First Photo on the World Wide Web


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.

There is much more on this topic including video of Cernettes’ performances and Tim Berners-Lee’s cross-dressing here.

 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.