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By Alex Fitzpatrick, Lisa Eadicicco, and Matt Peckham
Updated: October 20, 2017 10:55 AM ET | Originally published: October 18, 2017

The web, or “world wide web” as we used to say, turns 27 years old on December 20. On that date, nearly three decades ago, British engineer and scientist Tim Berners-Lee launched the world’s first website, running on a NeXT computer at CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research) in Switzerland.

The website wasn’t much at the time, just a few sentences organized into topic areas that laid out the arguments for the concept. But it established vital first principles still essential to the web as it exists today: the notion of hyperlinks that reimagined documents (and eventually any form of media) as nonlinear texts, and the ability for anyone, anywhere in the world, to peruse that content by way of a browser: a piece of software that cohered to universal formatting standards.

It’s been a wild ride since. In the mid-1990s VRML (or as it was then known, Virtual Reality Markup Language) seemed on the verge of transforming the web. Adobe’s Shockwave and Flash media players were at one point multimedia stars in the ascendant. Who could have known in those early days, that by 2017, a landscape once loomed over by companies like Microsoft (Internet Explorer) and Netscape (Navigator) would fractionalize and give way to totally new players like Google (Chrome)?

Here’s TIME’s collection of the 15 websites that most influenced the medium, and why.

Write to Alex Fitzpatrick at alex.fitzpatrick@time.com and Matt Peckham at matt.peckham@time.com.

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