In 1992, Tim Berners-Lee was looking for a picture to demonstrate the image-handling ability of his baby, the brand-new World Wide Web. Well, actually the Web had been around for a little while but only as a network for scientists involved with CERN. In 1991, though, it was opened to the public. This is the image that Berners-Lee chose as the first to go public:
So what is that?1 The Cernettes were a group formed from workers and scientists’ wives and girl friends at CERN. They sang take-offs on girl-group songs with lyrics aimed at particle physicists: “Liquid Nitrogen”, “Collider”, and so on. They were quite a big deal, at least in Geneva, and Berners-Lee was a fan. The group was managed by an IT developer named Silvano de Gennaro. He needed a photo for a CD cover so asked the group to pose backstage at a gig:
Berners-Lee asked de Gennaro for a digitized photo that could be uploaded to the WWW as a test. De Gennaro happened to have on hand a GIF file of the photo that he intended as a CD cover. Berners-Lee insisted that he add words — “It has to be fun!” — so de Gennaro got to work with PhotoShop 1 (that’s “one”, folks) and arched the lettering over top. The resulting image was part of an article about CERN music.
No one much noticed. Probably more people saw a Cernettes poster than the WWW image. But this bit of retro humor was the first. The next big steps in Web history — on-line commerce, for instance — followed with the development of internet porn as people discovered that they could sell digital images.
The Cernettes are calling it quits after twenty years and giving a final performance this month. The original GIF file vanished when the Mac that held it in memory died in 1998.
1 I think it looks like an album cover for a side-project connected with a Francophone Slim Cessna. Something like the Lee Lewis Harlots, for instance.