May 1, 2013
Reconstructing The Origins Of the Internet: Cern Recreates First Ever Webpage
Michael Harper for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online
The Internet has grown to such an enormous size and ubiquitous presence that it may be quite difficult to define what it really is. For many, the Internet simply “is,” while the more tech savvy may refer to it as a series of interconnected computers and servers run by protocols.
In its earliest form, it was described this way:
“The WorldWideWeb (W3) is a wide-area hypermedia information retrieval initiative aiming to give universal access to a large universe of documents.”
This is the description of the W3 on the very first website to ever hit the Internet, a page the European Organization for Nuclear Research (Cern) and professor Sir Tim Berners-Lee are working to completely restore and document.
Some 20 years after the first research which produced the World Wide Web as we know it, these web preservationists are piecing together the Internet´s story, giving future generations the chance to see how this grand thing came into existence.
"I want my children to be able to understand the significance of this point in time: the web is already so ubiquitous — so, well, normal — that one risks failing to see how fundamentally it has changed," said Dan Noyes, a web manager at Cern, in an interview with the BBC.
"We are in a unique moment where we can still switch on the first web server and experience it. We want to document and preserve that".
What the team at Cern has recreated so far is unsurprisingly Spartan. The first site on the W3, at least so far as it´s been restored, is composed of nothing but black text and some blue links on a white background. Here, those testing the project in the early 90s could find help on building their own server, get in touch with Tim Berners-Lee (often called the ℠Father of the Internet´) and others involved in the project, and lend a hand in furthering the W3 project.
The new project to revive and preserve the first-ever website goes beyond hosting a few lines of code and some simple text. The web engineers at Cern are going even deeper, aiming to host the original code on the original machines which first hosted the Internet in 1992.
These computers were made by NeXT, the company Steve Jobs founded after his ouster from Apple in 1985. The machines were expensive, but they were built to be the most powerful on the market.
Strive as they might, the team at Cern may not be able to fully recreate what Berners-Lee originally had in mind when he started the W3 project. The first browsers gave web users the ability to write into and edit the content they were seeing online. In this way, anyone surfing with a modest computer could take part in the project without having access to their own NeXT computer.
"This universal access of information and flexibility of delivery is something that we are struggling to re-create and deal with now.” said Noyes.
"Present-day browsers offer gorgeous experiences but when we go back and look at the early browsers I think we have lost some of the features that Tim Berners-Lee had in mind.”
Along with rebuilding the first NeXT computers used to power the web, the team at Cern is also asking for help from the general public. Anyone who may have participated in the earliest days of the W3 project is being asked to contribute and keep the memory of the very first web page alive for future generations.