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First public website turns 20, comes back online — then crashes

Twenty years ago, on April 30, 1993, CERN set the World Wide Web free. In celebration, the research institute relaunched the first webpage, which provides a real blast from the Internet past. Along with the very basic lo-fi design, the site experienced connectivity issues upon its (re) debut, crashing and reconnecting repeatedly Tuesday morning.

What you'll see, if you managed to connect, is what CERN scientists led by Tim Berners-Lee had been developing since 1989. Backed by Berners-Lee, the organization decided to share the technology with anyone who wanted to use it — no charge, royalty free.

"CERN relinquishes all property rights to this code..." the document signed by CERN officials that that day read.

CERN engineers at the "First Website" project are turning the URL into a virtual museum: " We want to make — the first web address — a destination that reflects the story of the beginnings of the web for the benefit of future generations," Dan Noyes, a web manager at CERN, writes.

Plenty has changed since those early days when Berners-Lee had to pause in a proposal and define "browser" ("A program which provides links to the hypertext," he wrote in November 1990).

It's unlikely that Berners-Lee and co-developers of the Web anticipated that it could give rise to anything like Google or Netflix or Facebook, or that 2.5 billion people would have access to the Internet largely via the Web. Or that hundreds of people who are discovering the Internet for the first time today are connecting to it not on a NeXT computer like Berners-Lee did, but on their cell phones.

Nidhi Subbaraman writes about technology and science. Follow her on Twitter and Google+.