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CERN recreating the world's first website

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April 30, 2013

Screenshot of the original NeXT web browser in 1993 (Image: CERN)

Screenshot of the original NeXT web browser in 1993 (Image: CERN)

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To old fogeys like me, it seems like only yesterday that the coolest way to go online was to dial up the AP wire service bulletin board on a 300-baud modem, but it was actually two decades ago that the web as we know it burst onto our world. On Tuesday, it was 20 years ago that the World Wide Web went public, when CERN made the technology behind it available on a royalty-free basis. To mark the occasion, the organization announced that it is recreating the world's very first website for posterity.

It wasn't much to look at – just text and hyperlinks – and the subject was the World Wide Web itself, so it wasn't exactly like finding a treasure trove of LOLcats or a Kirk vs Picard flame war, but the first website did mark a significant jump forward. Flash animation, Java plugins, apps, streaming video and even images and audio were still in the future, but that first site turned the internet from the domain of computer scientists and hobbyists into the information super system that modern society now depends upon.

Invented in 1989 at CERN by Tim Berners-Lee, the web was first designed as a way for physicists around the world to share information. It was by no means the first or only way to share information online, but by making the software to run a web server available for free and then throwing in a basic browser and code library, CERN was able to do for the internet what Henry Ford did for the motor car. It went from the plaything for the few to being the workhorse for the masses.

“There is no sector of society that has not been transformed by the invention, in a physics laboratory, of the web”, said Rolf Heuer, CERN Director-General. “From research to business and education, the web has been reshaping the way we communicate, work, innovate and live. The web is a powerful example of the way that basic research benefits humankind.”

First web server used by Tim Berners-Lee (Image: Coolcaesar/Wikipedia)
First web server used by Tim Berners-Lee (Image: Coolcaesar/Wikipedia)

Unfortunately, like many historic firsts, there wasn’t much incentive to preserve the first website that Berners-Lee hosted on a NeXT computer. After a few years, the site was retired and the URL merely redirected to another site. The NeXT machine that acted as the original web server was still at CERN, but it was a museum piece.

Now, to celebrate 20 years of people typing “WWW,” CERN is bringing the first website back to life. The NeXt machine has been refurbished and the URL has been reactivated as CERN starts a project to collect and preserve the information assets that made up that first foray into our modern digital world.

Source: CERN via BBC

About the Author
David Szondy David Szondy is a freelance writer based in Monroe, Washington. An award-winning playwright, he has contributed to Charged and iQ magazine and is the author of the website Tales of Future Past.   All articles by David Szondy
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3 Comments

Geek out man.

ok a little snark there. Preserving history is a worthy pursuit.

Slowburn
30th April, 2013 @ 03:40 pm PDT

As HTML was based on SGML and my company was well known for the creation of SGML data, ANU invited us down to provide an assessment of the web in its early days. We thought it was pretty cool and asked whether there were many sites. "Only 5 at the moment, but we expect it to catch on pretty quickly" was the answer... and so it did. (My claim to nerd fame.)

Marcus Carr
30th April, 2013 @ 06:18 pm PDT

In the present, it's hard to see what will be appreciated in the future:) Good for them!

b@man
7th May, 2013 @ 02:02 pm PDT
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