Preserving The Internet’s History

Preserving The Internet’s History

Nov 10


By Helen Knight
New Scientist
November 10, 2010

Original Link

While the web may only be gearing up for its 20th birthday next year, some of the earliest websites are already in danger of being lost to history forever.

That’s because when new versions of websites were developed, the older versions were often simply discarded along with the hard drives and laptops they were stored on, says Jim Boulton of web content agency Story Worldwide, based in London.

In an attempt to preserve these websites, and the machines they originally ran on, Boulton has performed what he calls the first archaeological dig of the web, and the results will be displayed at an exhibition in London this week.

Previous attempts to preserve the web’s history include a system called Memento, designed by Herbert Van de Sompel at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, which finds versions of web pages from any date and time.

Elsewhere, the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine allows users to key in the URL they want, and then choose a version of the page from a list of years. But these systems only provide people with part of the story, Boulton says.

“The Wayback Machine is a decent effort, but you don’t see it in the context of the time,” he says. “You only see the website, you don’t see the hardware or software it was shown on, so you don’t get the full experience.”

To put together the exhibition, Boulton and a panel of advisers chose a wish list of websites they would like to see again, and tracked down original members of the design agencies to request their code. They then “begged, borrowed and bought from eBay” the original laptops and computers the sites were displayed on.

“These machines are very fragile,” he says. “Some of the monitors are on the verge of burning out, and some of the hard drives are on the brink of failing.”

Among the websites being exhibited are one designed by early digital advertising agency Antirom, which can only be seen on a laptop built in 1995, and a Kylie Minogue website from 1997 (pictured above).

“This was one of the first to use all forms of multimedia,” says Boulton. “You could listen to music, watch videos, and play an interactive game to dress and undress Kylie.”


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