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The World Wide Web Was Almost Known as “The Mesh”

The inventor of the World Wide Web had a few different name ideas

The actual first logo for the World Wide Web, created by the developer of its first web browser. (Robert Cailliau/Wikimedia Commons)
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The Mesh. Mine of Information. The Information Mine.

The abbreviations for any of these could have replaced ‘www’ as the prefix of choice for internet URLs, the inventor of the World Wide Web told Reddit in a 2014 "Ask Me Anything" session. Tim Berners-Lee, the software consultant who is credited with inventing the web, discarded ‘tim’ and ‘moi’ as too self-centered, writes Patrick Howell O’Neill for The Daily Dot“‘Mesh’ [was] thrown out because it sounded too much like ‘mess,’” O’Neil writes.

Although the web is probably better known for cat pictures and WeRateDogs today, those who developed the web originally had loftier goals. Berners-Lee, who was working at high-energy physics lab CERN, was trying to find a way to distribute research information from CERN across time zones and continents? "The web was originally conceived and developed to meet the demand for automatic information-sharing between scientists in universities and institutes around the world," writes CERN.

In the notes to his archived presentation to CERN, Berners-Lee noted that he referred to it as the ‘mesh’ while working on the project. It’s just one of the fascinating facts about the shockingly recent birth of something that has transformed how we live. Here’s a few more things to know about the early days of the world wide web:

The first web browser was also called WorldWideWeb

WorldWideWeb was both a text editor and a browser. “By 1993 it offered many of the characteristics of modern browsers,” writes Matthew Lasar for Ars Technica.  But it was limited by the fact that it was run on an operating system that most computers didn’t have. It didn’t take long until someone else at CERN wrote a browser that worked on other operating systems. That meant “anyone could access the web,” according to Internet historian Bill Stewart, who Lasar quotes. There wasn’t much to be seen yet, he writes: the web consisted “primarily of the CERN phone book.”

In the early 1990s, a cascade of new browsers followed, Lasar writes, before the browser landscape stabilized. “What this complex story reminds us is that no innovation is created by one person,” he writes. “The Web browser was propelled into our lives by visionaries around the world, people who often didn’t quite understand what they were doing, but were motivated by curiosity, practical concerns, or even playfulness. Their separate sparks of genius kept the process going.”

The first website just explained what the world wide web was

The first website, which CERN restored to its original URL in 2013, wasn’t anything special–it was just a toolbox for others to learn how to use the web. It was advertised in a magazine article explaining what the World Wide Web was and why people should log on:

The WWW project merges the techniques of networked information retrieval and hypertext to make an easy but powerful global information system. It aims to allow information sharing within internationally dispersed groups of users, and the creation and dissemination of information by support groups.

When you visit the original URL that the article points to, a series of links clearly explain the concepts underpinning the web–like what hypertext is, what’s on the web (at this point, not much), a project history and technical notes.

As Dan Noyes writes for CERN, “this is  a 1992 copy of the first website.” There aren’t any earlier ones still available. Still, it’s a fascinating glimpse into a moment when the World Wide Web was mostly as yet-unrealized promise.

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