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.
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.
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.
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.
The People's Web
The available tags in HTML grew, pushed forward haphazardly by an excited community of developers seeking to unlock the web's full potential.
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.
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.
"The original idea of the web was that
it should be a collaborative space..."
~ Tim Berners-Lee
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.