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Discovery Discovery Newsletter December 2001
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On the Web

The Web that Was



Web History by Jan Zauha

If time is a river, the Web occupies a stretch of Class V rapids in that part of the river known as the Internet. The speed of change and growth in this technology and its ever-morphing content has been astounding. If you've been an Internet user for 8 years or more, it may be difficult to remember what your first browser experience was like back in 1993. Since time on the Web is always set at "now," however, it is almost impossible to use the Web itself to revisit the technology as it once was. Fortunately, some sites do archive old Web information, recreate software experiences, and supply timelines and highlights in the history of the Internet and the Web.

Do you remember what Yahoo! looked like in 1994? Today Yahoo! is one of the most well-known Web search sites and certainly one of the longest lived, but it began life quite humbly. In 1994 when you accessed the favorite links of Stanford grad students Filo and Yang, what you got really wasn't far removed in look and feel from the gopher technology that preceded browsers in popularity: not many graphics, a fairly linear, hierarchical structure. Today you can view the 1994 Yahoo! thanks to a mirror site in Turkey. To see how Yahoo! had changed by 1996, the year it was launched as an IPO, look to a mirror in the Czech Republic. This same site provides a glimpse of AltaVista as it was in 1996.

To get a real feel for the Web as it was, however, it helps to look through the lens of an early browser. Deja Vu: The Web as We Remember It brings back browser days of old in "The Emulator," where you can view your current Web pages using NCSA's Mosaic 1.0 circa 1993, as well as other early browser types. Deja Vu has also constructed a timeline tracing notable events such as the death of gophers, a technology some would like to resuscitate.

One of the most robust Internet history tools is Hobbe's Internet Timeline, where you can scroll through the years and realize just how long you've been using this technology. See The Internet Society for a substantial list of Internet histories from various perspectives. If you prefer a less linear approach, see Gregory Gromov's Roads and Crossroads of Internet History. One very promising site still under construction is The World Wide Web History Project.

However you choose to explore the historical dimensions of the Web, its quicksilver nature is inescapable. Try out the links on the 1994 version of Yahoo! and you'll see that very few are still legitimate. Do the same in the current Yahoo! and again you'll find many dead ends that once led to robust and, presumably, useful Web sites. Then think about whether or not your own Web sites might be worth archiving.

For help locating more Web artifacts call or stop in at the Renne Library reference desk. If you find Web sites that you think might be of interest to the MSU community, please send me an e-mail message at alijz@montana.edu.

Jan Zauha is the reference team leader at the MSU Libraries.

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© 2000 Montana State University-Bozeman
Discovery is published monthly during the academic year by the MSU Office of the Vice President for Research, Creativity and Technology Transfer, 207 Montana Hall. AnnetteTrinity-Stevens, editor.
Illustration by Robert Rath.
For more information, call 994-5607.

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