#web25 Tim Berners-Lee: 'Creating the web was really an act of desperation'

Tim Berners-Lee's proposal in March 1989: "vague but exciting"
Tim Berners-Lee's proposal in March 1989: "vague but exciting"

In March 1989, Tim Berners-Lee submitted a document named "Information Management: A Proposal".

His idea for a "mesh" became the World Wide Web. Celebrating 25 years of an invention that re-wrote the rules of marketing, here is a glimpse of how one act of desperation revolutionised communications.

The proposal for WWW was deemed "vague but exciting" by Tim Berners-Lee’s boss – perhaps one of the greatest understatements of the modern age.

This document was the first stage in the timeline of WWW, moving from concept, to trial, to the first international WWW conference at CERN (dubbed the "Woodstock of the Web") in 1994, and a European seminar held at CERN in 1995 to demostrate WWW to 250 journalists.

The idea of the web was partly borne out of the fact that Berners-Lee recognised CERN was losing so much information when staff, with an average two-year tenure, left the organisation.

"The technical details of past projects are sometimes lost forever, or only recovered after a detective investigation in an emergency. Often, the information has been recorded, it just cannot be found," he said in the March 1989 proposal.

"Many of the discussions of the future at CERN and the LHC era end with the question – ‘Yes, but how will we ever keep track of such a large project?’. This proposal provides an answer to such questions. Firstly, it discusses the problem of information access at CERN. Then, it introduces the idea of linked information systems, and compares them with less flexible ways of finding information."

The internet – internetworking computers - pre-dates Berners-Lee’s invention of WWW. At the time, CERN was the largest "internet node" in Europe, but it was Berners-Lee’s proposal that saw an opportunity to join hypertext with the internet.

Speaking in an interview at the Academy of Achievement in 2011, Berners-Lee described his invention as an act of desperation.

"Creating the web was really an act of desperation, because the situation without it was very difficult when I was working at CERN later.

"Most of the technology involved in the web, like the hypertext, like the Internet, multifont text objects, had all been designed already. I just had to put them together. It was a step of generalising, going to a higher level of abstraction, thinking about all the documentation systems out there as being possibly part of a larger imaginary documentation system."

To read Tim Berners-Lee's full proposal click here.

Throughout March, Marketing will be asking senior marketers how the internet changed the shape of their career.


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