Draft group description

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History of The Web

W3C Community Group Proposal

(Dan Brickley, Max Froumentin)

Even though it is little more than twenty years old, there is a surprisingly small amount of information about the birth of the World Wide Web. Most of the people involved then are still around to provide anectodal evidence, but it is already proving difficult to build a clear picture of many aspects of the Web's origins: the existing concepts that were brought together leading to its creation (and its failed alternatives), the first servers and browsers, the first website designs, etc.

Because the Web is moving so quickly towards its future, few people are interested in its past, let alone its preservation. And since most of the original assets (correspondence, software or documentation) are in digital form, they end up being deleted with no chance for people concerned to recover artifacts.

However, some museums and online resources are doing an impressive job at gathering, curating and exhibiting the remaining evidence. But with vanishing documentation and memories, their work is becoming harder, especially when trying to explore finer aspects of the web's history, such as the first online social networks, the history of web design, or the process of the web's internationalisation.

This group gathers people interested in exploring and preserving the history of the web, in order to document its creation, explore how it evolved and what to do to best preserve it. It includes a network of experts, which can bring light on either the great picture, or specific aspects that a someone may want to do research on. The group will build, or help build, repositories of resources that present an accurate timeline, dispel myths, and present concepts in a way to help the curious understand the process that led to the web as we know it.

Documenting the creation of the Web

As odd as they may seem to specialists, many misconceptions exist about the Web. We would like to show and clearly document some of the most important principles that guided its creation:

  • The Web didn't magically appear, or just came along with the internet. It is specifically not the Internet.
  • It was designed by a non-profit organisation, in an open way which contributed to its success. Its inventor did not earn money from it,
  • It builds on many existing concepts (information systems, hyperlinking, networks) that existed before, even though their "incorporation" has often blurred their previous existence.

Exploring how it has evolved so far

Some aspects of how the web grew once its basic principles were established are also little known. While it is fairly easy to build a timeline of software or protocols, it is difficult to capture some of the most human aspects:

  • From an internal directory system, to a system that spans the world, that has created its own culture, and is now integrated in many people'severyday life.
  • How the Web influences the political and cultural. How it revolutionised other media
  • How it changed with the world around it, with new forms of human interaction, entertainment, or crime.
  • How it has not changed the world that much: many are still not online, or have no use for it (for lack of content, languages or accessibility)
  • Finding out how to best preserve it

We think it’s important to be able to look at the Web as it was 5, 10, 15 years ago. Right now, it's extremely difficult, but it is possible to design guidelines on how to preserve how the web looks, or what’s the user experience like.