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While an independent contractor at CERN from June to December 1980, Berners-Lee proposed a project based on the concept of hypertext, to facilitate sharing and updating information among researchers. With help from Robert Cailliau he built a prototype system named Enquire.
After leaving CERN in 1980 to work at John Poole's Image Computer Systems Ltd., he returned in 1984 as a fellow. In 1989, CERN was the largest Internet node in Europe, and Berners-Lee saw an opportunity to join hypertext with the Internet. In his words, "I just had to take the hypertext idea and connect it to the TCP and DNS ideas and — ta-da! — the World Wide Web". He used similar ideas to those underlying the Enquire system to create the World Wide Web, for which he designed and built the first web browser and editor (called WorldWideWeb and developed on NeXTSTEP) and the first Web server called httpd (short for HyperText Transfer Protocol daemon).

The first Web site built was at http://info.cern.ch/ and was first put online on August 6, 1991. It provided an explanation about what the World Wide Web was, how one could own a browser and how to set up a Web server. It was also the world's first Web directory, since Berners-Lee maintained a list of other Web sites apart from his own.