Trip Report WWW2007 - May 8-12 2007, Banff, Canada

Web History

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[ WWW2007: today's highlight - Web history ]

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:

  1. the Web history reception
  2. the Web history track
  3. the Web history exhibit

Web history reception:

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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Web history track:

the web history track included the following presentations:

[ bebo white / wendy hall / brian kelly ]
bebo white / wendy hall / brian kelly

some personal notes about the web history track:

  1. 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 ?

  2. 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 (, the max frisch archive ( 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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Web history exhibit:

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 at ivor petrak room of the fairmont springs hotel in banff ] [ portrait of the web history center ] [ the web history exhibit at WWW2007 ]
entrance to the web history exhibit portrait of the web history center the web history exhibit
[ showcase at the web history exhibit with proceedings and CDs of previous web conferences ] [ showcase at the web history exhibit with various artifacts including yuri rubinsky's notebook ] [ showcase at the web history exhibit with various artifacts including the face of jeeves ]
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 including all web conferences from 1994 until today ] [ badges and pins of the web conferences ] [ in memorial of yuri rubinsky - yuri's notebook and softquad cup ]
timeline of the evolution of the web badges and pins of the web conferences in memorial of yuri rubinsky

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to the main page of the trip report

webhistory.html / 01-jun-2007 (ra) / reto ambühler