While many people and organizations were involved in the development of the internet as we know it today, Tim Berners-Lee is widely considered the inventor of the World Wide Web. While the physical connections and technological advances of the internet allowed for the transfer of data between computers, users needed to know which computer they wanted to access, and log into each individually to see what was stored on it. He wanted a way for anyone, regardless of computer science knowledge or operating system, to be able to access any information that was being shared over the internet. His work in the 1980s, leading to a formal system proposal while working at the CERN laboratory in 1989, was inspired by Enquire Within Upon Everything a Victorian-era book of advice on cleaning, repairs, cooking, and more – bundled in a single book, yet their only relation to each other was that they were all useful for everyday problems (Berners-Lee, n.d.). Internet systems at the time were based on hierarchical structures, where things could only be parents, children, or siblings of other things. There was no way to classify and connect ideas the way the human mind things, in tangents and offshoots. But if every document or piece of information had a location and an address on a server, it could be linked from anywhere or even accessed directly.
“By being able to reference anything with equal ease, a computer could represent associations between things that might seem unrelated but somehow did, in fact, share a relationship. A web of information would form.” (Berners-Lee, 2000, p.2)
Berners-Lee’s ideas eventually developed into several major inventions:
And of course, the Enquire concept still exists today as the hyperlink, more commonly just called a link. A link on a web page lets you navigate to another page or document with a click (like this one to the sources list). The inspiration for the World Wide Web is still the most essential part of it today. But the way links are used has evolved and expanded from its early days. Google’s PageRank system requires links to and from pages to help determine how influential and relevant they are. Over 4 billion pieces of content are shared on Facebook every day, most of them links. Almost every piece of advertising online, whether it’s a banner, endorsement, button, search ad, social post, or video involves a link back to a landing page about the advertiser.