In 1993, computer users all over the world were still working out how best to share information over the Internet. It had been around for decades, and email and file sharing were popular, but there wasn’t a simple way to share information with a wider audience. Two years earlier, the WorldWideWeb had gone online, but it was competing with other systems that helped people travel around the Internet. The University of Minnesota’s Gopher system was particularly popular, but in the spring of that year, the school started charging for the use of Gopher servers.
CERN, the international particle physics lab that had developed the WorldWideWeb, made a different choice. On this day in 1993, CERN announced that it would put its “W3” software in the public domain, making it free to use and putting the Web on course to define, for most people, what the Internet is. CERN’s WWW, conceived and created by Tim Berners-Lee, was imagined as “a ‘web’ of ‘hypertext documents’” that “could be viewed by ‘browsers,’” the institute explains.
The first Web browser could run only one type of computer, and for the first years, the Web was run on one server, guarded only by a small sign that warned, “This machine is a server. DO NOT POWER IT DOWN!!” But as others grew excited about the Web, they designed new browsers to access it. The same year that CERN made its code public, the University of Illinois released the first version of the Mosaic browser—a reliable and easy-to-use browser for “non-geeks.” These tools helped set the conditions for the spread of the Web.
By the end of 1993, Web users around the world set up more than 500 servers to help host it. One percent of all Internet traffic—“which seemed a lot in those days,” says CERN—went to the WorldWideWeb that year. In 1994, Web traffic grew 341,634 percent, according to the BBC.
Disclosure: CJR has received funding from the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) to cover intellectual-property issues, but the organization has no influence on the content.Sarah Laskow is a writer and editor in New York City. Her work has appeared in print and online in Grist, Good, The American Prospect, Salon, The New Republic, and other publications.