Internet Guide Logo


Last Edit: 04/05/17

In 1980, Tim Berners-Lee created a hypertext computer program, named ENQUIRE, that was an early forebear of the World Wide Web. CERN's website states that ENQUIRE was named after a book Berners-Lee read in his childhood: "Enquire Within Upon Everything". Berners-Lee joined CERN as an independent contractor in 1980 - having previously worked at a telecommunications' company - and designed ENQUIRE with the aim of improving how CERN researchers share information. The ENQUIRE program proved a failure, but Berners-Lee learnt from its design issues and created an improved hypertext system a decade later: the CERN WWW project. Berners-Lee worked periodically for CERN throughout the 1980's, and primarily on documentation systems.

CERN building near Geneva - the organisation ENQUIRE was designed for

CERN building near Geneva - the organisation ENQUIRE was designed for

When Berners-Lee joined CERN in June 1980, he joined a research organisation with over 11,000 employees, who were finding it difficult to exchange and share information due to a lack of a standardised system; the various CERN projects tended to use different computer systems. A hypertext system was the obvious solution, articulated by Berners-Lee in 1990 "HyperText is a way to link and access information of various kinds as a web of nodes in which the user can browse at will." In 1968, Douglas Engelbart had displayed the first hypertext system to use hyperlinks at the "The Mother of All Demos"; it was named the NLS computer system. NoteCards was another early hypertext-based system: developed by by R.Trigg, F.Halasz and T.Moran at Xerox PARC. NoteCards and ENQUIRE are generally referred to as "second generation" hypertext systems.

When a user entered the ENQUIRE program they could select various nodes by entering its number or name, and information was provided about the relationship between nodes and a description of any given node. Commands could be entered into ENQUIRE, such as: Retrace, Mark, Unmark, List and Quit. The ENQUIRE system consisted of pages called 'cards', and each card within ENQUIRE included a hyperlink. Hyperlinks were categorised into different types - describing the links relationship to the page it is linking too - such as: 'made', 'uses', 'includes', and 'describes'. The problem with ENQUIRE was creating independent cards: a user needed an existing card to create a new card and the existing card needed updating when the new card was created. Therefore, a crucial problem with ENQUIRE was its use of bi-directional hyperlinks (functioning in two directions), its hierarchy was too rigid and lacked accessibility.

While ENQUIRE appears a failure, it prompted Berners-Lee to create an improved hypertext system that was easy for users to keep up-to-date: unidirectional hyperlinks would be the bedrock of this document system (World Wide Web). Unidirectional hyperlinks only need to operate in a single direction, creating a far more fluid system where new webpages (cards) can be added without needing to update existing webpages (cards). ENQUIRE was vital for providing a conceptual basis for the future World Wide Web, showing Berners-Lee what worked and what did not. So what happened to ENQUIRE? Early documentation for ENQUIRE, states that the program was stored on a PRDEV computer on the CERN PS control system, but online rumours suggest that the original ENQUIRE program was stored on a diskette that was overwritten by either Brian Carpenter or Robert Cailliau during the mid 1980s.