When the 1990s began, no one had a web browser. Only 42% of Americans had even touched a computer.
By the end of the decade, the dot-com frenzy was reinventing the way we lived our lives and recasting entire industries. Newspapers, stores, flight reservations, work, and entertainment had begun to move onto the nascent World Wide Web.
None of it would have been possible if not for the super-fast, high-bandwidth optical fiber communications networks that were getting built around the world. By 2000, there was a near-unquenchable demand for bandwidth that could only be fulfilled by fiber.
The new era of the internet unfolded in a flash. It began when Tim Berners-Lee, a software engineer working at CERN, a European research center based in Switzerland, got frustrated because it was so difficult for CERN scientists to share their ideas and data across incompatible platforms. So, in 1989, Berners-Lee proposed to his bosses an idea for a system he initially called Mesh. A year later, Berners-Lee had developed three fundamental technologies that still serve a foundation for today’s web: Hypertext Markup Language (HTML), Hyptertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP), and Uniform Resource Locator, which today we call a web address, or URL. That same year, Berners-Lee posted the first web page on what, by then, he was calling the World Wide Web.
In 1993, Berners-Lee and CERN decided to put the source code for the web into the public domain, making the web an open and democratic platform for all. That same year, Marc Andreessen, a college student at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana, developed the first web browser, dubbed Mosaic. “Think of it as a map to the buried treasures of the Information Age,” the New York Times wrote in a story about Mosaic.
By the next year, the fuse on the dot-com explosion was lit. Andreessen co-founded Netscape to commercialize Mosaic, and Microsoft launched its competing Internet Explorer browser. Jerry Yang and David Filo co-founded Yahoo! as the first internet guide, and Jeff Bezos started Amazon.com. The first banner ad on the web was for Zima on Hotwired.com.
By 1995, the world had indelibly shifted. “The Year of the Internet,” Newsweek declared in its end-of-year issue. “Can you recall a day when there wasn't some gee-whiz Internet story in the newspapers?” Newsweek’s Steven Levy wrote. “Was there ever a time when surfing was performed in a bathing suit, outdoors?” In 1995, Sun launched Java, a simple way to enliven web pages with pictures and simple animation like dancing GIFs.