Hello all!

We’re at CERN today celebrating the 30th anniversary of the invention of the World Wide Web by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, and we’re delighted to join you for this AMA.

In alphabetical order, we are:

  • Jean-François Groff: Web pioneer and entrepreneur; I helped Tim Berners-Lee develop the World Wide Web technology
  • Lou Montulli: Web pioneer and entrepreneur, author of the Lynx browser, founding engineer at Netscape
  • Peggie Rimmer: Direct supervisor of Tim Berners-Lee at CERN, when he invented the Web
  • Ben Segal: Internet promotor at CERN, Tim Berners-Lee’s mentor
  • Andreas Wagner: Lead of the CERN Web Frameworks section; I have worked on CERN Web Services since 1998

Unfortunately, Frédéric, François and Zeynep are unable to participate due to last-minute conflicts! Zeynep has however responded to one of the questions posed during the AMA, and Frédéric has responded to another.

  • Zeynep Tufekci: Techno-sociologist, writer, assistant professor at the University of North Carolina, faculty associate at Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society
  • Frédéric Donck: Chief Regional Bureau Director for Europe for the Internet Society
  • François Flückiger: Early Internet promotor in Europe; I led the CERN Web team after Sir Tim Berners-Lee left

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We will take your questions about the Web, its history and its future between 16:30 and 18:00 CET (UTC +01). Ask us anything!

Disclaimer: We are answering the questions in our personal capacities and none of the opinions expressed here necessarily represent those of CERN itself.

About the World Wide Web | Watch “A brief history of the Web”

Tim Berners-Lee, a British scientist, invented the World Wide Web (WWW) in 1989, while working at CERN. The Web was originally conceived and developed to meet the demand for automated information-sharing between scientists in universities and institutes around the world.

The first website at CERN – and in the world – was dedicated to the World Wide Web project itself and was hosted on Berners-Lee's NeXT computer.

On 30 April 1993, CERN put the World Wide Web software in the public domain. Later, CERN made a release available with an open licence, a more sure way to maximise its dissemination. These actions allowed the Web to flourish.

Find out more: The birth of the Web

About CERN

CERN is the European Laboratory for Particle Physics, located in Geneva, Switzerland. It was established in 1954, and will celebrate its 65th anniversary this year.

Find out more: home.cern

EDIT: Thank you for all your questions! It has been fun, but we have to sign off now. Visit cern.ch/web30 for updates on the Web@30 celebrations! The recording from this morning's panels will be up there soon.

EDIT 2: We reached out to Zeynep and Frédéric after the AMA had ended to respond to two highly upvoted questions. However, we cannot respond to any follow-up questions. Once again, thank you for joining us!

Comments: 1405 • Responses: 70  • Date: 

cowardly_comments2481 karma

Are you guys in agreement with the W3C and Tim about the Encrypted Media Extensions (EME) DRM as a standard? And, if so, why? Thanks.


Edit: They came back and answered the question this morning (3/13/19 08:00 EST). So, props to them.


Edit 2: For anyone coming to this late, and would like to hear an interesting and easy-to-follow overview of this issue, I suggest listening to this ep of Reply All


Web30atCERN60 karma

Thank you for your patience. Zeynep Tufekci couldn't participate in the AMA as originally foreseen, but she has provided her response to your question:

This is a difficult issue: proponents of the standard think that if we're going to have DRM, we should at least do it this way. However, I believe the important issues remain: security researchers need better legal protections and using proprietary code raises many risks including making it difficult for potential new browsers to enter the market. Unfortunately, as with some other issues concerning the web, this is one where we have didn't have many good options as even without this standard being adopted, browsers were already using a version of this idea. I hope that we can move to a point where that we don't have to say 'is this better than the not-great status quo' into a place where we create standards that protect content providers, especially small ones, without having such conflicts. The standard recommends that organizers using DRM do not use the anti-circumvention clauses in DMCA but a recommendation doesn't have the force of law and may not be sufficient protection for the security researcher community.

[Zeynep is a techno-sociologist, writer, assistant professor at the University of North Carolina, faculty associate at Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society.]

Zururu924 karma

What is your take on the EU Article 13 and the proposed internet-filter?

Web30atCERN53 karma

Quick update from the organisers.

Sorry we were unable to address your question yesterday.

Frédéric Donck, Chief Regional Bureau Director for Europe for the Internet Society, who was unable to participate in the AMA due to a last-minute conflict, has agreed to respond to your question. He is boarding a flight right now, however, but we will update this post with his reply.

Thank you for your patience.

EDIT: As promised, here is Frédéric's reply:

The proposed EU Copyright Directive, which aims to update and reinforce the rights of rights holders within Europe’s Digital Market, is largely a positive step forward. However, Article 13 raises serious concerns about the implications for free expression, creativity, and the freedom to publish.

The Article turns Internet content sharing platforms into the “content police”, obliging them to implement surveillance tools in order to carry out this function, which might lead to pervasive surveillance. Secondly, while Article 13 calls for the introduction of “measures, such as the use of effective content recognition technologies”, content-blocking technology is often highly ineffective, overly broad, and even counterproductive. Technologies deployed today often block legal content and do not differentiate between fair use and copyright infringing activity. We believe that all Internet-related IP discussions should be conducted under a multistakeholder framework without undermining the global Internet architecture and permissionless innovation.

Visit our blog post on Art. 13: https://www.internetsociety.org/blog/2018/06/article-13/

Harths_Stoner348 karma

Hi, what (in your opinion) is the best thing to happen to the web in its 30 years?

Web30atCERN716 karma

Of the many great things the Web brought I would pick OpenSource software and Wikipedia -- Andreas

Web30atCERN371 karma

JFG> Interesting that in the same year we released www to the world, Linus Torvalds shipped Linux 0.1. We all built on top of the GNU free software thanks to Richard Stallman, going back to the mid-1970s. (I used to run all my life from emacs.)

Web30atCERN258 karma

The best thing about the web is that it is still an open system that is not controlled by any one company or country. It is a resource for all that is supported by open standards and open source software. After 30 years it is still evolving and adding new functionality - Lou

Web30atCERN169 karma

JFG> First of all, Internet is more like 50 years old; only the Web is 30.

Too many best things to list. My favorites: Wikipedia, Amazon and Android.

Roflrofat73 karma

For people that don’t know (such as me), what’s the difference between the web and the internet?

Web30atCERN174 karma

Ben>: The Web is an application which utilizes the Internet for data transmission.

Web30atCERN37 karma

Every day something new happens. I can't keep up! - Peggie

connorcmu342 karma

What’s the widest-ranging consequence (either good or bad) resulting from a seemingly innocuous design decision made early in your career?

Web30atCERN801 karma

JFG> Tim has always regretted introducing colon slash slash in addresses. Surely all this extra typing contributed to climate change.

Web30atCERN224 karma

JFG> More seriously, I sometimes wonder whether building a micropayment infrastructure into the protocols from the get-go may have changed the funding paradigm of free stuff paid for by your personal data via hyper-targeted advertising. Too late?

Web30atCERN197 karma

Early on at Netscape we had to decide if we would spend many months building a cross platform threading library or to do without threads when building Navigator. We chose to do without threads and use state machines to handle multiple real time network streams. This caused many consequences, especially for JavaScript. Since we didn't have threads we had to use callbacks for things that would have probably been better as serialized network calls. This is one of the reasons why JS has the callback craziness that it has today. We eventually spent the time to build a very robust cross platform thread library called NSPR, but many architectural decisions had already been made. - Lou

larrycorser320 karma

Do you think the web will one day be able to be accessed with our minds? Implants or ocular devices? Cheers!

Web30atCERN704 karma

I think it will definitely happen. It will also be very weird. Try this the next time you are on a train or waiting in a public space. Watch all the people who are looking at their phone, which is likely almost everyone, and then imagine that the phone is gone and they are staring into space not seeing anyone. Public waiting spaces will be filled with virtual zombies staring into cyberspace and ignoring the real world. - Lou

Web30atCERN257 karma

JFG> Definitely. There's a bandwidth mismatch. Humans have reasonable input senses but very limited output. Brain interfaces will dramatically expand our communication powers.

Web30atCERN60 karma

It depends on your mind - Peggie

connorcmu187 karma

This one is for Lou:

Did you ever discover the exact inflection point at which typos become accepted as cannon by the Oxford Dictionary?

Web30atCERN211 karma

JFG> Didn't you misspell "canon"? ;-)

Web30atCERN147 karma

I still don't know how to spell referer correctly. Fortunately several major platforms now support either spelling. - Lou

BTW- this comment refers to the referer header: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HTTP_referer I implemented this HTTP header in 1994 for Netscape Navigator 1.0 and may have misspelled the word, or it is possible that someone else had already suggested the header in a proposal. I'm not sure, but I'm happy not to take credit for the misspelling.

KillerBot010144 karma

What are your thoughts about cyber security? Also, is it worth me making that my profession?

Web30atCERN171 karma

JFG> Yes Sir. The world needs you.

Urban_Maniac110 karma

What would be the effects if the Web crashed for atleast one hour ?

Web30atCERN247 karma

We might start talking to each other again - Peggie

myope-uk99 karma

With so much opensource software/firmware/os/hardware now. Why do you think the world is so slow to adopt?


Have you seen Angels and Demons? Thoughts on its representation of CERN?

Web30atCERN241 karma

Replying to your first question with a quote by Max Planck:

"A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it."

-- Andreas

Web30atCERN89 karma

Ben>: Dan Brown specifically informed CERN after publishing Angels and Demons that it was FICTION!!

Web30atCERN63 karma

JFG> Great question. The 1990s were the turning point to build software components and open-source them. Today looks like the same turning point for hardware. Adoption is already happening fast. You can imagine a "what if" device, list features you want, and get all the parts sourced from a robust ecosystem of hardware suppliers and integrators. Very empowering.

Nemaniarjun91 karma

What one new invention would you say be the next step in improving WWW?

Web30atCERN198 karma

Micro-payments would be a great feature if it could be made both technically and economically feasible. Moving away from advertising based models to micro-payments could be a potential solution for the ailing journalism industry and could enable new business models that are much more privacy friendly. - Lou

knitandcode62 karma

Did you ever expect the www to grow as it did and did you ever imagine the phenomenal impact it would have on our lives?

Web30atCERN112 karma

When I started working on Lynx in 1992 I imagined it would be a relatively small success used by a few dozen universities. By the end of 1993 there was so much growth and exciting technological innovations I started to believe that the Web could be the 'information superhighway' as Al Gore had famously quipped. By the time we started Netscape in 1994, I was absolutely convinced that we had a world changing opportunity. After helping to build the platform it enabled many, many changes that none of us had imagined. Most of them good, some of them bad. - Lou

zappapostrophe58 karma

I didn’t even realise CERN had a part to play in the World Wide Web. So in extension to that, what are some things the general public might not know about CERN?

Web30atCERN66 karma

You'll find quite a long list of technologies and inventions developed at CERN at https://kt.cern/general-public -- Andreas

Web30atCERN28 karma

This is a good place to start: https://home.cern/about/who-we-are - Peggie

whisperingmoon56 karma

This is absolutely thrilling. Congratulations to all on this auspicious day!

My question is this:

  • Worldwide, we have a massive population of people under 30, mostly in the developing world, with limited access to conventional higher education (and often in states where freedom of speech and access to information is limited.) What can we do to use the internet to support and develop the intellectual resources of this huge population?

Web30atCERN70 karma

JFG> The inclusion of the "other half" of the world's population is absolutely crucial. Unfettered Internet access should be a basic human right. Being a techno-optimist, I expect that humanity will fully bridge the so-called "digital divide" within the next decade. Satellite mega-constellations will accelerate this movement.

There is formidable energy and potential emanating from the youngest cohorts in African and Asian countries.

idlecutoff53 karma

What are you all doing professionally these days?

Web30atCERN152 karma

JFG> Helping connect "the other half" – only 4 billion humans have Internet access. Still some work to do!

Web30atCERN65 karma

I wasn't at CERN 30 years ago but only came in 1995 (to do my PhD in accelerator physics). In 1998, I moved to the IT department and started working on CERN Web Services ... and still there now -- Andreas

Web30atCERN60 karma

I'm a retired physicist, but still writing historical articles for the CERN Courier (because I'm historical!) - Peggie

Web30atCERN47 karma

> Ben Segal: I'm still at CERN (Honorary status) after retiring in 2002. I've been working on Volunteer Computing here since 2004: take a look at https://lhcathome.cern.ch/

Web30atCERN38 karma

I'm working at a business aviation startup called JetInsight -- Lou Montulli

bobleo6948 karma

How do you see the internet effecting our lives in the far future?

Web30atCERN125 karma

There may not be a far future, given climate change. We'll have other problems beyond whether we've got internet or not. - Peggie

dukwon43 karma

This plaque is currently located in building 1, between the Orsay and Marseille LHCb groups. It mentions two offices: one in building 31 (31/2-012 according to this), and one in building 2.

Do any of you know which office it was in building 2? Apparently it belonged to Robert Caulliau.

Web30atCERN68 karma

JFG> The plaque is wrong. CERN will put up new ones soon. Tim wrote his 1989 memo from building 31. The NeXT machine was shipped there in September 1990. By Christmas, he had written the WorldWideWeb browser/editor, which you can play with at worldwideweb.cern.ch thanks to brilliant JavaScript hackers. Then we moved to building 513, above the computer center, room 1-007, from which we wrote the web code library. James Bond thanked us.

Web30atCERN29 karma

It was done in 31/2-012. I saw it happening... Ben Segal

The Building 1 office was Robert Cailliau's, not Tim's.

There is now a plaque outside the 31/2-012 office, (but not as nice as the Buiding 1 plaque).

ToorajPatel43 karma

why CERN made WWW Free and Open Source ?

Web30atCERN93 karma

In CERN's Convention, signd in 1953 it states:

"The Organization shall provide for collaboration among European States in nuclear research of a pure scientific and fundamental character, and in research essentially related thereto. The Organization shall have no concern with work for military requirements and the results of its experimental and theoretical work shall be published or otherwise made generally available." [source]

- Peggie

Web30atCERN41 karma

JFG> CERN's decision to explicitly place the core web technologies in the public domain was absolutely instrumental in making it the universally accepted standard. It helped that the Web was also well-designed, but had CERN kept any ownership rights, it could have been displaced by a more open system. Or worse: by a collection of competing incompatible systems, like in pre-Web days. Remember AOL, e-World and Microsoft Network?

Nokxtokx38 karma

What is between?

Web30atCERN33 karma

JFG> Best question of the evening!

hardspank91635 karma

How many inter dimensional beings have you brought over with CERN?

Web30atCERN61 karma

11 and a half - Peggie

sdgoat35 karma

How much did Gopher influence the development of HTTP? And how come it's largely looked over in the rise of the WWW?

Web30atCERN48 karma

Gopher was the technology de jour just before the HTTP was invented. It certainly helped inform some of the design decisions. Gopher remained very simple while HTTP quickly innovated and left the basic concepts of Gopher behind. Gopher was and still is part of the web via the gopher: URL. The web tried to be inclusive of all existing protocols and supported Gopher, FTP, NNTP, WAIS and HTTP from almost the beginning. - Lou

sdgoat18 karma

Thanks! The history books seem to often leave out Gopher and I understand it was more of a stepping stone versus a perfect solution. But the University of Minnesota team seems to never get the recognition for at least being within the pioneering phase of the WWW. Did their desire to charge for licensing also play a role in its decline?

Web30atCERN23 karma

I don't remember Gopher licensing fees coming up while we were working on the early web. One of the reasons that the Web took off was that there were multiple teams working on different browsers and servers all over the world. The Web community is what made it successful. I don't think the web could have been built by any single institution. - lou

Web30atCERN13 karma

JFG> And Gopher's home, the University of Minnesota, kept ownership rights. Even though they'd happily license it for free, industry preferred having no strings attached.

allwordsaremadeup30 karma

I was pretty sure superconducting powerlines were going to show up everywhere after they created the industrial infrastructure to make them for the LHC. That didn't really happen ... Why not? Any other spin-offs we can expect from cern? Didn't they need new tech for the gigantic datastream the LHC produced, has that influenced our lives?

Web30atCERN51 karma

JFG> Superconducting power lines would be too bloody damn expensive. Local energy generation is the future.

ljferguson9424 karma

Who owns the web?

Web30atCERN47 karma

Nobody - Peggie

TravelingJew23 karma

What's your favorite World Wide Web fact?

Web30atCERN42 karma

JFG> Because we wrote the Web documentation with the WorldWideWeb NeXT editor, you needed to have web access in order to learn about the Web. Pretty circular... So, I hacked together an alternate login program for the NeXT machine: anonymous users would be thrown into the line-mode browser by just typing telnet info.cern.ch.

Thus started the myth that the Web was a weird way of reading stuff by typing numbers to switch pages.

carlsberg2422 karma

Is the source code for the original world wide web implementation available anywhere? The link that several sites points to seems to be dead.

As a software engineer, I am always a little bit disappointed that I was born too late to be among some of these pioneering projects. Anything that I am developing today has been done a million times in various ways. What was the inspiration to start working on the WWW standard? Was there a lot of prior work to build on or was it all from scratch?

Web30atCERN47 karma

JFG> All that vintage source code is still around, although not necessarily under the original URLs.

Do not worry about stuff having been "done a million times" already. The Web was considered primitive junk by hypertext experts; we got rejected from the Hypertext 1991 conference. Whatever you're working on, if it solves a real problem that has frustrated you, it's useful. Great inventions like the Web are only obvious in hindsight.

hostetlm20 karma

What do you (any of you) foresee as being the next big advancement in the World Wide Web? Thanks for doing AMA!

Web30atCERN48 karma

JFG> Dunno. You tell me!

The Web is done. Go out and build stuff on top of it, just like we built the Web on top of hypertext and the DNS.

aintnufincleverhere18 karma

what are the best proposed solutions to the Baryon asymmetry problem?

Web30atCERN27 karma

JFG> Sorry we're not physicists here, just random data plumbers.

JeffreyDoe16 karma

How come Al Gore isnt on this AMA, the real inventor of the internet. What did you guys do to snuff him out??

Web30atCERN27 karma

JFG> He died of CO<sub>2</sub> poisoning.

gr0kch8n13 karma

What are your opinions on Money over IP, and do you think bitcoin could be a good direction for this to be complimentary as an extension to the internet and standardisation through the w3c?

FYI, I've been putting some thought to this here https://bitcoindev.network/money-as-a-content-type/

Web30atCERN75 karma

JFG> Personal opinion warning: don't read if you're a true believer!







Bitcoin is the most inefficient useless techno-ideology ever foisted upon humanity.

gr0kch8n13 karma

Isn't that what they said about the WWW and the internet?

Web30atCERN49 karma

JFG> Indeed, a lot of experts predicted the Web would crash the Internet. But only Kim Kardashian has that power.

chadarmod66612 karma

Was it difficult to spread the usage of web in the beginning?

Web30atCERN14 karma

From about 1991 to 1993 it was slow, but once it got going it was exponential - Peggie

aftermeasure9 karma

First, thank you for your momentous contribution to human advancement!

What can we do, individually or collectively, to make the web more resilient to global trend away from democracy, transparency, and free access to information?

Web30atCERN9 karma

Ben>: That is the 64K$ question! Many of us and others are worrying about it. It was well discussed at this morning's two panel discussions: try and find them on the Web@30 website.

WDadade2 karma

  1. 1. 1. Hi CERN team! On the topic of inventions that were made because of CERN, what other things that affect our lives daily have been invented because CERN needed it, either directly or indirectly?

Web30atCERN4 karma

You'll find quite a long list of technologies and inventions developed at CERN at


-- Andreas

heath852 karma

Is string theory a load of nonsense?

Web30atCERN7 karma

Ben>: Beautiful mathematics with the potential to unify gravity and quantum theory, but sadly so far not supported by experimental facts.

Krelian12122 karma

Do you ever gets prangs of regret about some of the negative downstream effects of what the WWW has become (i.e. increased social isolation, online bullying, overload of information and the propagation of fake news, governments more easily monitoring their citizens, etc.)? If you hadn't invented it someone else would have in some form, of course, but you mentioned being worried about things like climate change, so I'm just wondering if a "I'm not sure if I made the world a better place" social awareness ever strikes you?

Web30atCERN6 karma

JFG> Why so gloomy?

ArchonUniverse2 karma

What was your inspiration behind designing the world wide web?

Web30atCERN3 karma

Only Sir Tim can answer that - Peggie

Fakecar2 karma

Y’all created the internet for its open use. What are yall’s thoughts on net neutrality?

Web30atCERN2 karma

Net neutrality is what we'all want - Peggie

MackTO1 karma

Did Al Gore invent the Internet?

Web30atCERN3 karma

Ben>: Nope, but he promoted it quite a bit.

NotErikUden1 karma

Do you think the government should limit what is allowed to think?

Web30atCERN3 karma

>Ben: No, I think only Godel's Theorem should limit us.

Web30atCERN1 karma

No. - Lou (do you think that they could?)

mickeylouse234-5 karma

Why not remove porn and the dark web?

Web30atCERN8 karma

Ben> I just tried:

cd /darkweb; rm -rf *.*

but it didn't seem to work...

Web30atCERN5 karma

That would annoy too many people! - Peggie

SmokeyWindham1 karma

Who's this killjoy?^^^^^

mickeylouse234-3 karma

It's me.your dad

Web30atCERN6 karma

JFG> Your mom says hi.