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Story of the web
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Since its inception in 1989 the World Wide Web has gone from "never heard of it" to "can't live without it". It took off because of its instant user appeal, but also because it’s open and free. From HTML to hacktivism, the W3C to MP3s, lolcats to LulzSec, from one website to over 180 million, here are its defining moments.

1989 - 1995

The early years

The internet is the domain of technologists and academics, of early adopters living on AOL, Compuserve and bulletin board systems. At the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Switzerland, a computer scientist named Tim Berners-Lee notices that researchers are struggling to share information globally...


Tim Berners-Lee's paper

Tim Berners-Lee
Diagram of Tim Berners-Lee's information management system

March 12th: Berners-Lee writes a paper called "Information management: A proposal". In it, he sets out what would become the World Wide Web. He submits it to his boss at CERN. The verdict? "Vague but exciting..."


Mosaic web browser

Mosaic browser
First web page

Hypertext Mark-up Language, or HTML, is the language that powers the web. By adding the <img> tag to HTML, Mosaic 1.0 becomes the first web browser to allow images and text to load on the same page.


The early web brands

Old CRT monitor
Jerry's guide to the World Wide Web

With so many new websites popping up, Stanford graduates Jerry Yang and David Filo set up a directory - eventually settling on the name Yahoo!. The first web giant is born. launches in 1995. Now, research suggests as many as one in three recently married couples first met online.


Netscape and web standards

W3C logo on a badge
Netscape logo

Netscape Navigator launches. It's a huge hit - almost synonymous with the web in the public mind - which could give it a lot of control. But Tim Berners-Lee has already founded the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), to make sure the web stays open.


The biggest launch in software history

CRT with Windows start button on it
Box of Windows 95 software

May: Microsoft CEO Bill Gates sends a memo to staff entitled "The Internet Tidal Wave" to Microsoft executives. In August, Windows 95 is launched - with built-in browser Internet Explorer - kick-starting the sale of affordable PCs that can surf the web.

1995 - 2000

From boom to bust

The internet gold rush begins. Netscape’s IPO in August '95 - followed avidly by the news media – makes a lot of people rich. It helps prompt an online ‘land grab’. Yahoo buys 18 companies before 2000, spending $9.3 billion acquiring and Geocities alone."


The e-commerce era begins

The E-commerce Era Begins - Amazon
The E-commerce Era Begins - Amazon

‘Dot-com’ businesses appear in their hundreds. Amazon and eBay are founded, followed by Craigslist and HoTMaiL (1996 – bought by Microsoft a year later for a rumoured $400 million), Netflix (1997) and PayPal (1999).


Google is born

Google Logo Letter Animations G
Google Logo Letter Animations O
Google Logo Letter Animations O
Google Logo Letter Animations G
Google Logo Letter Animations L
Google Logo Letter Animations E

September: Stanford University students Larry Page and Sergey Brin register the domain. Originally based in a friend’s garage in Menlo Park, California, Google hit one billion monthly visitors in May 2011, earned $55 billion in 2013 and now handles more than five billion searches a day.


Multimedia comes to the web

Inaccessible website
Accessible website
Hand mouse cursor

The HTML 4.0 standard, with better multimedia support, is published by the W3C. Netscape and Internet Explorer are locked in the “browser wars”; controlling the gateway to the internet was the prize. 1999’s Internet Explorer 5 makes Microsoft the clear victor – but the company is locked in an antitrust battle with the US Department of Justice, following a Netscape complaint.


Napster and file sharing

Laptop Left
Laptop Right

Napster launches. The peer-to-peer file sharing service popularises the MP3 music format, but is shut down by the US district court in 2001 in a bid to prevent the illegal sharing of copyrighted music.


The dot-com crash

10th March: The Nasdaq stock exchange, home to many web businesses, starts a two-year, 78% plunge. The bubble has burst, and trillions of dollars of market value disappear.


The people-powered web

The first decade of the web was about publishing. Fuelled by greater bandwidth, the second sees a shift to a more personal, conversational style. By 2000 more than half of US households have internet access, with an estimated 360 million people using the web worldwide - and they're not all passive consumers.


The web speeds up

A model globe
Ethernet cable

The first mass-market broadband product - ADSL-powered BTopenworld - launches in the UK. In the US, 3% of adults have access to broadband at home. This will rise to 70% by 2013.


Social knowledge sharing arrives

Screenshot of someone entering a blog post
Mouse cursor
Welcome to my blog

January: Collaborative encyclopaedia Wikipedia ('wiki' is the Hawaiian word for 'quick') launches. Blogs - aka web logs - are becoming popular, with two-year-old blog publishing service Blogger gaining fans fast. Podcasting starts with news service, targeted at users of new portable MP3 players.


The first social networks

Myspace and LinkedIn arrive, following 2002's Friendster. News Corporation will acquire MySpace in 2005 for $580 million - but sell it in 2011 for just $35 million, to a group including pop star Justin Timberlake.


Voice and video calling takes off

Pot of coffee

Skype launches, letting people chat over the internet using a microphone. In 2005 it adds video calling for those with webcams. The first ever webcam had gone online at Cambridge University in 1993. It monitored a coffee pot.


Illegal downloading

The Pirate Bay logo
Prison bars

Napster's demise doesn't slow demand for file trading and users look for other sources of supply. Torrent site The Pirate Bay is set up in Sweden. In 2009, its founders will be sentenced to a year in prison for facilitating the illegal downloading of copyrighted material.

2004 - 2007

Web 2.0

The growth in collaboration signals a change in the nature of the web. It’s no longer where you go just to read or watch things, but to do things. The zeitgeist is given a name: Web 2.0.


The dawn of Facebook

Like us
Like us
Like us
Facebook Awsome
Like us
Like us
Like us
Like us

Mark Zuckerberg founds "The Facebook" in his dorm room at Harvard. At first available only to Harvard students, Facebook expands to other universities and eventually (in 2006) to anyone over 13 with a valid email address. In 2014 it had over 1.2 billion users.


Google innovation drives the web forward

Google Map
Google Map Pin

Google launches webmail service Gmail, offering a whopping 1 GB of free storage (with competitors like Hotmail offering around 2-4 MB). Web 2.0 poster-child Google Maps arrives in 2005, marking the start of interactive location-based services on the web.


Video moves online

Google YouTube

Adobe Flash brings video to the web, and in 2005 video sharing site YouTube is created by three former PayPal employees. The next year, Google buys YouTube for $1.65 billion.


The Twitter age begins

Twitter hash tag

Microblogging site Twitter goes live. Barack Obama’s "Four more years", posted after his re-election to the White House in 2012, is beaten in 2014 as the most-retweeted tweet by a 'selfie' taken by Ellen DeGeneres at the Oscars.


The web goes viral

Web 25 MEMEs

The term ‘lolcat’ - involving a photo of a cat with a humorous caption - is first used. People sharing content on the web goes on to spawn hundreds of viral crazes, ‘memes’ and celebrities, from Star Wars Kid to Doge.


The multimedia mobile web

With broadband and Wi-Fi spreading to coffee shops and beyond, people stop thinking about "going online" and start worrying about being offline...


The cloud gets serious


Business applications start to shift from PCs and local servers into "the cloud" - servers hosted on the internet, often belonging to third parties. By 2010, the Software-as-a-Service (Saas) market is worth £10 billion.


Smartphones take centre stage

Red curtain on the left Red curtain on the right

Apple launches the iPhone with what the late Steve Jobs calls "the first fully-usable browser on a cellphone". He says, "it's the internet in your pocket for the first time ever." By the end of 2013, one in every five people in the world owns a smartphone.


HTML5 mobilises the web

A smartphone showing an HTML5 video

The W3C publishes the first working draft of HTML5, reuniting the web industry around a version of HTML that supports sophisticated online programming - including video - and runs across all sorts of devices.


Streaming music


Spotify and Soundcloud make streaming music on demand a reality. In 2014, Spotify had over 20 million songs in its database - listening to them all would take over 114 years.


Photo sharing meets social networking

A row of photos of people

While Flickr had been around since 2004, photo sharing really takes off with smartphones (and their built-in cameras). Instagram and Pinterest launch, and in 2013 the 'selfie' is voted the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year - defined as "a photograph that one has taken of oneself".


Democracy and the web

As the number of people online reaches two billion, the web faces concerns around security and privacy. But its now so deeply ingrained in modern life that the question isn’t whether people will leave. It’s how long it will take for the next two billion to join us.



Wikileaks - Open Folder

Founded in 2006, Wikileaks – a site dedicated to publishing confidential data anonymously - hits the headlines by releasing footage from a US airstrike in Baghdad. When PayPal refuses to process donations to Wikileaks, it’s attacked by hacker group Anonymous, costing the company £3.5 million.


The Arab spring

Mobile Phone

Protesters use smartphones to share information of civil unrest in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia... while governments use the same networks and services to try to track them down.


Hacktivist culture

Hacktivist Culture
Anonymous Mask

April: LulzSec, a hacker group founded with the aim of “laughing at your security”, hacks the Playstation network, compromising 77 million user accounts. ‘Hacktivist’ groups like Anonymous and The Iranian Cyber Army gain mainstream media attention.


The Snowden files

Newspaper article
Top Secret dossier

Former US National Security Agency (NSA) employee Edward Snowden puts privacy in the spotlight by revealing the massive surveillance operations run by the NSA and similar state organisations, conducted in part by intercepting cables carrying internet traffic.


Web at 25

Newspaper article
Newspaper article

25 years after the birth of the world wide web, the web community celebrates a quarter century of online achievement. Click below to read our report, written by Jack Schofield, explaining its journey to this point and commemorating the Web at 25.


The continued rise of online video


Everyone in the world gets the opportunity to broadcast live on the web via apps such as Periscope and Meerkat. Meanwhile, the first generation of vlogger superstars is born, with YouTuber PewDiePie earning an estimated $7million a year. On the 6th September his channel became the first to hit 10 billion views.


Filter bubbles & fake news emerge

Bubble 2
Bubble 2

With almost two billion people using Facebook every month, social media continues to grow. Seismic political events prompt many to wonder whether their personalised newsfeeds are trapping them in a ‘filter bubble’ filled with posts that align with their existing views. Meanwhile, fake news stories – written to deliberately mislead readers, capitalise on advertising revenue, or both – spread quickly within these filter bubbles thanks to their sensational appeal. Web giants are left scrambling to identify what’s true and what’s fake online.


Ransomware goes global

Laptop showing news

Major organisations around the world – including the UK’s National Health Service – find themselves in the midst of an IT crisis as a global ransomware attack renders their computers useless. Ransomware, which encrypts a user’s data and demands payment for its release, has never been used on this scale before and the ‘WannaCry’ attack brings the issue firmly into the public eye. Businesses and consumers worldwide look to patch their computers to prevent further breaches.

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