On August 6th, 1991, Tim Berners-Lee published the world's first website

It was written in a new format he called "HTML" (Hyper Text Markup Language).

Berners-Lee was a physicist at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research. He based HTML on the existing markup languages scientists used to record their research and memos.

HTML included 18 simple tags -- computer instructions -- for organizing text within a document. The options were limited, but functional. Headers, paragraphs, bulleted lists...everything you need to write up an engineering manual, but little more.

The Anchor

Though simple, HTML included a unique feature that would be its key to success: the anchor tag. An anchor could be used to create a hyperlink between two documents.

This was the essential characteristic of hypertext. A document could link to any other document, allowing cross referencing of information and creating a web of documents, all connected. But this time, not just connected within a single system like previous hypertext efforts, but connected across the entire internet.

Berners-Lee called his project the WorldWideWeb -- a combination of browser, document editor, markup language, and internet protocol described as a "wide-area hypermedia information retrieval initiative".

In his own words, from the original alt.hypertext usenet post:

The WWW project was started to allow high energy physicists to share data, news, and documentation. We are very interested in spreading the web to other areas, and having gateway servers for other data. Collaborators welcome! I'll post a short summary as a separate article.

The Collaborators Came

Slowly, at first.

A webserver in the United States was brought online at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center.

The Dutch National Institute for Subatomic Physics set up a server.

Then, the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois.

With each new server that came online, momentum was building. The web grew, but it didn't flourish.

Getting online was difficult. Once there, the experience was dry and technical.

This was a system designed to facilitate collaboration among physicists. The capabilities of HTML were practical and economical.

In 1993, things began to change.


Released in early 1993, Mosaic was user friendly browser that added a critical new feature to HTML: inline graphics.

grayscale image of various items magically springing forth from the pages of a book

Suddenly, every competing browser and protocol seemed inadequate by comparison.

Mosaic was also easy to install and worked on the popular Microsoft Windows operating system. Previously, the web had been almost exclusively limited to technical users in academic circles, but now people from many backgrounds began to join in.

As the web expanded, so did HTML. It was evolving rapidly, pulled in different directions by a growing body of contributors. New features and tags, often informal at first, allowed for more expressiveness and personality. Forms and buttons appeared, the first rudimentary steps towards what would be eventually become "Web 2.0" ten years later.

The web was beginning to shed it's starchy, academic background and feel more alive.

Riding this explosion of interest and development, Berners-Lee and his associates at CERN did something remarkable -- they released the World Wide Web project into the public domain, setting it free forever. The web now belonged to everyone.

globe showing the western hemisphere

The People's Web

globe showing the eastern hemisphere

The available tags in HTML grew, pushed forward haphazardly by an excited community of developers seeking to unlock the web's full potential.

Table tags were introduced. Intended for displaying grids of data, they were quickly repurposed for creating elaborate layouts.

Background images, colors, and font styles fed the growing hunger for more unique and engaging websites.

Moving into 1995, many of the changes to HTML were being pushed forward unilaterally by the development teams behind the two most popular browsers: Netscape and Internet Explorer. This caused some amount of tension:

...all kinds of new HTML tags emerged. Some, like the BGCOLOR attribute of the BODY element and FONT FACE, which control stylistic aspects of a document, found themselves in the black books of the academic engineering community.

~ Dave Ragett, A history of HTML

page loading animation from netscape navigator browser
page loading animation from internet explorer browser
stock stylized image of computer user

But the mandate from the web's community was clear and style elements were soon incorporated into the official HTML specifications.

A key technical innovation around this time was on-the-fly rendering of web pages. Users were able to begin reading text before the images had fully loaded. This allowed the use of more elaborate imagery while maintaining a comfortable browsing experience, further pushing the boundaries.

Services that allowed casual users to build their own websites began to emerge. Alongside the rapidly expanding capabilities HTML offered, coders all over the world were experimenting, creating, and interacting...

HTML as a creative medium was becoming realized.


Modern HTML, reinforced by scripting languages and powerful browser features, has never been more sophisticated and capable.


Virtual and augmented reality

Audio processing & synthesis


3D acceleration

Peer-to-peer networking

Vector graphics


Local storage


The creative possibilities have never been richer.

The only thing that's missing from the web...

...is your next idea. Join in.

"The original idea of the web was that
it should be a collaborative space..."

~ Tim Berners-Lee

This article was created by Kaiserwalz

Thanks for reading! In the interests of keeping this text introductory and non-technical, I had to summarize many details -- if you feel anything is inaccurate or misleading, please let me know.

Image credits
  • Book image by Robert Cailliau
  • Background image from the W3C HTML 3.2 specification
  • Microsoft Office clipart, Windows background, Netscape Logo, and Internet Explorer logo used under educational, non-commercial fair use
  • Background animation by Vanta.js
Sources consulted & further reading

This article was created by Kaiserwalz