When Tim Berners-Lee arrived at CERN, Geneva’s celebrated European Particle Physics Laboratory in 1980, the enterprise had hired him to upgrade the control systems for several of the lab’s particle accelerators. But almost immediately, the inventor of the modern webpage noticed a problem: thousands of people were floating in and out of the famous research institute, many of them temporary hires.
“The big challenge for contract programmers was to try to understand the systems, both human and computer, that ran this fantastic playground,” Berners-Lee later wrote. “Much of the crucial information existed only in people’s heads.”
So in his spare time, he wrote up some software to address this shortfall: a little program he named Enquire. It allowed users to create “nodes”—information-packed index card-style pages that linked to other pages. Unfortunately, the PASCAL application ran on CERN’s proprietary operating system. “The few people who saw it thought it was a nice idea, but no one used it. Eventually, the disk was lost, and with it, the original Enquire.”