At least we’re not still calling it “the information superhighway.”Google

The World Wide Web turns 30 today — the perfect occasion for a Google Doodle.

We tend to use the terms “Web” and “Internet” pretty interchangeably these days (except that almost nobody actually calls it the Web anymore, and only a few style guides still capitalize “internet”). But they’re really two different things. The internet is the network of connections between computers, smartphones, and appliances like connected refrigerators and thermostats. The World Wide Web is an application, built using the hypertext transfer protocol (the familiar “http” in most Web addresses) to transfer data and the Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) code to create Web pages and content. It’s basically a user interface for the internet.

And on March 12, 1989, software engineer Tim Berners-Lee submitted a proposal that laid out the very basics of how that user interface would work. In the blandly-titled “Information Management: A Proposal,” Berners-Lee described a database using hypertext links to help researchers at the CERN nuclear physics laboratory in Switzerland share documents more easily. The system, which he dubbed “Mesh,” built on the work engineers and computer scientists at the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA, now called the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency or DARPA) and various universities had been developing since the 1960s, but made it much easier to use.

Berners-Lee spent the next two years developing HTTP, HTML, and the first Web browser and webpage editor, WorldWideWeb.app. By 1991, the Web had launched, making the internet a thing laypeople could easily figure out how to use. 30 years later, the World Wide Web has profoundly reshaped our culture; it’s such an ever-present part of modern life that it’s hard to break its impact down into specific terms. It’s changed how we communicate, how we shop, how we meet new people, how we learn, how we play, how we vote, and maybe even how we think and create.

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