This group gathers people interested in the history of the World Wide Web: how it was invented, what was out there that made it possible, and what happened in its early years. Our main goal is to collect and preserve valuable information (software, documents, testimonials) before it is lost.
Today is the twentieth anniversary of the publication of a document by CERN that made the web available to all on a royalty-free basis. To mark this occasion we’re kicking off a project to restore the first website, and preserve the digital assets associated with the birth of the web: http://first-website.web.cern.ch
I was talking with Robert Cailliau this morning about our project to restore the first website. He mentioned an interesting anecdote that could possibly lead us to an earlier version of the first website, but it’s a long shot.
When the NeXT was returned by mail (via Stanford, I believe), the machine’s optical read-write drive was missing. This drive contained a 1990 version of the first website.
The NeXT had a removable drive module that looked like this.
It’s a long shot, but does anyone have any ideas on how we might trace such a thing? Would the NeXT’s serial number lead us to a matching drive number range? Is anyone using this thing as a paperweight?
I work in the communications group at CERN where I am in charge of CERN’s public-facing websites. We’ve set up a project to restore and preserve the first URL, which is sadly no longer active: http://info.cern.ch/hypertext/WWW/TheProject.html
We are in the process of selling the project to internal stakeholders and starting to build a team – and quite a few of us are really excited about this. We are also working with our design partners Mark Boulton Design to see how we can provide a better experience for visitors to http://info.cern.ch/
I got in touch with my colleague, Anita Hollier, the CERN archivist, for help. She told me about the presence of this group, and I’m now turning to you for your help, input, guidance and ideas.
But it could also be so much more than this. For instance:
CERN has two of the early WWW team’s NeXT machines. We really think the ones and zeros on those computers should be preserved, and, if possible, shared.
We should document the NeXT browsing (and editing) experience. There is a lot of TBL’s original vision for the web in there that is as new and exciting now as it was circa 1990. These machines will not be usable forever.
I’d love to see the line-mode browser experience somehow preserved – a browser-based emulator?
There are IP addresses and machine names in the original WWW documentation mentioned that we could (p)reserve, and protocols such as telnet and FTP put back in place on certain servers.
The original code packages that were available for download could be restored.
The next step is that we are going to outline our intentions via a blog, which will be available at http://info.cern.ch towards the end of April.
Anyone here want to get involved? If you have ideas, suggestions, offers of help, then please get in touch.
We’ve already mentioned Paul Otlet and The Mundaneum museum here. Google Cultural Institute has just published a site dedicated to them, showing how they designed the very first search engine in 1935 by inventing the Universal Decimal Classification system and storing 16 million fact cards in the Mundaneum in Brussels, which people could “query” by post.
Representatives from both Google and the Mundaneum museum are on this group, so congratulations to both!
An (arguably) important part of Web history exhibited in a museum. From the article:
The Pirate Bay is one of the best known file-sharing brands and in less than a decade the site has well-earned its place in computer history. The Computer Museum in Linköping has a section dedicated to 50 years of file-sharing and one of the top pieces is one of the first servers used by The Pirate Bay. According to the museum The Pirate Bay has become a contemporary historical phenomenon and the server signifies “a revolution that begun in a dark grey metal box under a bed.”
CERN archivist Anita Hollier points me to the “World Wide Web (archives)” section of the CERN document server. It lists many documents that I’m sure would be of great interest to this group, but not much of them is available (yet). However, there is an early version of Tim’s seminal paper: “Information management – a proposal” (PDF). There are other versions of it linked from the “original proposal of the WWWW” page at W3C, but not as nice as this one, which is scanned from a paper printout including handwritten annotations, like “Vague but exciting…”, “Nice idea” (about links), “This is like e-mail, but who will implement and port all the user agents?” or “But it complicates life for the busy user”. Anita (who I warmly thank) tells me they’re from Mike Sendall, Tim’s boss at the time. How right he was.
Both looked very much the same, but the comparison ends there. Ceefax implemented “links” as references to page numbers that the user would type on their TV remote. Minitel had a more complex linking structure, programmatically specified, with no URLs or ways to link to other “sites”.
What’s particularly interesting, looking back at Minitel, is the fact that it had something the Web never had: a payment system. Services could charge access to their content, proportional to the time you spent. The user would pay through their phone bill and France Télécom would give some of that payment back to the service.
Whether it’s a good thing that the Web never had an integrated billing mechanism is debatable. Imagine the outcry if ISPs started charging for access to some websites by the minute. However, it can be argued that it’s not because app stores have pay-for content that there’s no good free content, and that a billing system would make it possible for many small entrepreneurs to quickly earn funds to scale up their project and continue innovating. Right now, those entrepreneurs turn to apps precisely because they provide an easy way to get paid for the service they design.
It will be interesting when Google and Mozilla release their web app platforms with integrated billing systems. We may end up with the best of both worlds: the general web can remain an open platform giving the opportunity to tinker and hack, while web apps will offer the possibility of business models that will encourage innovation.
I’m really excited to announce that I’ll be launching a new podcast series called “The Web Behind” with Jen Simmons of The Web Ahead—in fact, The Web Behind will be an in-stream subset of The Web Ahead. We talk about it briefly on The Web Ahead #34, which was released earlier this afternoon.
On The Web Behind, we’ll be interviewing people who were involved in the evolution of the web from its early days, getting their perspectives on why certain things did or didn’t happen and how those outcomes have affected the web’s development. Many guests will be people who have since left the web field, or who have vastly different roles now than they did 10-15 years ago. Our first guest will be John Allsopp, and we’re scheduled to record live at 2300 UTC on Thursday, September 20th, with the resulting podcast episode available shortly thereafter. We plan to have a new Web Behind episode about once every other week, schedules permitting.
One of my primary goals is to augment the work of the Web History CG with the personal stories and perspectives of the people who witnessed and quite often influenced the web and web design and development. In many ways our conceptual model is folklore.org, though we aren’t (yet) planning to create a standalone site like that. Maybe one day! First we need to build up a library of interviews.
We have our first few guests lined up and many more on a “wish list”, but I would love to hear suggestions from the Community Group regarding who we should have on. I’ll say right away that I hope to one day have both Sir Tim and Robert Caillau as guests, but we’re very much interested in hearing other names. We want to bring forward voices who are unfamiliar to current web professionals, and would be thrilled to have on guests unfamiliar even to us.
I’m really looking forward to hearing what our guests have to tell us, and I hope you’ll join us!