It has now been 20 years since Sir Tim Berners-Lee authored Information Management: A Proposal and set the technology world on fire.
Back in 1989, Berners-Lee was a software consultant working at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) outside Geneva, Switzerland. On 13 March of that year, he submitted a plan to management on how to better monitor the flow of research at the labs. People were coming and going at such a rate that an increasingly frustrated Berners-Lee complained CERN was losing track of valuable project information because of the rapid turnover of personnel. It didn't help matters that the place was full of incompatible computers that people brought with them to the office.
"When two years is a typical length of stay, information is constantly being lost. The introduction of the new people demands a fair amount of their time and that of others before they have any idea of what goes on. The technical details of past projects are sometimes lost forever, or only recovered after a detective investigation in an emergency. Often, the information has been recorded -- it just cannot be found," wrote Berners-Lee.
So he got to work on his document. But it would take Berners-Lee another couple of years before he could demonstrate his idea. Even then, the realisation of his theory had to wait until the middle of the 1990s, when Jim Clark and Marc Andreessen popularised the notion of commercial Web browsing with Netscape.
As prescient as the CERN document was, not even Berners-Lee could imagine where his basic design was about to lead.
"We should work toward a universal linked information system, in which generality and portability are more important than fancy graphics techniques and complex extra facilities," he wrote.
"The aim would be to allow a place to be found for any information or reference which one felt was important, and a way of finding it afterwards. The result should be sufficiently attractive to use that the information contained would grow past a critical threshold, so that the usefulness of the scheme would in turn encourage its increased use."
On Friday, Berners-Lee and other people involved in the development of the Web will congregate at the CERN to celebrate.
Here's a virtual toast to Berners-Lee on a job very well done.
Berners-Lee's original schematic for a client/server model for a distributed hypertext system is shown above.