When Tim Berners-Lee penned a memo to his boss at CERN in March 1989, he was looking for a better way to manage information about complex evolving systems. He proposed an interconnected network of information that would improve communication at the facility, but there was no way of knowing what a tangled web we would weave. That memo would eventually spawn the world wide web and the various memes, crowdfunded gadgets and user-generated porn sites that it made possible. Hell, you wouldn't be reading Engadget if it weren't for Sir Berners-Lee. In homage to that great network of information that we all know and surf today, we present you with 25 things made possible by the big ole' W3.
1. Keyboard an4rchy
Freedom is a good thing. Until it's applied to the rules of grammar. So if you downloaded some sw337 warez? Or ju5t pwnd some dude on Counter-Strike? Why not l3t teh w0r1d kn0w about it in teh m057 ann0y1ng w4y p0551bl3. Sure, leet/1337/l33t speak predates Berners-Lee's invention, but the good, old World Wide Web was the platform it had been waiting for.
2. Anonymous: Power to the people
From l337 h4x0r to, well... elite hackers. Or hacktivists in the case of rebel group, Anonymous. The nebulous organization has no set form or motivation, but is best known for its very public shaming of corporate entities such as the RIAA and MPAA over the world wide web, or its defense of The Pirate Bay. As for its largest contribution to popular culture? Either the popularization of Guy Fawkes (or V for Vendetta, depending on whom you ask) masks, or the reminder to the suits that there's power in numbers. You decide.
3. Tesla: Advances in the electric car
Hang on, wasn't this a list about what's only possible thanks to the web? Yes, it is, and still is. Electric cars didn't come to us via the internet, but Elon Musk -- head honcho of Tesla -- arguably did. Musk co-founded X.com, which ultimately became PayPal. The success of this (and other online ventures) lead to Musk's disruption of the EV market with Tesla. We just wish we had enough money in our PayPal accounts to buy a Model S.
4. Crowdfunding: Veronica Mars lives on
It may seem like a fogy, old buzzword now, but crowdfunding is an everyday part of the web. Its crowned monarch? That'd be Kickstarter. The website has birthed everything from the useful to the bizarre, but it was the reinvention of axed series Veronica Mars as a fan-funded feature film that truly signaled crowdfunding's cultural coming of age. You've already ordered your ticket, right?
Divided by the pronunciation; united by their message.
6. Getting over stranger danger
It sounds like a recipe for disaster: You go to a stranger's house, and pay them to
not harm sleep on their floor, couch, left-hand side. Or, maybe, you try and make a few bucks driving around complete unknowns in your hatchback. But hey, the world's not always the terrible place we think it is, and thanks to services like Airbnb, Craigslist, UberX and CouchSurfing, the whole thing kinda works. What goes on during rented time, however, is between consenting adults.
7. The cult of Fail)
There's a silent, yet collective gratitude held among the clumsy, dumb and just plain unfortunate, who grew up before the proliferation of smartphones and the web. The video above explains why.
8. Live animal streams
But for every fail in the universe, there's probably a live video feed of kittens to balance it out. Web karma?
9. Cats: a love story
Did someone say kitten? The world wide web has, for some reason, a bit of a thing for cats. Not only are there live-cams showing them, they have also become something of their own web cult, complete with its own language. Oh, and of course memes. So many memes.
And speaking of memes! While technically not enabled by, or created only on the internet, the web is their spiritual home. The ability to share easily and the office-bound netizens' appetite for distraction have made the web a fertile breeding ground for these short-lived, but culturally telling creations. Of course, there are way, way too many to cover here. But there were a couple that immediately sprung to the minds of our editors when asked for their favorites. We expect to see yours in the comments.
11. A world of opportunity
While for some the internet is a way to kill time, for others it's an opportunity -- perhaps to make some quick, clever cash. Or maybe get your little side-project website optioned for a movie. Or, you know, trade up from a paper clip to a house.
12. Making something of yourself
It's hard to be apathetic toward pop juggernaut Justin Bieber. Generally, people express either guttural hatred for the young Canadian, or worship him as a modern deity, spending every waking hour trawling for gossip or staring at his Twitter feed praying for an update. (Not that we have any personal experience). In a roundabout way, the Biebs as we know him was created by the www, or more specifically, YouTube. After all, it was covers posted on the site that got him noticed, begat a record contract and well, you know the rest. Thanks, world wide web. No, really.
13. Connecting with people, places and things
Pretty much since the first-ever "www" was typed into a browser, people have used the world wide web to connect with one another. In the early days, this would likely have been for academic purposes. Then to discuss shared interests, exchange memes, trade music, rekindle old flames and catch up with school pals. What the world wide web enabled was the ability to do all that with rich media, fancy profiles and all that other good stuff. And who knows, if you're lucky, you might find someone to share an Airbnb room with.
14. Playing detective
Steve Fossett had a taste for adventure. Be it solo balloon flights around the globe, sailing expeditions or piloting fixed-wing aircraft. In September 2007, Fossett went missing during a flight over the Great Basin Desert in Nevada. After an initial search proved fruitless, the hunt turned to the web. Google had very recently updated its Maps imagery for the area, and there was a very real chance that Fossett's craft could have been captured in the process. Netizens logged on in an attempt to try find anything that might lead to Fossett's whereabouts. By February the following year, sadly, nothing had shown up either online, or out in the desert, and the hunt was called off. Several months later, a hiker discovered some of Fossett's possessions, and remains that would later be confirmed as his, finally closing the case.
15. Selling or buying anything
Sometimes there are things that exist peacefully in their own right, but just need the world wide web to come along and, well, jazz it up a little. Auctions have been taking place for centuries, but it wasn't until the magic of the hypertext transfer protocol that we could have sites like eBay, and thus the ability to sell anything. Such as a fairy corpse. A Batmobile. Or water, (but not the cup) that has touched the lips of Elvis. Oh, and somewhat predictably, your innocence.
16. The attack of the blogs
If you've got something to say -- or to be fair, even if you really don't -- the good ole' web is probably where you want to be heading. Weblogs are a www mainstay and well, at Engadget, who are we to argue with their excellence as a medium for sharing wit and knowledge? The true beating heart of blogs, and blogging, however, lies with the individual. The army of authors tirelessly turning out words of wisdom, gossip or revealing a secret, second life.
17. Never giving you up
Rick Astley shot to fame in the late 1980s with his global hit, "Never Gonna Give You Up." Despite a long, successful musical career, he's best known -- as far as the internet is concerned -- for being an unwitting conspirator in the world wide web plague known as Rickrolling. A "bait and switch" meme said to trace back to 2007, Astley's music video for "Never Gonna Give You Up" was the destination for around 53 percent of hyperlinks a short time after according to at least one source. He was soon hiding behind the first 10 seconds of every YouTube clip, and even tricked serious students into defacing their work for his amusement. (Talking in the past tense tends to keep him from flaring up again). It's a magical video, though... gotta give him that (but never up).
18. Fan fiction
Some stories are just too big for the limits of one author. Or, at least that's what a whole bunch of eager fans on the web think. That's the conclusion we must draw from the proliferation of fan fiction that the web encouraged. It's not all sleazy Harry Potter re-writes though. Some of it's sleazy Twilight re-writes too. There are those who might be tempted to say it's a niche outlet that will never catch on. Those people would be one shade of wrong.
19. Tracking your snack
Waiting around for food? Ain't nobody got time for that. But thanks to the web, hard-working chefs and a vast network of GPS satellites and fiber-optic cables, you can see how far out your Cali Chicken Bacon Ranch is from your doorstep -- 25 years of progress, not entirely wasted.
20. The death of idle moments
Sure, the new way to waste time might be your favorite Flappy Bird clone, but back in the heyday (OK, that's technically still now), it was all about clubbing penguins, or our desk-lunch favorite, of course, spanking the monkey.
21. The serious matter of satire
Before the web, news spread at a much more leisurely pace, crossing cultural borders only when it needed to. We also had fewer outlets to choose from, making accountability much easier. Not anymore. The world wide web, as the name suggests, is a global tangle of potential misinformation. If you pour a healthy stream of satire into the flow, it's only a matter of time until it finds itself in the same wash cycle as "real" news, like a red sock in with your whites. Top satire site The Onion has been taken seriously on way more occasions than we're comfortable with. Then there was that time Sesame Street's Bert got caught up in political protest.
22. Fake becoming the new real
We guess it's hardly a surprise that if you gift the planet with a rich medium that can be accessed from (and added to) the privacy of your own home, that it won't be long before people start making stuff up. That's fine, until it's not. At the level of the individual, at worst it's just a bit tragic. But what if this kind of hoodwinkery gets into more monied hands? Things get a little weirder/more sinister. From lonelygirl15, to equine e-books, to Wii Fit girl (and its backlash), it seems everyone wants to be someone else on the world wide web.
23. Digitizing books one registration form at a time
It's rare to find something as wonderfully perfect as the reCAPTCHA project. You likely know it as that annoying test of your humanity that requires you to read some badly mangled words, and type them into a form. But, not only is this a necessary evil used to keep bots and other web-nasties from creating fake accounts and orders, it's also an ingenious way of digitizing books. What the what? Yes, those 10 seconds you spend aren't entirely wasted, as usually one of the words you type is actually a word from a digitized book that wasn't recognized. After it's been presented to a few different humans, its meaning is confirmed, and the book is one step closer to being converted. With about 200 million CAPTCHAs being solved every single day, however, these small efforts quickly add up to significant work. World wide web? More like win win win.
24. Citizen journalism
It's easy to look at this list (or just spend five minutes online) and assume that the web is a tool wasted on the public. But the very real, and truly global impact of the W3 is not to be underestimated. The humble http has given the world a set of tools that allow real-time reporting by the public. Whether it's revolution in the Middle East, Occupy Wall Street or unrest in the Ukraine, web platforms like Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook and YouTube have been appropriated by have-a-go journalists with a story to tell. Conventional media is far from out of a job, but the web has added another news channel previously inaccessible to the mainstream
25. This post
The world has always loved a good list, but the internet has brought our passion to new heights. If we've learned anything over the last 25 years, it's that nothing in this world can't be boiled down to a collection of pithy bullet points and clever images.
Jamie Rigg and Christopher Trout contributed to this feature.