In the 1980s, Tim Berners-Lee became frustrated with how information was shared and stored at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN).
He noticed that, as well as being distributed inefficiently, information was being lost at the organization, largely due to a high turnover of staff. Technical details of old projects could sometimes be lost forever, or else had to be recovered through lengthy investigations in the event of an emergency. Different divisions of CERN used software written in a variety of programming languages, on different operating systems, making the transfer of knowledge cumbersome and time-consuming.
In response to these annoyances, he made a suggestion in 1989 that would go on to change the world, titled with some lackluster: Information Management: A Proposal. It described a system where all the different divisions of CERN could publish their own part of the experiment, and everyone else could access it. The system would use hypertext to allow people to publish and read the information on any kind of computer. This was the beginning of the World Wide Web.
The first web page went live 29 years ago today, on August 6, 1991. As such you’ve probably seen people online today linking to the “first-ever” web page.
29 years ago today, Tim Berners-Lee posted the first ever web page.
This is it▻https://t.co/MSxAZ2cMZK
— Russ (@RussInCheshire) August 5, 2020
If you click the link, this is what you will be greeted with. You’ll probably be instantly confused by the date, as well as the lack of memes and people being incredibly aggressive in the comment section.
While it gives you an idea of what the first web page looked like, we may never know what the actual web page displayed on that day in August, 1991. There are no screenshots, instead what you are seeing is the earliest record we have of that first web page taken in 1992. While we know that when the World Wide Web first launched it contained an explanation of the project itself, hypertext and how to create web pages, the first page of the system designed to prevent the loss of information has ironically been lost, perhaps forever.
Though in retrospect what Berners-Lee had invented was world-changing, at the time its creators were too pre-occupied with trying to convince their colleagues to realize its value and adopt it to think about archiving their invention for future historians to gawp at.
“I mean the team at the time didn’t know how special this was, so they didn’t think to keep copies, right?” Dan Noyes, who ran the much larger CERN website in 2013 told NPR. He believes the first incarnation of the world’s first web page is still out there somewhere, probably on a floppy disk or hard drive hanging around in somebody’s house.
That was how the 1992 version was found.
“I took a copy of the entire website in a floppy disk on my machine so that I could demonstrate it locally just to show people what it was like. And I ended up keeping a copy of that floppy disk,” Tim Berners-Lee told NPR.
Unfortunately, despite CERN’s best efforts, the first page itself has not been found. It may never be.