Too often we're inclined to perceive the world wide web as strictly an American phenomenon, and this in spite of the fact that we all know the origins of the web are European. It's amazing to us how little emphasis has come to be placed on the world wide aspect of the world wide web.  

 Prehistory  | Road #1 | Road #2 | Next | Web | Road #3 | Hypertext | Xanadu | Stats | Conclusion

History of Internet and World Wide Web:
The Roads and Crossroads
of Internet  History
by  Gregory R. Gromov

    Road #2. Europe to USA: World Wide Web at CERN

  April 2, 1996   blow


The key words that came to my mind while writing this history were: synergy, serendipity and coincidence
Ben Segal

  The history of every great invention is based on a lot of pre-history. In the case of the World-Wide Web, there are two lines to be traced: the development of hypertext, or the computer-aided reading of electronic documents, and the development of the Internet protocols which made the global network possible. by Robert Cailliau, Text of a speech delivered at the launching of the European branch of the W3 Consortium, Paris, November 1995

See also: Robert Cailliau:  "How It Really Happened "


As  usually...

              in the beginning was - chaos.

In the same way that the theory of high energy physics interactions was itself in a chaotic state up until the early 1970's, so was the so-called area of "Data Communications" at CERN. The variety of different techniques, media and protocols used was staggering; open warfare existed between many manufacturers' proprietary systems, various home-made systems (including CERN's own "FOCUS" and "CERNET"), and the then rudimentary efforts at defining open or international standards...

The Stage is Set - early 1980's.

To my knowledge, the first time any "Internet Protocol" was used at CERN was during the second phase of the STELLA Satellite Communication Project, from 1981-83, when a satellite channel was used to link remote segments of two early local area networks (namely "CERNET", running between CERN and Pisa, and a Cambridge Ring network running between CERN and Rutherford Laboratory). This was certainly inspired by the ARPA IP model, known to the Italian members of the STELLA collaboration (CNUCE, Pisa) who had ARPA connections...

TCP/IP Introduced at CERN.

In August, 1984 I wrote a proposal to the SW Group Leader, Les Robertson, for the establishment of a pilot project to install and evaluate TCP/IP protocols on some key non-Unix machines at CERN including the central IBM-VM mainframe and a VAX VMS system....

By 1990 CERN had become the largest Internet site in Europe and this fact, as mentioned above, positively influenced the acceptance and spread of Internet techniques both in Europe and elsewhere...

The Web Materializes.

A key result of all these happenings was that by 1989 CERN's Internet facility was ready to become the medium within which Tim Berners-Lee would create the World Wide Web with a truly visionary idea. In fact an entire culture had developed at CERN around "distributed computing", and Tim had himself contributed in the area of Remote Procedure Call (RPC), thereby mastering several of the tools that he needed to synthesize the Web such as software portability techniques and network and socket programming. But there were many other details too, like how simple it had become to configure a state of the art workstation for Internet use (in this case Tim's NeXT machine which he showed me while he was setting it up in his office), and how once on the Internet it was possible to attract collaborators to contribute effort where that was lacking at CERN.

By Ben M. Segal / CERN PDP-NS / April, 1995

The WWW's Baker:   Who is this Guy?

bensegal.gif (9393 bytes)  Ben Segal:   I'm British, graduated in Physics and Mathematics in 1958 from Imperial College, London, then worked for the UK Atomic Energy Authority and later in the USA for the Detroit Edison Company on fast breeder reactor development. I've been at CERN since 1971, after finishing my Ph.D. at Stanford University in Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering...
Except for a sabbatical in 1977, when I worked at Bell Northern Research in Palo Alto on a PABX development project (and encountered UNIX for the first time), CERN has kept me pretty busy on
five main projects , including the coordinated introduction of the Internet Protocols at CERN beginning in 1985.

What does it mean: CERN?

We've received the email-question from one of our readers:

      Date: Sun, 28 Jul 1996 13:17:23 -0700
      From: ... Jin.Whitt ....@ ...>
      Subject: CERN

      You give no explanation of the acronym CERN beyond "European Laboratory for Particle Physics". Could you insert the correct name somewhere?

... forwarded it to Ben and have got the following answer :

      The acronym "CERN" stands for "Centre European pour la Recherche Nucleaire", the original French name of the organization.
      More recently it was felt that "Nucleaire" implied reactor or even military applications, so the name of the organization was changed to the ""European Laboratory for Particle Physics" but the acronym was left as it was.

      Confusing, isn't it? (Ben Segal)

      Why the World Wide Web was born in CERN:

      CERN is now the world's largest research laboratory with over 50%of all the active particle physicists in the world taking part in over 120 different research projects. 3000 staff members, 420 young students and fellows supported by the Organization and 5000 visiting physicists, engineers, computer experts and scientists specializing in a variety of front-line technologies are collaborating with CERN from 40 countries and 371 scientific institutions .

      Binding together the creativity of so many different nationalities, backgrounds and fields of research...

      ... has established CERN as the global centre for High Energy Physics and set a precedent in scientific collaboration which has been followed by Europe's other fundamental research organizations (ESO, ESA, EMBL, ESRF)...

      "Scientific research lives and flourishes in an atmosphere of freedom - freedom to doubt, freedom to enquire and freedom to discover. These are the conditions under which this new laboratory has been established"; these were the words written in 1954 by Sir Ben Lockspeiser, first President of the CERN Council. This is the atmosphere in which CERN has flourished for 40 years and in which the Organization looks forward to continuing successfully into the future.

The Web as a Side Effect
of the 40 years of Particle Physics Experiments.

The fragment from  author (G.R.G.) email discussions with Ben Segal


It happened many times during history of science that the most impressive results of large scale scientific efforts appeared far away from the main directions of those efforts.

I hope you agree that Web was a side effect of the CERN's scientific agenda.
After the World War 2 the nuclear centers of almost all developed countries became the places with the highest concentration of talented scientists.
For about four decades many of them were invited to the international CERN's Laboratories.
So specific kind of the CERN's intellectual "entire culture" (as you called it) was constantly growing from one generation of the scientists and engineers to another.
When the concentration of the human talents per square foot of the CERN's Labs reached the critical mass, it caused an intellectual explosion

The Web, -- crucial point of human's history, was born...
Nothing could be compared to it.
You wrote the best about it: "synergy, serendipity and coincidence"...

We cant imagine yet the real scale of the recent shake, because there has not been so fast growing multi-dimension social-economic processes in human history...

    Gregory Gromov

P.S. It is quite remarkable that "Highlights of CERN History: 1949 - 1994" do not have a word about Web. So, it looks like a classic side effect that normally is not be mentioned at the main text of official record...

    Date: Thu, 23 May 1996 08:47:54 +0200
    From: (Ben Segal)
    Subject: Gregory, here are some CERN...

      >I hope you agree that Web was a side effect of the CERN's scientific agenda.

      Absolutely! (And it was not 100% appreciated by the masters of CERN, the physicists and accelerator builders, that such a "side effect" with world shaking consequences was born in the obscure bit of the organization that handled computing, a relatively low-status activity...).

        Ben Segal

Go To the next Page of the Story next Page

 Prehistory  | Road #1 | Road #2 | Next | Web | Road #3 | Hypertext | Xanadu | Stats | Conclusion

The Index:
  • Prehistory of the Internet
  • Internet Before World Wide Web
  • World Wide Web as a Side Effect of Particle Physics Experiments.
  • Next Crossroad of World Wide Web History
  • Birth of the World Wide Web
  • Early History of Hypertext
  • "Living History" of Hypertext.
  • Xanadu Plan
  • Growth of the Internet: Statistics
  • Conclusion
  • Suggestions, thoughts, questions? Contact us...

    Copyright 1995-2011 Gregory Gromov