From an article a couple weeks back, on anniversaries and Resurrected Landmarks, by Eric Meyer. Boldface mine.
It was just last week, at the end of April, that CERN announced the rebirth of The Very First URL, in all its responsive and completely presentable glory. If you hit the root level of the server, you get some wonderful information about the Web's infancy and the extraordinary thing CERN did in releasing it, unencumbered by patent or licensing restrictions, into the world, twenty years ago.
That's not at all minor point. I don't believe it overstates the case to say that if CERN hadn't made the web free and open to all, it wouldn't have taken over the net. Like previous attempts at hypertext and similar information systems, it would have languished in a niche and eventually withered away. There were other things that had to happen for the web to really take off, but none of them would have mattered without this one simple, foundational decision.
I would go even further and argue that this act infused the web, defining the culture that was built on top of it. Because the medium was free and open, as was often the case in academic and hacker circles before it, the aesthetic of sharing freely became central to the web community. The dynamic of using ideas and resources freely shared by others, and then freely sharing your own resources and ideas in return, was strongly encouraged by the open nature of the web. It was an implicit encouragement, but no less strong for that. As always, the environment shapes those who live within it.
–Eric Meyer, Resurrected Landmarks
meyerweb.com (May 8, 2013)
It’s worth noting that as hypertext technologies go, the web stack (HTTP, HTML 1) wasn’t the most sophisticated implementation; in many ways it still isn’t. But it was operational, and available, and learnable, and it was free and open. And that has made all the difference between science-fiction dreams and a fundamental, transformational shift within world culture, society and learning.
In other news, thanks to Eric for reminding me to wish a very happy belated 10th anniversary to CSS Zen Garden.