Trip Report WWW2007 - May 8-12 2007, Banff, Canada
the Web history event at WWW2007 was organized by the Web History Center, a non-profit organization dedicated to preserve the history of the Web and included the following activities:
the web history reception took place on the evening of the first day of the conference at the riverview lounge. after the buffet, marc weber and bill pickett (co-founders of Web History Center, WHC) plus bebo white (initiator of first Web History Event in 1997) gave a brief overview of what we might expect during the the Web history track which took place the next day. they also asked people to visit the Web history exhibit at ivor petrak room, which was open all day during the conference.
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the web history track included the following presentations:
marc weber (co-founder of the WHC) presented the Web History Center (WHC), which is hosted by the computer history museum in mountain view, california, why it was founded and what it does. to my understanding, the WHC was suggested by robert cailliau, because he was concerned that his and other people's documents might get lost soon if nobody starts to preserve the only digitally available information. the WHC now collects not only important documents and entire websites, but they also preserve software, hardware and artifacts, which are valuable and/or represent important steps during the evolution of the Web and the pre-Web history. a number of large organizations already support the WHC and more organizations are welcome. they also welcome any donations by organizations or individuals which represent milestones on the Web's timeline. in addition, the WHC works closely together with the webarchive.
hermann maurer (inventor of Hyper-G) recalled the story of early developments in the hypertext area, including the invention of videotex, minitel and MUPID. according to hermann maurer, a british engineer suggested as early as 1976 to use the equipment, which was already present in many households, to be used for interactive communications: the TV set and the telephone. the combination of these two devices allowed to present information on the TV screen and to select "things" such as pieces of information or items to be purchased by pressing the corresponding key on the phone. this invention became known as "videotex". later, they combined the TV set and the modem into one device in france, this new device became known as minitel. in austria, hermann maurer was involved in the development of a similar device called MUPID. this device did not only support the distribution of information, but also micropayment, the download of applications such as spreadsheets or games and even provided an SMS-like communication between endusers.
marty tenenbaum and allan schiffman recalled the story of early e-commerce applications and activities, namely CommerceNet.
john toole (manager of the computer history museum) presented his institute and mentioned a couple of rare items they have on display. he explained what they do and how they try to preserve valuable artifacts for the future, which not only includes hardware, but also software, which might be especially difficult to preserve, since it may require special devices and/or knowhow.
bill pickett (co-founder of the WHC and a professor emeritus of history) explained why it is important to preserve relevant documents on the Web now. he said, that in a few years, we may run into the paradox situation that we know more about the invention of the printed letters by gutenberg half a millennium ago, than we know about the invention of the Web. this paradoxon is caused by the fact, that digitally stored information is very vulnerable to change and loss. even if it is easy to copy and backup digitally information, if nobody does it for the long term, it might as easy be lost. we keep changing websites and other documents without saving previous versions and therefore possibly destroy information that might be relevant in the future but is no longer available. bill pickett also pointed out, that we shall not expect someone else to preserve our information. "if we don't do it, nobody does it", he warned.
bebo white, wendy hall and brian kelly told their story of the Web, how they got involved and included some humorous anecdotes.
bebo white / wendy hall / brian kelly
some personal notes about the web history track:
i was quite amused how particularly wendy hall and hermann maurer even after more than ten years after the advent of the Web still keep telling us, how much better their system (microcosm, rsp. Hyper-G) was compared to HTTP and HTML. their system did not allow broken links, their system already had micropayment included, their system was far more sophisticated, their system had a central authority of control and did not allow all kinds of content that may be disputable etc. etc. etc. ...
how much longer does it take, until they understand that the fact, that everybody can contribute to the Web and that it allows broken links actually are the ingredients that made the Web so successful ?
nevertheless, this is the important part:
i fully agree with bill pickett that we need to start to preserve the Web now ! despite of the fact that we live in the so called "information age" and that there is an overwhelming and daily increasing amount of information available, digitally stored information is in fact vulnerable and very easy to loose. not such much in the short term - in most cases there is a backup available that allows us to restore the state of information that we had a few hours or days ago. but how about information that we had a year or even a decade ago ? it's no longer in the backup if somebody deleted it even as recently as three or six months ago !
things like Content Management Systems (CMS) may make things even worse. in many cases, versioning is turned off to preserve space. and even if versioning is turned on, how can we restore any version in maybe ten years when the CMS has been updated or even replaced with a different application ? or how about content that depends on a particular application or even worse on a particular version of a particular application ?
i'm convinced it is about time to think about preservation of digital information at the ETH zürich, not only about websites, but about any type of digital information, including databases, emails and - of course - websites. interestingly, there are archives that preserve non-digital information, such as the bundesarchiv (swiss federal archive), the thomas mann archive (www.tma.ethz.ch), the max frisch archive (www.mfa.ethz.ch) etc. which preserve for example almost any artifact related to this particular person, not only their scripts, but also any note they took. but how about emails and documents written by one of our recent noble prize winners such as kurt wüthrich ? will his notes and documents still be available in two or three decades from now ?
a few years ago, i started to collect websites that were no longer active, for example of past events, projects that had ended or institutes and professorships that were closed. instead of just deleting these websites, i moved them to the so called ETHZ webarchive. there, these websites are still reachable under their original address, but they are automatically marked as stored in the webarchive and there is a note that these documents are no longer maintained. however, by doing so, all these documents are still accessible and the URIs haven't changed, which means, these documents can still be reached when looked up through a search engine or when referenced by another document.
however, from my point of view, it is important to "institutionalize" the process of archiving. rules are needed which set forth when and how websites, databases, emails or even single documents shall be preserved. i believe, the best way to preserve is to keep them online rather than storing them on an offline media such as a DVD. not only is the price of online storage no longer an issue, but more important, the long term durability of offline media is unknown and these devices get replaced every decade or so. on the other hand, it is relatively simple to migrate data from one online storage media to the next. plus - and even more important - only data that is online ist still accessible for reference, research etc.
another important issue to be discussed and decided of is how to preserve data which depends on a particular application, such as a database.
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they displayed a number of artifacts related to the early days of the Web at the Web history exhibit. these artifacts included proceedings from previous conferences including the proceedings of WWW1 in geneva 1994 contributed by myself, yuri rubinsky's labtop and a replica of the first mouse invented by douglas c. engelbart. there was also a portrait of the web history center and a timeline chart which showed a number of important events during and even before the development of the Web.
note: click on the images for an enlargement.
entrance to the web history exhibit portrait of the web history center the web history exhibit showcase at the web history exhibit showcase at the web history exhibit showcase at the web history exhibit timeline of the evolution of the web badges and pins of the web conferences in memorial of yuri rubinsky
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