CERN: Twenty Years and Counting

by on May 17, 2013

I’m a nerd when it comes to technology news stories. Whether it’s a technology ethics debate or some new toy coming out, I tend to geek out a little bit. I can’t help it. So a couple weeks ago, when I saw this article, it really made me think.

The article is all about the first website ever created on the World Wide Web—you know, that thing that everybody has been using constantly—and how the company that originally made the site is going to put it back up on the internet. To preserve it, like an interactive museum piece.

It blew my mind. The reason it did was simple: it’s been twenty years? I wasn’t sure if I wanted to say only twenty years or already twenty years, but twenty years seems like a pretty important milestone. That means I was eight when they created this site, way far back in 1993. I was probably watching Jurassic Park the first time it was in theaters. I then remembered growing up with Apple back when they were Macintosh’s, not Macs, and Windows 95 and AOL were running on almost everybody’s Gateway or Compaq. Way before the whirlwind of eBay, Amazon, and the world as you know it now, that came crashing through your door with unlimited connectivity.

But enough about my wistful youth. The article goes on to explain that twenty years ago, the first website was created by Sir Tim Berners-Lee. Berners-Lee worked for CERN, which is the European Laboratory for Particle Physics. He originally created it to share documents amongst his colleagues around the world, and was little more than text with hyperlinks, the building block of the internet that we use without a moment’s thought today.

Yet the most astounding part was still to follow: CERN gave it away. They gave away the World Wide Web. After developing the idea for a few years, they realized the power of it, and they let it go. They totally signed it off as public domain. It was the world’s treasure to embrace or destroy (which they weren’t liable for), as they describe very vehemently in their release found here.

So, twenty years later, they want to kick-start the first site back into existence, to preserve it for the generations of internet users to come. The project itself states that:

This project aims to preserve some of the digital assets that are associated with the birth of the web.

For a start, we would like to restore the first URL—put back the files that were there at their earliest possible iterations. Then we will look at the first web servers at CERN and see what assets from them we can preserve and share. We will also sift through documentation and try to restore machine names and IP addresses to their original state. Beyond this we want to make http://info.cern.ch —the first web address—a destination that reflects the story of the beginnings of the web for the benefit of future generations.

Dan Noyes, the web manager for CERN’s communication group is quoted in the article as saying, “I want my children to be able to understand the significance of this point in time: the web is already so ubiquitous…that one risks failing to see how fundamentally it has changed.”

I tend to agree with Noyes. I look at my niece and nephew and I realize that they have lived their entire lives in the world of the internet. They have no idea what a world without this great technology would be. That is why I think what CERN is doing is so important for the future of the internet. Something with such humble beginnings, being given to the world, without asking for anything in return? That’s a pretty cool thing, when you think about it.

If you want to read more about the project, please click here.

Photo credit: Screenshot of the original NeXT web browser in 1993 from http://info.cern.ch/

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