Twenty years ago today, CERN released World Wide Web technology -- all royalty free.
That one move ignited the massive growth that built the Web that we know today. That one move led to companies like Google and Amazon.com. It led to social networks and politicians tweeting and relatives posting birthday party pictures on Facebook. It led to online dating and the pope having his own YouTube channel. It led to watching movies on Netflix and Skyping with your friend halfway around the world.
"There is no sector of society that has not been transformed by the invention, in a physics laboratory, of the web," said Rolf Heuer, CERN director-general, in a statement. "From research to business and education, the web has been reshaping the way we communicate, work, innovate and live. The web is a powerful example of the way that basic research benefits humankind."
The World Wide Web was created at CERN in 1989 by British physicist Tim Berners-Lee. It was originally developed to meet the demand for information sharing between physicists in universities and institutes around the worlld.
The game changer was making the technology freely available.
"This was the birth of the Internet as we know it today," said Dan Olds, an analyst with The Gabriel Consulting Group. "Before this, the Internet was mainly used by academics to communicate with each other and exchange data. But after this code was released? Everything changed."
The way we communicate changed. The way we perceive the world changed, said Rob Enderle, an analyst with the Enderle Group.
"Putting the technology out there, royalty free, allowed it to proliferate broadly," he said. "Technology like this doesn't do much good if only one company uses it. Freedom gave us a high level of interoperability."
This free code, and the rudimentary standards it put in place, gave anyone who wanted it the ability to browse the web and have their own presence on it.
"The changes have been astounding," said Olds. "Twenty years ago, who would have believed all the things that the Internet has made possible? Routine and essentially free international video calls? The ability to buy anything from anyone, 24 hours a day? Booking travel quickly and easily from anywhere?"
With such staggering development over the last 20 years, analysts are hesitant to guess at what the next 20 -- or even the next five or 10 years -- might bring.
"The web will grow at an even faster rate over the next decade than it did over the past decade," said Patrick Moorhead, an analyst with Moor Insights & Strategy. "This will be driven by the Internet of Things, where many objects are interconnected. Things like your door locks, lights, jewelry, home appliances and even clothing will be connected."
As for Olds, he said it's just too hard to predict where the web will take us.
"No one accurately predicted just how important the web would be 20 years ago, he said. "But it's safe to say that the impact of the web in another 20 years will exceed our expectations by a wide margin."
Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, on Google+ or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her email address is email@example.com.