The Most Important Document In History

by Bob Schwartz

The Magna Carta. The Declaration of Independence. The Constitution. The Emancipation Proclamation. The number of essential documentary moments goes on and on, both here and globally, each one of them a significant next step in progress.

Twenty years ago, what may turn out to be the most important document in history (above) was issued. The website of the European Laboratory for Particle Physics (CERN) explains the event:

On 30 April 1993 CERN published a statement that made World Wide Web (“W3”, or simply “the web”) technology available on a royalty-free basis. By making the software required to run a web server freely available, along with a basic browser and a library of code, the web was allowed to flourish.

British physicist Tim Berners-Lee invented the web at CERN in 1989. The project, which Berners-Lee named “World Wide Web”, was originally conceived and developed to meet the demand for information sharing between physicists in universities and institutes around the world.

Consider what the web would be like if it was a toll road and not a freeway. That was a possibility, had Berners-Lee and CERN decided to leverage and exploit the technology. But the web was born free and continues to resist chronic attempts to control and monopolize it.

One of the strangest ironies about the freedom of the web is that it was born on a NEXT computer. If you know digital history, you will recognize that NEXT was the company that Steve Jobs founded, in between his first stint at Apple, from which he was bizarrely let go, and his second stint, when he turned Apple into the richest technology company in the world.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee did not get as rich as Jobs. But he did get a knighthood, and recognition as an unsurpassed visionary, and the thanks of billions for shaping the world as few before or after did or ever will.