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Twentieth anniversary of a free, open web

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

The first small step in this process is the restoration of the files to the first URL: http://info.cern.ch/hypertext/WWW/TheProject.html

See what else is being planned - I hope this group can get involved.

Dan

 

Where is the missing NeXT optical drive?

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.

In 1997 Tim Berners-Lee’s NeXT machine was shipped out to Santa Clara in California for the sixth World Wide Web Conference.

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?

Restoring the first website

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 We’ve set up a project to restore and preserve the first URL, which is sadly no longer active: http://info.cern.ch/hypertext/WWW/TheProject.html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.

What does ‘restoring the first URL’ mean? At its simplest it could be just making sure that CERN hosts the HTML files that have been mirrored here for some time, at their original URL: http://www.w3.org/History/19921103-hypertext/hypertext/WWW/TheProject.html

But it could also be so much more than this. For instance:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. I’d love to see the line-mode browser experience somehow preserved – a browser-based emulator?
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

“The origins of the internet in Europe”

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!

‘First’ Pirate Bay Server on Permanent Display in Computer Museum

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.”

“Vague but exciting…”

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.