You may never have wondered to yourself “What was the first photo ever posted on the Web?” But now that the question has been raised, consider your curiosity peaked, and behold! Ladies, gentlemen, and all nature of lovely creatures, right here is the first picture ever posted on the Internet.
If your response was anything like mine, it went something like this: What? Really? No. Really? You sure? Wait, what is this? A French-Italian insult? A Photoshop hangover? A really bad party? I hope not. Oh gosh, my eyes. They hurt. The Photoshop, it hurts them. But wait, wait, wait a hot second. Seriously, what is this, and why was it the first picture ever posted on the Internet? Shouldn’t the first picture be something like human anatomy or the Pope or something else a bit more inclined towards posterity?
But if you think about it, it makes a lot of sense for the first picture on the Web to be so random. This picture wasn’t intended to be of any historical merit. This particular photo just happened to be in the right hands at the right time.
So what’s the story behind this picture? Inquiring minds want to know. Well, Les Horribles Cernettes is an all-female parody pop group composed of women who worked at CERN, the company that birthed the World Wide Web. In English, their name means “The Horrible Girls of CERN.” Les Horribles Cernettes was founded in 1990, and they were a comedic group whose songs included the lament of a physicist’s girlfriend (“Collider") and had lyrics like “You said I'd be yours 30,240,000 seconds a year/Including leap years, which means 86,400 extra every four" ("Liquid Nitrogen"). Honestly, they sound pretty entertaining! Kind of like Weird Al, only if he was a bunch of ladies who worked with or were married to scientists.
So how did this group of lovely ladies receive the honor of gracing the first photo uploaded to the Web? It was all about proximity. The original photo was taken by Silvano de Gennaro, who was then dating and is now married to one of the band members of Les Horribles Cernettes. He worked next to Tim Berners-Lee, who was one of the scientists who helped invent the Web.
At the time, in , the Internet was all text, and was really only used by physicists. When Berners-Lee (who happened to be a fan of Les Horribles Cernettes) wanted to upload a picture, he walked a few steps over to de Gennaro’s desk and asked if he had anything. de Gennaro had the photo and had been playing with it in Photoshop, hoping to make it into a CD cover. The original photo, minus Photoshop, had coats and bags in the background, so it wasn’t quite suitable. Apparently de Gennaro protested that the photo wasn’t anything important, and Berners-Lee said that he didn’t mind, because it would be fun. In this respect, the uploading of this photo wasn’t an entirely insignificant move. It marked a shift in how the Web was being used. The Web could now be used for fun, as well as for science!
So that, dear ladies, gentlemen, and various lovely creatures, is how to get into the history books. Join a parody band and get chummy with some scientists. If it worked for Les Horribles Cernettes, it will certainly work for you!
What would you have uploaded as the first internet pic?