The World Wide Web became available to the broader public 30 years ago On April 30, 1993, the World Wide Web was released into the public domain. It revolutionized the internet and allowed users to create websites filled with graphics, audio and hyperlinks.

30 years ago, one decision altered the course of our connected world

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/1172276538/1172974519" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

By the end of the 1980s, the internet was just starting to make waves.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: And I just flick a switch on the modem, and...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Things are starting to happen.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: ...Things are starting to happen.

MCCAMMON: It was revolutionary, but it wasn't all that glamorous. The early internet was just text. It was really hard to use, and it wasn't even accessible to most people. Then, 30 years ago this week, that all changed. Here's NPR's Julian Ring.

JULIAN RING, BYLINE: On April 30, 1993, something called the World Wide Web launched into the public domain.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO, "THE KIDS GUIDE TO THE INTERNET")

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Interactive appetite. Searching for a website. A window to the world. Got to get online.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: (Singing) Take a spin. Now you're in with technoset (ph). You're going surfing on the internet.

RING: The World Wide Web allowed anyone to build a website with pictures, video and sound. And it was easy to navigate.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: How do you get to the NPR home page?

RING: You type in www.npr.org, hit return and you're there.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: Pretty easy.

RING: If the internet enabled computers to talk to each other, then the web defined how we actually use it. And with the web in the public domain, the internet quickly blossomed into a vibrant online canvas, the same one that we use today.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

TIM BERNERS-LEE: The web really is an abstract idea of a universal space for all information.

RING: This is the guy who invented the World Wide Web. His name is Tim Berners-Lee. And back in 1993, he worked at a physics lab in Switzerland called CERN. You might know it today for its huge particle accelerators. Here's Berners-Lee on NPR's Fresh Air, talking about one of the web's most game-changing features, something we use every day - the hyperlink.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

BERNERS-LEE: If you're reading an article which isn't really what you wanted to know but it refers to something that is what you wanted to read about, then you can jump to that. You can jump and jump and jump to things more and more relevant until you find exactly what you want.

RING: Here's the thing - Berners-Lee could have made a fortune off people clicking on hyperlinks. He had the option to license out the web for profit, but he didn't. He believed that keeping the web as open as possible would help it grow. So the 37-year-old researcher asked his employer for permission to take the World Wide Web and just give it away - no patents, no fees.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

BERNERS-LEE: That was probably what - that I think was what was most important in making it take off.

(SOUNDBITE OF MONTAGE)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #6: There are now 5.5 million Americans connecting to consumer online services.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #7: More than 24 million people in the United States and Canada already use the internet.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #8: The total number of websites is doubling every two months.

RING: Today, nearly two-thirds of the world's population uses the web to visit hundreds of millions of active pages. The web has revolutionized how we communicate and gather, how we work and learn. But it's also expanded the reach of propaganda and disinformation, and it's completely upended our standards of privacy. Berners-Lee predicted some of these ramifications decades ago.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

BERNERS-LEE: Do users now know when they're getting something which is fair and unbiased? Do they know how to tell the difference between news, op-ed, editorial and advertising on the web?

RING: In an interview with NPR's Talk of the Nation in 2002, he said the web is really a reflection of us, and that's by design.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

BERNERS-LEE: The webpages you see are written by people. You're looking at a certain subset of the churning mass of humanity out there. So it's not that the web is itself an animal, but it's that the society is this really exciting, decentralized thing. And the web, fortunately, is more or less able to echo it.

RING: Julian Ring, NPR News.

Copyright © 2023 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.