Tech Time Warp: A look back at the “Woodstock of the Web”

Tech Time Warp

Tech Time Warp“The feeling of delicious possibility was immense.” This evocative line comes from the founding curator of the Computer History Museum, Marc Weber. It sums up what it must have been like to attend the first web conference 30 years ago this month, as you will see in this edition of Tech Time Warp.

Organized by CERN (European Council for Nuclear Research)’s Robert Cailliau and Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inaugural web conference brought together 380 enthusiasts May 25–27, 1994, in Geneva. Those were the lucky few who could attend. More than 800 applicants sought attendance, but the event space at CERN could only accommodate a limited number. In 49 formal presentations, 11 workshops, and countless side conversations, attendees geeked out on the sheer possibility of the web, which Berners-Lee had conceived of only five years prior in a document called “Information Management: A Proposal.” (His boss, Mike Sendall, had written “Vague, but exciting” across the top of the page.)

The birth of web innovation

That excitement was at a fever pitch during the Geneva web conference. It came to be known as the “Woodstock of the Web.” Computer scientist Dave Raggett demonstrated the future of HTML on a browser he’d built at his kitchen table. He was showcasing innovations that included text that could flow around images, resizable tables, and image backgrounds.

The web utopia experienced only one setback. The absence of the Mosaic team from the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) at the University of Illinois. Cailliau and Berners-Lee invited them to speak in Geneva, but Mosaic team lead Joseph Hardin had shared that he, too, was already planning a web conference for that week. The CERN team persuaded Hardin to delay his conference for six months, but the Mosaic team didn’t travel to Switzerland. Despite this foreshadowing of the browser wars, Mosaic’s Marc Andreessen, Eric Bina, and Lou Montulli were inducted into the inaugural “World Wide Web Hall of Fame” along with Berners-Lee, Rob Hartill (known for the Internet Movie Database and the Apache web server) and Kevin Hughes (who started one of the first campus websites at Honolulu Community College).

Did you enjoy this installation of SmarterMSP’s Tech Time Warp? Check out others here.

Photo: mark reinstein / Shutterstock

This post originally appeared on Smarter MSP.

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