Nobody Knows What The First Photo On The World Wide Web Was

Technically speaking, there wasn’t one. Despite what the internet says.

1. This picture has been widely reported as the first photo uploaded to the World Wide Web.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee invented the web at particle physics lab CERN, Geneva, in 1989. This picture was put up a few years later.

2. The women in the photo were Les Horribles Cernettes, an all-female “high energy rock band”.

The Cernettes

They formed in the same time and place as the web. At the time of the photo, the band comprised Michele Muller, Colette Marx-Nielsen, Angela Higney, and Lynn Veronneau. In the years since, lots of new members have drifted in and out of the band.

Michele Muller (now Michele de Gennaro) was working at CERN as a graphic designer when the Cernettes started up, and was the only founding member still in their most recent incarnation.

3. But it turns out the Cernettes’ promo shot wasn’t the first photo on the web. In fact, no picture was.

Silvano de Gennaro, a software engineer at CERN at the time, who both managed the band, wrote their songs, and was dating band-member Muller, told BuzzFeed in an email: “The web was born with pictures already inside it.”

At this point, the internet had already existed for a couple of decades and contained “millions of pictures”, says de Gennaro, so it doesn’t make sense to talk of a “first” anything on the web. “This is why there isn’t a single ‘first picture’, like there isn’t a ‘first line’ or a ‘first page’.”

“At the time you didn’t ‘upload’ a picture, you just copied it to a folder on the server and created a link to it by typing an HTML line,” he says. “It was like programming, and we were all programmers.”

The Cernettes

5. It was de Gennaro who was responsible for the band’s photo ending up on the early web.

Tim Berners-Lee was about to publish a web page about CERN clubs when he saw the picture on Silvano’s computer and suggested it would make a good addition.

6. But just because it wasn’t the “first”, doesn’t mean it wasn’t a milestone. De Gennaro told BuzzFeed:

The value of that picture is that it is believed to be the first picture of something that was not related to Physics. The web at the time was only a technical document exchange system for CERN particle physicists and collaborating institutes. That picture sort of opened the web to the world, to life, art, music etc.

7. The Cernettes performed at CERN social gatherings and conferences, singing ’60s pop as well as their own songs.

The Cernettes

In 2012, the band performed a farewell gig at CERN with the original line-up. “It’s ironic that we became famous just as we were splitting up,” says de Gennaro. “Following that press storm, we had thousands of people discovering the band.”

8. Here’s a music video for their first song, “Collider”.

It contains the brilliant lyrics: “You never spend your nights with me, but you don’t go out with other girls either / You only love your collider.”

9. Despite the farewell gig, the band are not ruling out more shows and even a new album at some point in the future.

But it’d have to be for a “special occasion”, says Silvano. “Cult bands do that.”

If you want to keep up with any developments, you can follow the Cernettes on Twitter and Facebook. They also have a website. But if you prefer a more authentic mid-90s internet experience, their CERN-hosted website from 1994 hasn’t changed much since then.

10. Silvano and Michele de Gennaro now live in Mauritius, where Silvano spends his days kitesurfing and the pair perform as an acoustic duo in pubs on the island.

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Kelly Oakes is science editor for BuzzFeed and is based in London.
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