Happy 25th Birthday, World Wide Web

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Twenty-five years ago, the World Wide Web as we know it today was no more than a published proposal by British computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee to improve information-sharing among physicists around the world.

After reading the proposal, the reaction from his boss was brief: “Vague, but exciting.”

Exciting is an understatement. Now celebrating its 25th birthday, the brainchild of Berners-Lee is interlaced in the everyday lives of billions of people across the globe.

In a recently released report on the Internet, the Pew Research Center said:

The invention of the Web by Sir Tim Berners-Lee was instrumental in turning the Internet from a geeky data-transfer system embraced by specialists and a small number of enthusiasts into a mass-adopted technology easily used by hundreds of millions around the world.

Eighty-seven percent of U.S. adults and nearly all (97 percent) of young adults use the Internet, the Pew Research Center says.

Although predicting developments in the tech industry can be difficult, that didn’t stop a lot of folks from giving their predictions for the Web, most of which were WAY off. Here are just a handful of hysterically wrong Internet predictions, compiled from CNN Money and Business Insider:

  • Internet overload. In 1995, Ethernet inventor Robert Metcalfe said, “I predict the Internet will soon go spectacularly supernova and in 1996 catastrophically collapse.”
  • Minimal impact. Cybersecurity expert, astronomer and author Clifford Stoll wrote an article for Newsweek in 1995. It’s chock full of wrong predictions, like: “The truth is no online database will replace your daily newspaper, no CD-ROM can take the place of a competent teacher and no computer network will change the way government works.”
  • Y2K “crisis.” In a 1998 issue of Byte Magazine, Edmund DeJesus erroneously predicted, “[Y2K] is a crisis without precedent in human history.”
  • No one will shop online. Again, Stoll in Newsweek: “Even if there were a trustworthy way to send money over the Internet — which there isn’t — the network is missing a most essential ingredient of capitalism: salespeople.”

The Web has come a long way since its infancy. Fourteen years ago, the majority of my college professors wouldn’t allow students to cite Internet sources in a paper because “you can’t always believe what you read on the Internet.”

So I trudged off to the library to spend countless hours with the card catalog and stacks of books, trying to find the information I needed for my term papers.

Today, I would venture to guess that many students don’t step foot in a campus library, unless they’re looking for a quiet, late night spot to study. Berners-Lee’s invention paved the way for a mass of free, readily available information, right at your fingertips.

The Web has enabled me to write stories from my home in Montana, for people across the country to read. How has the Internet changed your life? Share your comments below or on our Facebook page.

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