Photos: The web turns 20

It's hard to imagine life without the web, but it was just 20 years ago that it got its start.

"Vague but exciting," is how Mike Sendall initially described the project outline, handed to him by one of his researchers, Tim Berners-Lee on 13 March, 1989.

That paper, "Information Management: A Proposal", was the starting point for Berners Lee's creation of the World Wide Web. The full text of the proposal is available here.

Just a year after Sendall gave his approval to the project, the web was born.

From such humble beginnings if research body Cern and the genius of Tim Berners-Lee can be called humble we've got the web.

Click here for photos of the World Wide Web's history.

Berners-Lee took the existing technology that was the internet which had been around since the 1950s and created the hypertext linking system which makes it usable by non-techies the world over. That was clever, but even he admits many others could have come up with a similar system.

What we should all thank Berners-Lee (and Cern) for is the decision to set the World Wide Web free. On 30 April 1993, the group announced that no royalties fees would ever be charged for the web, a decision markedly different than Gopher's earlier move to start charging.

And if you just said to yourself: "What's Gopher?" that shows how important keeping the web free has been to making it ubiquitous.

Of that decision, Tim Berners-Lee has said: "It allowed the web to takeoff... I knew that it was absolutely essential. I knew that none of the people I was talking to would have been involved at all if they had thought that they were buying into some commercially controlled product."

"If we had not had that document from Cern, we would not have the web," he said, in a video available at the Cern site.

And ubiquitous it is among wealthier countries, at least.

According to Gartner principal research analyst Fernando Elizalde: "The consumer has become addicted' to going to the web for information; for research, whether it is to learn about a specific topic for knowledge or researching retail/commerce opportunities that ultimately end in a business transaction."

He continued: "Of course, the actual physical connection to the web the broadband connection has been on the rise and at the end of 2008, 20 per cent of all households globally had a broadband connection. This is on pace to increase to 25 per cent by 2012... This is especially important as the content on the web becomes more complex, moving from text to video."

What's next for the web? Only time will tell - but at the current rate of change, it's likely not even Tim Berners-Lee will recognise it in 20 years time.

A webcast of the celebrations at Cern is available at - where else - its website from 2pm CET on Friday.