Software engineers and the egalitarian roots of '(le) web'

Software engineers and the egalitarian roots of '(le) web'

Summary: CERN is celebrating the location of the first website.

TOPICS: Software

CERN, in Switzerland, is known for its maniacal obsession with the Higgs boson, but it's also where the "web" was invented.

Andrew Nusca reported:

The first website in the world was, understandably, dedicated to the world wide web project itself ... The website described what the web was, and instructed how to access others' documents.

That original NeXT machine is still at CERN, but the world's first website is no longer online at its original address.

CERN seeks to change that. To mark this anniversary, the researchers announced today that they are beginning a project to restore the first website and "preserve the digital assets that are associated with the birth of the web".

My friend David Galbraith managed to find the exact room at CERN where Sir Tim Berners-Lee developed the first web protocols and website. He said it is on the French side of the Swiss border, which would make it "le web" and a French invention by location.

Sir Tim had high hopes for the web:

The web is more a social creation than a technical one. I designed it for a social effect — to help people work together — and not as a technical toy. The ultimate goal of the web is to support and improve our web-like existence in the world. We clump into families, associations, and companies. We develop trust across the miles...

The world can be seen as only connections, nothing else ... A piece of information is really defined only by what it's related to, and how it's related. There really is little else to meaning.

Sir Tim's ideals for the web were very egalitarian — a fitting connection with France's revolutionary slogan of "Liberté, égalité, fraternité".

That's also a credo shared by software engineers in Silicon Valley and elsewhere, except they express it differently; they call it open-source software, where no part of the IP is beholden to anyone else, but shared equally, and progress is shared, too.

David Galbraith is pushing CERN to celebrate the web's origins a bit more than just with a web page.

Perhaps a computer scholarship could be created to fund the occupant of the room to do something that takes the spirit of the web further. Perhaps the original web server could be relocated to the room, and it could be explored by mapping it on say Google Streetview, so that everyone could visit it. Further still, there are the rooms where the project for the web was developed; these are also historically important.

If you believe, like I do, that preserving the location of the invention of the web would be a good idea, make yourself heard. Tweet to @CERN with this URL and the hashtag #savetheroom.

Save the room!

Topic: Software

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  • Connectivity Versus Content

    Remember what the world was like back in 1993: the Internet was still this strange, exotic thing to most people. Proprietary networks like Compuserve, Prodigy and the original AOL were still what people primarily meant when they said the word "online". Those networks had access to lots of valuable content that simply wasn't available on the Internet.

    Yet, somehow, without the backing of a single big company behind it, and no big-budget advertising campaign, the Internet managed to come out of nowhere and sweep them all away. Why? Because it became the easiest (and cheapest) way for people to find each other online.

    In other words, when it came to a battle between content and connectivity, connectivity won.

    There are some nowadays who still don't understand this lesson. You see traditional publishers set up websites with paywalls, on the assumption that their content will be enough to attract visitors. You hear big content-industry magnates proclaim that the Internet would be nothing without their content. And then they wonder why they are losing money: "It must be the fault of piracy!" they declare. And so they put in place measures to further drive away customers and aggravate their failures.

    To find the successful online companies today, look for the ones who emphasize connectivity over content. They are the ones who grok the Internet.
    • Huh?

      @Ido17: The Internet did not come out of nowhere, and it didn't compete with the likes of AOL. It was the progeny of ARPANET which was the first cycle sharing network created by researchers at ARPA, and the first to adopt TCP/IP and was by any metric the largest network in the world since inception. AOL always ran on NSFnet which is one of the precursors of the Internet, a "backbone" made to the ARPANET during the 80s.

      Some of the articles floating around make it seem like CERN created the entire Internet, which isn't true at all. They get credit for hypertexting, but the United States government, and federal research grants funding browsers like Mosaic should get the majority of the props for really launching the WWW into stardom.

      The Internet was around for a long time before the Web.
      Henry Willard
    • And I agree...

      With you generally about connectivity vs. content. The more options the better.
      Henry Willard
      • The Begining

        In the beginning there was Douglas Englebart (check spelling).
        On the Stanford Library site you will find a 1967 video showing the first of all the technologies that we now call the internet and the World wide web.
    • WWW!=Internet

      If you think WWW==Internet, then please correct it. And CERN is responsible for hyperlinking and thus HTTP protocol, hyperlink concept came from NeXT.

      like @Henry Willard said, ARPANET started the TCP/IP stack and IP in that refers to Internet Protocol, And ARPA was part of US DoD, which had been fully funded by US DoD or US Government. The TCP/IP protocols are defined by Robert Kahn and Vinton Cerf not Sir Tim. Sir Tim Berners Lee defined the HTTP, which runs at Application Layer level of OSI model
      Ram U
      • oops, I mean Hypertexting not hyperlinking.

        Ram U
      • Internet happened

        While without doubt, Internet was inspired by ARPAnet, and in the US interconnects were funded by NSFnet via the US government, it all was made possible in Europe.

        Back at the time Internet was only accessible to few defense related corporations, some universities and research centers in the US. in contrast, in the early 90s, in Europe Internet was made accessible to *anyone* via networks like EUnet. EUnet consisted of many local networks in each European country, interconnected to form it (remember the "network of networks"). CERN was of course in Europe, and connected. As we're many businesses and private users.

        I do remember a note from NSFnet discussing if our "commercial" traffic should be allowed on the NSFnet backbone. At the end, they were defeated by their own interest.

        The model was so successful, that it was eventually imported in the US, via UUnet most notably and the rest is history.

        But, if it was left to its original model, as practiced by the US government, things would have been much different. At least in the US.
      • oh, and by the way

        If you found it on the Internet (including Wikipedia), it must be true. Yeah!

  • Help Banish the Use of the prefix www.

    DOU-BLE-U DOU-BLE-U DOU-BLE-U. 9 ungodly syllables. Must we hear this monstrosity forever and ever? For sake of humanity please do something to bring about the demise of this awful term. I hate hearing it with a passion I cannot further describe. No one needs to say or type it. We are not stupid. Radio advertisers - WAKE UP !!!
  • I don’t see the connection with open source

    NextStep was a proprietary operating system, and the early web browsers like NCSA Mosaic were proprietary too. Most early web servers ran on SunOS/Solaris, another (at the time) proprietary operating system. NCSA HTTPd was open source, but with a permissive rather than an anti-IP licence, so even it fails to fit with the ethos of the ‘free software’ wing of the open source movement.

    The creation web has a lot to do with Unix (and something to do with NeXT), and these days the dominant Unix is open-source Linux, so the confusion is understandable. Nevertheless, when the web was developed, the Unix world was still dominated by very expensive closed source operating systems, most notably SunOS/Solaris, running on expensive, proprietary hardware. BSD and Linux aimed to change that by offering Unix for free on PC hardware, but that was irrelevant to the early development of the web.
    • NeXT was "proprietary"

      Everything Steve Jobs took from others became "proprietary". Both NeXt and OS-X, lifted from BSD. I'm sure you will argue but all you have to do is issue the command: find /etc -name "bsd*" and then you'll have to explain why all those BSD files are in OS-X. Steve Jobs himself said that OS-X was a continuation of NeXT, so it would be odd that they "stuff" all those BSD files into OS-X if they already had NeXT completely proprietary.
      Fireal Laname
      • Sorry?

        I’m not sure if you’re trying to claim NextStep was open source. If you are, you’re simply wrong. NextStep was proprietary. Using it legally required purchasing a software licence from NeXT (as part of a NeXT hardware bundle or, later, individually). The source code wasn’t distributed either, but distributing source code under a proprietary licence isn’t enough to make software open source anyway.

        NextStep was based on Mach, which included some BSD code. Both were academic research operating systems, with source code was distributed under liberal open source licences. That was the standard for research operating systems in those days (the GPL has unfortunately made inroads since, reducing the usefulness of academic OS research), and was done precisely so the code could be used in other systems, including proprietary ones. Even Windows NT included some BSD code early on (e.g. the TCP/IP stack in version 3.1), and a few relics (e.g. ftp.exe) remain in Windows 8. That doesn’t mean Windows 8 is open source.
    • Re: rather than an anti-IP licence

      Why do you consider Free Software to be "anti-IP"?