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Did the Web begin at CERN?

The Web began as a solution to the problems of one research lab, but soon became a world-wide phenomenon. Watch Professor Les Carr explain more.
PROFESSOR LES CARR: I think you could learn an awful lot about the Web by looking at its beginnings and where it came from. And if you go back and have a look at where that place is, it’s actually Geneva. Now, Geneva is this wonderful city. It’s right near the Alps. They’ve got a fantastic lake with this wonderful tourist attraction– the Jet d’Eau– pumping water up hundreds of feet into the sky. But if you draw yourself away from there, a few miles away, there’s a research centre. It goes by the name of CERN, and it’s a nuclear research centre.
And what’s amazing about it is not necessarily what you see when you go in the gates, the buildings there, but that underneath that research centre is a ring, a tunnel bored through the rock that goes actually outside Switzerland and into France and then back into Switzerland again. And that’s where all their experiments are done. That’s where their particle accelerators are, and that’s where the Large Hadron Collider was constructed. Now, you may well know about the Large Hadron Collider because researchers from all over the world have come to CERN from every country, from hundreds of universities to try and collaborate together to find out some of the secrets of the universe.
But it was also quite a worrying thing for many people. They heard about what was going on, and they were worried– you may remember the newspaper reports– about the possibility that black holes would be created at CERN as part of these experiments. And the black holes would sink to the centre of the Earth and devour the whole Earth and destroy everything we knew about us. Now, thankfully, that never happened, and no one really in the physics community ever thought that that would. But what everyone has ignored is that something like that did happen because, 10 years previously, something did escape from CERN. That thing was the World Wide Web.
This piece of technology left that lab, went out to universities across the world, and then into research companies, and then into retail companies. And you started to see URLs appearing on the sides of buses. And then governments started to use it, and entertainment companies started to use it. And before long, we were all using the Web. And so we end up with this technology suddenly being used by everyone for all sorts of purposes. Something that started off in one place with one condition to look after the needs of scientists who just wanted to share information with each other, who weren’t worried about thieves stealing things from them, who weren’t worried about selling the secrets that they discovered to other people.
They just wanted to share information. Well, that’s the Web that everybody has ended up with now. And so when you find that you hear about– there are problems with intellectual property and privacy and crime on the Internet and on the Web. Well, that’s partly because they were things that just weren’t problems to people in CERN.

To help you understand the nature of the Web and to see why it provides challenges as well as benefits, it is useful to examine where it came from, and how it differed from previous attempts to build a world-wide information system.

The Web was a solution to the unusual problems of a highly collaborative, international research centre in the 1980s.

So it was quite surprising that it became adopted across the world, and was enthusiastically used by all kinds of people for all kinds of purposes.

But it wasn’t the only attempt at devising a way to gather and use information from across the world.

In this video, and in those in the following two steps, Professor Les Carr examines where the Web came from and how it differed from previous attempts to build a world-wide information system.

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