The First Website Revived

The Web as we know it went “live” April 30, 1993. The very first web page and website Tim Berners-Lee and the WWW team put online has been brought out of the archives by CERN.

First Website in the world on the web by Tim Berners-Lee and CERN team - front page.

The web page and site was reconstructed by CERN from an archive found on the W3C site, which is a 1992 copy of the first website, not the original. The research team is still searching for the original or an older version.

Mark Boulton is involved with the CERN team to help restore the first website. He described their determination to preserve this moment in world history.

As web designers and developers, we spend a lot of time trying to explain the difference on the web. “It’s not TV, it’s certainly not print” (oh, no, it’s definitely not that). The web is its own thing. But unlike other media – ones which have physical artefacts, which get left behind to rot, to be found and stuck on a shelf in a museum – the web doesn’t have that. Pixels don’t decay, they just disappear. Forever.

Preserving our digital heritage is as important as preserving our physical heritage. There are a few people and organisations in the world who get this: The Long Now Foundation and Archive.org, to name a couple, but I’m not sure that’s enough. The need to preserve must come from our desire to learn from the past. I have two young children and I want them to experience the early web and understand how it came to be. To understand that the early web wasn’t that rudimentary but incredibly advanced in many ways. Currently, it’s impossible to do that. And, together with CERN, that’s what we’re hoping to provide.

Restoring the First Website is the site of the team restoring the site. One of the team members is John Allsopp of Australia. On the site, he talks about the challenges of reviving the first web pages and sites.

We’re creating a simulation of the experience of using that browser to give people who haven’t used it or the old-style terminals a sense of what using the web was like 20 years ago. It tries to reproduce early web pages as authentically as possible, as well as taking modern pages and simulating what they would have looked like 20 years ago…

In a way, they couldn’t be more different. When we think of computing now, we think of graphical user interfaces, images – we think of drawing to a pixel-based high-density screen. Back then, the monitors were capable of drawing characters to a screen. There were no different fonts, no colours – not even greyscale. It was either black and white, or green and black. There was no mouse, no touch – in many ways you couldn’t have a more different experience. Except maybe using punch cards [laughs].

The interface of the page is simple, clear, and easy to understand, the world’s first links connecting web pages together.

What is most fascinating is the underlying HTML code. It resembles HTML5 more than previous versions of HTML, keeping things simple and clean. Yet the core elements are still there.

<HEADER>
<TITLE>The World Wide Web project</TITLE>
<NEXTID N="55">
</HEADER>
<BODY>
<H1>World Wide Web</H1>The WorldWideWeb (W3) is a wide-area<A NAME=0 HREF="WhatIs.html"> hypermedia</A> information retrieval initiative aiming to give universal access to a large universe of documents.<P> Everything there is online about W3 is linked directly or indirectly to this document, including an <A NAME=24 HREF="Summary.html">executive summary</A> of the project, <A NAME=29 HREF="Administration/Mailing/Overview.html">Mailing lists</A> , <A NAME=30 HREF="Policy.html">Policy</A> , November's <A NAME=34 HREF="News/9211.html">W3 news</A> , <A NAME=41 HREF="FAQ/List.html">Frequently Asked Questions</A> . <DL>
<DT><A NAME=44 HREF="../DataSources/Top.html">What's out there?</A>
<DD> Pointers to the world's online information,<A NAME=45 HREF="../DataSources/bySubject/Overview.html"> subjects</A> , <A NAME=z54 HREF="../DataSources/WWW/Servers.html">W3 servers</A>, etc. <DT><A NAME=46 HREF="Help.html">Help</A>
<DD> on the browser you are using <DT><A NAME=13 HREF="Status.html">Software Products</A>
<DD> A list of W3 project components and their current state...

All the HTML tags are the same, though lowercase and using web accessibility standards, as today, though few use the Definition List any more. Closing the HTML tags was standard in key HTML tags, but not on other formatting HTML tags like the Defined List tags (<DT>, <DD>).

First Website on the Web created by Tim Berners-Lee with CERN - code of the front page.

According to reports, CERN is planning to bring back the original website as much as possible, preserved for posterity. You can keep up with the activities of the team on their First Website Blog.

For more information on web archives and archiving the web, see
The Long Now Foundation and Archive.org.

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