The World Wide Web turns 30 this year, and to celebrate three decades of utter chaos and brilliance, CERN developers and designers have created a version of the original WorldWideWeb browser that can run inside a modern browser. What, you wonder, is it like to surf the original web? Well, give it a try here. It’s kind of a pain!
Honestly, surfing the web with yesteryear’s technology sorta sucks compared to using the fancy browser you probably have open right now. The software that powers this great communication tool is constantly evolving and improving, making it easy to forget that the earliest versions of online were dull grey boxes of text. The original proposal for the World Wide Web, published by CERN scientist Tim Berners-Lee in March 1989, would lay the groundwork for a rudimentary “web” of hypertext documents that could be viewed through a “browser.” The very first browser application, “WorldWideWeb,” was developed on a NeXT machine and launched in December 1990, a few months before the project went public. This is the browser you can test out for yourself, again, right here.
As you’ll quickly see, there is no address bar. There are no colours either, since the NeXT computer Berners-Lee used to build WorldWideWeb only supported greyscale images at the time. And in fact, there are also no images. The first photo didn’t even appear on the Web until 1992. It was a promotional shot for a comedy band called Les Horribles Cernettes, who were friends with Berners-Lee at the time. (They have a YouTube channel now, and you should definitely watch their 1993 music video, “Surfing the Web.”) However, there are no songs or images or colours on the original WorldWideWeb simulator, just a whole lot of hypertext and a few confusing menus.
If this all feels fascinating to you, you ought to check out the full anniversary project on CERN’s website. There, you’ll find a whole bunch of early web history, including this handy timeline of internet milestones and the original proposal for the World Wide Web written by Berners-Lee himself some 30 years ago. You can also get a glimpse of what Berners-Lee’s browser setup looked like back in the day thanks to some screengrabs he provides. Almost hidden in all these documents is also a scan of the original World Wide Web proposal with the unassuming note “Vague but exciting…” scrawled on top.
But if you do nothing else after reading this post, you should click right here to try out the original WorldWideWeb application. It will take a few minutes to figure out how to open Gizmodo dot com and then a few more to figure out how to read a blog post. Then you get to bask in the glory of the old days on the web without an ad in sight.