare this with Africa, which makes up 17 per cent of the world's population, but only 36 per cent of its people have internet access. 

The digital divide isn't only geographical. If we compare men's and women's access to the internet, World Wide Web Foundation research shows that women are less likely to use the internet in many poor urban communities – 37 per cent of women versus 59 per cent of men surveyed were internet users. 

If you're reading this, you're part of the half of the world that has access to this powerful tool. Perhaps our job for the next thirty years is to make the web available to the other half of the world and to help people use it to their best advantage.

Sources:

This article is part of Anyone//Anywhere: the web at 30, a year-long programme of projects and partnerships looking at the impact of the World Wide Web on our lives. Find out more here: https://www.britishcouncil.org/anyone-anywhere

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Upper intermediate: B2

Comments

Thirty years ago, before internet was born, people do get informations from books, newspapers and magazines. This old method was the only way to make researchs by going to libraries andborrowing books from friends and teachers. Thus it was not so easy to get enough informations people was looking for, but on the other hand, it allowed to people to communicate more and work together in groups

The internet is nowadays the most powerful tool to get informations and formations. Nowadays you can take your lessons at home via internet, that is a great thing for disabled persons; then I think that without internet, it will be difficult for me to learn english because I live in a French country and the formations are expensive in the centres of formations. Moreover, It will be complicated for me to get a lot of informations for my memory writing during my Master degree. Internet gives us a lot of chance to know many things around the world by being at your home. It's the best invention of all inventions about the spread of informations. Thanks Vint Cerf, thanks Bob Kahn and thanks Tim Berners-Lee.

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