I was reading this morning that there is a search going on at CERN and it is not a search for the origin of the universe. This time they are searching for the origin of the web, the first website as we would know it. Tim Berners-Lee is widely accepted as being the person who first brought together and created a series of protocols that we now term the World Wide Web back in 1990. It was designed to allow the easy sharing of related information, I am not sure who would have been most happy with that idea, Google, Facebook of the US NSA! The technique of linking documents together using HyperText Transfer Protocol (HTTP, yes the same http you see at the very beginning of a website address) is now very well known. But what did the first web page have on it?
The coder in me really wants it to simply say “Hello, world!”, the ubiquitous starter program that most programmers write when they are first learning a computer language. “Hello, world!” sounds so simple but it actually achieves quite a lot as it effectively creates an input and output stream to the device that is running the software, not bad thing to be able to prove with just 13 characters.
So far the researchers at CERN have got back as far as 1992. They think that it will be difficult to say what was the very first webpage due to the manner that data is stored. What they mean is that pages will have been overwritten and a back up not made of the original document. This might sound odd but when programmers code they rarely keep every version of program or page, particularly if there are bugs that need to be ironed out.
In those days everything would have to be hardcoded into the webpage. Content and styling were all mixed up together. Not that there was much styling back then. I remember seeing the World Wide Web for the first time in 1994. Websites at that time were primarily hosted on university servers. They generally consisted of black text in a Times New Roman font, had a mid-grey background and if you were really lucky contained an image or two. The constraints of bandwidth and 56K dial up modems were such that images were really kept to a minimum. The upshot of this is that if you had a webpage called home.html and you needed to change some of the content then you would simply overwrite the existing file with the new information and save it. So this means that you might be able to find a page but that it does not necessarily contain the original content.
I do not have a copy of that first webpage, though EE may have a back up stored somewhere. EE who were formerly Orange, who were formaerly Wanadoo, who were formerly Freeserve at the time when I made my first web page. The PC that I created it on has long since gone and this will be one of the problems that CERN will have in trying to find that first web page.
They have got back as far as 1992 but there has now come to light a NeXT computer that contains a version of the CERN website form 1991. The only problem is nobody knows what the password is to get into it.
I hope that they are able to get back to somewhere close to the first web page. A page that contained no links itself, waiting for another page to link to it and start an information revolution the like of which we had never seen before.