The Web, Capitalism, and Us

Written by Patrick J Turner Jr

Published on August 10th, 2023


In 1989 the initial concept for the World Wide Web as we know it today was drafted and presented to CERN and by Tim Berners-Lee. While originally introduced as a way to store, manage, and navigate CERN's overwhelming amount of information on various scientific projects, over the next three years Berners-Lee would develop this concept into the Web as we know it today. This was the spark that would lead to the explosion of the Web.

The Web is more than just a simple platform for connecting and viewing documents over a network though. A key component of the Web was its rejection of the typical hierarchal Tree Structure for navigation as seen in most computer filing systems. When finding family photos or music stored on your device, you are interfacing with a Tree Structure. Instead, the Web utilized the hypertext model wherein documents can be linked to each other through hyperlinks attached to words or images. This model, conceptualized by Ted Nelson and first referenced in publication in 1965, has been the primary method for navigating webpages since the Web's inception.

Hypertext's implementation in computer systems was not unique to the Web. In fact, Berners-Lee had used the same model in 1980 for a private, multiuser information system known as Enquire. Even other companies and institutions had developed limited implementations of the hypertext model for navigating private documents by this time. What made the Web unique is that it aimed to link documents across independent systems and databases while allowing simultaneous browsing of those documents.

Perhaps most fundamental to the Web's structure was the decision to make the creation of pages and links fully decentralized. With no governing body over what pages can link to where or who can create and host pages, the Web was designed as being democratic at its very core. With the base structure outlined, Berners-Lee spent the next year creating the first Web browser called WorldWideWeb (WWW) and the HyperText Transfer Protocol (HTTP) which both became part of the URL syntax which is used to navigate pages on the web today.

HTML pages became the primary format through which all files were hosted on the Web. When you read this blog, or any website for that matter, you are looking at an HTML document. As a quick aside, I believe HTML to be another important part in the growth of the Web as a public platform. HTML stands for HyperText Markup Language, and if you've written or read any HTML you know it's fairly simple. One does not need to be a computer scientist or expert programmer to create basic HTML conveying words, links, images, video, or other elements. As the name would imply, the average word doc could have a few HTML tags "marked up" on it to create a simple HTML document which could be hosted on the Web. As far as programming languages go, it is perhaps one of the most accessible in terms of syntax and complexity.

Over the next several years WorldWideWeb would be used internally by CERN before being released to outside organizations for use in 1991. Only 50 sites were created at this time. However, the decision to make the WorldWideWeb royalty free in 1993, and the National Center for Supercomputing Applications releasing the Mosaic web browser soon after resulted in a massive growth of the Web from 1994 onward. The rest, as they say, is history.

The web began to snowball in growth from this point on. Thousands of pages and over two million users poured onto the Web via Mosaic in the early days of 1994. At the end of that same year, the company Netscape released their Navigator web browser which allowed for Java and JavaScript languages to be utilized on the web. The introduction of Java and JavaScript transformed the already major accomplishment of hosting simple documents with text and images embedded into more complex webpages capable of executing code.

Netscape's Navigator quickly became the web browser of choice for users everywhere due to its array of features like the capability to interpret Java and JavaScript embedded in webpages. The web continued to become more accessible and steadily grew throughout the early 90s. In 1994 another big player in the early web introduced itself; Geocities. While defunct now, Geocities was a massively popular site which allowed users to design and host their own personal websites just like this one. Neocities, the hosting service through which this site is hosted, was originally launched in 2013 with the aim to help archive old Geocities pages.

Up until 1995, the web was a relatively small place with only 14% of Americans reporting being online. This was all about to change. On an episode of the Late Show with David Letterman that same year, Bill Gates attempted to explain the usefulness of the web and internet as a whole to Letterman. After explaining its various uses and potential for growth, Letterman responded to Gates with the following statement: “It’s too bad there is no money in [computers and the internet].” As fate would have it, Letterman soon got his wish.


On August 9th, 1995, Netscape became a publicly traded company. With the immense success of their Navigator web browser and their business model of liscensing use of the browser to commercial entities, people in the business world began to take notice of the Web and the Internet as a potential cash cow. From the mid-90s onward, everyone was trying to get a slice of the pie.