Next week, the World Wide Web will celebrate the 20th anniversary of its first photo. But the story behind it, which involves an obscure comedy band and allegations of Tim Berners-Lee cross-dressing, is far more interesting than the photo itself.
As reported by Motherboard, the photo was first taken by a man named Silvano de Cennaro, an employee at CERN who also happened to manage an all-woman comedy band called Les Horribles Cernettes, which was reportedly composed of administrative assistants and the girlfriends/wives of CERN scientists.
Silvano de Cennaro snapped the photograph below on July 18, 1992, while backstage at CERN's annual Hardonic Music Festival, with the intent of turning it into the album cover above.
A member of the band told Motherboard that Berners-Lee had grown familiar with Les Horribles Cernettes through an operatic society where Berners-Lee had apparently dabbled in cross-dressing.
“I don’t know whether I should be telling you this, but he worked at CERN and I saw him because he was part of our pantomime in our amateur operatic society,” Colette Marx-Nielsen, a Cernettes member located second from the right in the photo, told Motherboard. “He was the dame dressed as a woman.”
That whole separate story aside, when Berners-Lee later put the finishing touches on a new World Wide Web protocol that supported photos, he needed a sample to test on it. For this purpose, according to the report, Berners-Lee specifically sought out a photo of Les Horribles Cernettes; he simply walked over to de Cennaro's nearby workstation and asked him for one. De Cennaro had by then already created a .GIF file with the band members photoshopped (using the first version of Photoshop on Macintosh computer, no less) for the less-than-appealing CD cover we're discussing today.
Berners-Lee then passed the file to a programmer named Jean-François Groff, who, upon seeing the image, exclaimed "sex sells!" before uploading it to the web, according to the report.
And that's how the founder of the World Wide Web, a CERN researcher, and an obscure comedy band created the domino effect that would snowball into about 300 million daily photos uploaded to Facebook alone.
I think we owe them a thank you, not only for the ability to share massive amounts of photos at a whim, but also for this ridiculous, too-good-to-be-made-up story.