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

CERN is celebrating the location of the first website.
Written by Tom Foremski, Contributor

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!

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