CERN Scientists Continue The Hunt For World's First Web Page
June 12, 2013

CERN Scientists Continue The Hunt For World’s First Web Page

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

Scientists at the European Organization for Nuclear Research, known by its French acronym CERN, are working hard to uncover the world´s first Web page, but are struggling due to the nature of how data is shared.

Tim Berners-Lee invented the Web in 1990 while working on an unsanctioned project at CERN. He used a NeXT computer that Apple co-founder Steve Jobs designed during the 1980s.

Dan Noyes, who oversees CERN's website, is running the CERN initiative to uncover the original Web page.

"But no matter how much data the researchers sort through, they may never be successful," he said.

"The concept of the earliest Web page is kind of strange," Noyes told The Associated Press. "It's not like a book. A book exists through time. Data gets overwritten and looped around. To some extent, it is futile."

In April, CERN restored a 1992 version of the first-ever website that Berners-Lee created to organize CERN-related information. At the time, it was the earliest copy CERN could find, but Noyes vowed to keep searching.

A break in the case came after University of North Carolina Professor Paul Jones came forward with a 1991 version of the website after seeing a National Public Radio (NPR) report on Noyes´ search.

Jones had met Berners-Lee when the British scientist visited the US to attend a conference in 1991, one year after Berners-Lee invented the Web. Jones said Berners-Lee shared the page with him, after which he transferred it from server to server over the years (a version remains today at an archive Jones runs, ibiblio).

The Web page Jones received from Berners-Lee is now locked in Jones' NeXT computer — protected by a password that has long been forgotten. Forensic computer experts are working to extract the information to verify time stamps and preserve the original coding used to generate the page.

The Web page preserved by Jones contains no sophisticated graphics or video clips, but consists of plain text on a white background with 19 hyperlinks, some of which still work.

Noyes said he'll keep searching for earlier versions of the page, and suspects that, following the NPR story, a few pages will surface that were created months before the version Jones has.

The origins of the Internet date back to 1969, when scientists collaborated in a lab at the University of California, Los Angeles to exchange data between two unwieldy computers. During that time, the Internet had email, message boards and rudimentary online communities such as The WELL.

But Berners-Lee wanted to find new ways to control computers remotely at CERN. His breakthrough was to combine the Internet with another concept that dated back to 1960s — hypertext, which is a way of presenting data non-sequentially.

He never got the project formally approved, but his manager suggested he quietly experiment with the idea anyway. So he began writing code for the Web in October 1990, and by mid-November had his browser working. By December, he had added editing features, and the program was available at CERN by Christmas.

Today, less than 25 years later, the Web has transformed into an simple way to retrieve data on just about any subject from nearly any computer in the world with the simple click of a mouse. It has become the equivalent of millions of  libraries available to anyone with a Web browser and a network connection.

Noyes said he believes it is important to uncover the World Wide Web's history because it represents the best of how science and free governments can make the world a better place.

He said the search for the world´s first Web page reminds him of CERN's primary goal — pursuing answers about the universe using systems such as the $10 billion Large Hadron Collider.

"We're looking at the origins of the universe. Origins are intrinsically exciting," said Noyes.