CERN may be best known for its hunt for the Higgs Boson, but a team at the organization are also tracking down internet history, working to restore the first ever website to its original URL and server. The project, which will see the European Organisation for Nuclear Research restore World Wide Web founder Tim Berners-Lee’s first page to info.cern.ch, requires rebuilding the site pretty much from scratch, as no screenshots of the original exist.
Making the challenge even harder is the fact that the site itself was an evolving project, not a stable page, as Berners-Lee and his WWW team updated it as the user-friendly web developed. Since then, the URL has been used for more general information about Berners-Lee’s work.
“For a start we would like to restore the first URL – put back the files that were there at their earliest possible iterations. Then we will look at the first web servers at CERN and see what assets from them we can preserve and share. We will also sift through documentation and try to restore machine names and IP addresses to their original state” First Website Project, CERN
The first page of the new project to go live is info.cern.ch/hypertext/WWW/TheProject.html, which has been restored using a 1992 copy of the original site. “This may be the earliest copy that we can find,” CERN says, “but we’re going to keep looking for earlier ones.”
CERN will also look to restoring the NeXT computers that first hosted Berners-Lee’s site, and is currently researching information from specialists familiar with the machines. Back in 1993, however, the route that the internet finally took was far from concrete: there was apparently fierce discussion around whether the technology should be released as an open standard, something eventually signed into being on April 30.