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 We’ve set up a project to restore and preserve the first URL, which is sadly no longer active: http://info.cern.ch/hypertext/WWW/TheProject.html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

11 Responses to Restoring the first website

  1. Bev Corwin says:

    Sounds like a fun project!

  2. Ben Fino-Radin says:

    Absolutely interested in helping out.

  3. Really neat idea. I am a Pratt MLIS candidate studying digital preservation and digital humanities. I also am the Operations Manager at Information Architecture Institute and one of the IA Community leaders at W3C. Would love to be involved.

  4. Dan Brickley says:

    Great, really glad to hear this! Glad we made this group :)

    One thing I’ve run into, with running WorldWideWeb.app under OpenStep emulation, … is that ancient browsers only understand HTTP 0.x, … and therefore don’t send a Host: header. Modern Web hosting assumes sites can share IP addresses via virtual hosting; when I tried visiting modern sites (even w3.org) with a 1994 browser, I had problems.

    If you’re bringing the CERN site back, can it be on its IP address, to avoid this?

    • Dan Noyes says:

      @Dan we’re looking at infrastructure issues for info.cern.ch. If telnet and FTP are to be revived, we’d certainly not host this in CERN’s regular web hosting environment – so a unique IP looks likely.

  5. Jim Boulton says:

    Would love to get involved

  6. Dan Brickley says:

    Can you make http://137.138.139.27/hypertext/WWW/TheProject.html work too? Older HTTP clients don’t send hostnames.

    I was trying WorldWideWeb.app a while back and it was hard to find a modern site that it would work with, due to the widespread use of virtual hosts. If you can get a dedicated IP address for info.cern.ch that would be perfect…

    • Dan Noyes says:

      We’ll look at this IP address and see if we can’t dedicate it for this purpose. This isn’t trivial, however – there may be all sorts of infrastructure repercussions if it’s used elsewhere, so no promises – but we’ll try.

      • J.F. Groff says:

        Hi Dan and Dan,

        The original IP address for the first web server was 128.141.201.74. My fingers can still type it blindly 22 years later… mirroring countless demos in places where DNS wasn’t set up properly!

        If this IP range is still controlled by CERN, you could map it to info.cern.ch, and voilà ;-)

  7. Ed Summers says:

    Congratulations on the anniversary! I was wondering if any progress has been made on preserving (and sharing) the “ones and zeros” of the machines. I work at the Library of Congress in a digital preservation unit and it would be fun (perhaps as more than just a thought experiment) to consider what archiving this content means, and how to do it. Lots of Copies Keeps Stuff Safe, etc :-)

  8. Dan Noyes says:

    Hi Ed,

    We’re proceeding carefully for now, trying to establish the facts about both machines (there are two NeXTs at CERN), and their respective histories. As for the ones and zeros, I’m working with an association in Lausanne who worked with Robert Cailliau to give one of the NeXTs a health check in 2009 and who produced some sort of copy of the hard drive back then – we’re working to get hold of this.

    The CERN IT department will then take the lead on making any subsequent data preservation efforts from the hard drives and any other sources such CVS repositories and physical media we find. Once we’ll have data to preserve (and share) I’d love to get your input. I’ll be sure to post here when we’re at that stage.

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