Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Web turned 25 years, See how it looks like when it was a baby

"We had no idea that we were making history and were just trying to get the job done in our 'spare' time” Louise Addis said. Louise was one of the WWWizards team who developed SLAC website on 1991 after Paul Kunz saw a presentation by Tim-Berners Lee about something called WorldWideWeb project. Paul puts the first website into the production on Dec. 12, 1991. This early version of the Web and the subsequent updates until 1998 have been preserved by SLAC archive and history office for many years. Web Archiving service at Stanford University Library restored these early versions and brought it back to life through its Stanford Web Archiving Portal.

Browsing the early website gave an idea about the evolution of web and its terminology. I remember my first question to SLAC team was, "what was the home page in the 1991?” They answered, "there was nothing called homepage on this time” Moreover, they called the first 5 pages deployed on Dec. 1991 as the  core pages, not a website. 

On 1991 deployment, default page was the main entry point as an interface to access two major databases for documents SPIRES and BINLIST.  On Aug 1992, they unveiled a new set of pages: SLAC.html explain s the website itself (first home page), SLACinst.html to explain SLAC lab itself (first SLAC about page), and a set of specific databases interfaces for Conference, Bibliography. We even found the first under construction page SLACvoid.html 

By the beginning of 1994, the web pages contained more resources, especially images. SLAC.html at Jan 4, 1994 has the first SLAC logo, unfortunately the logo was on .xbm format, which most of the modern browsers will not show it correctly. The 1995 deployment was a huge step in the evolution of the web at SLAC. They divided the homepage into three homepages: Welcome, Highlighted, and Detailed that supposed to serve different type of details for web surfers. With the hardware upgrade to Unix server, they were able to serve pages directly from the file system. If affects the URL terminology in this time, instead of serving one level pages /FIND/pagename.html, they served the pages in hierarchal format. However, it is something we know by nature nowadays, they had to write tutorial to explain the new system to the WWW users.

Even the management of access rights has been changed. While I was working in the restoration, I found uncommon URL patterns /slaconly/. After some investigation, I discovered this was the way they restricted the access to the website within SLAC network. I’ve to exclude these pages because it was not authorized for public. 

The restoration process started with a set of scattered files with little metadata about the date for each file. We used the search engines, Internet Archive, old publications, and even interviewed the early website developer to define the URI for each page and how it is linked to each other. I wrote a comprehensive technical blog about the methodology of the restoration process on secrets of the restoration of SLAC dead website from the computer cemetery to live Web.    Unfortunately, we were not able to restore the backend-service itself as it is beyond the scope of web archiving service. 

I enjoyed working and studying this archive that gave me an insight of how the web started and how it evolved so quickly to be a vital part of our life.

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