UK Web Focus (Brian Kelly)

Innovation and best practices for the Web

“It Was 20 Years Ago Today”

Posted by Brian Kelly on 9 Dec 2012

On 9 December 1992 I saw the Web for the first time. As I described in a handbook entitled Running A World-Wide Web Service published in 1995:

[I] first came across the World-Wide Web (WWW) at a workshop on Internet tools organised by the Information Exchange Special Interest Group, University of Leeds on 9th December 1992. In January 1993 the Computing Service installed the CERN httpd server on its central Unix system – this was probably the first WWW service provided by a central service in the UK academic community.

The workshop included demonstrations of a number of Internet applications. The aim of the workshop, was to raise awareness of the importance of the Internet to support institutional research, teaching and marketing activities.

At the time I was familiar with GopherVeronicaWAIS and Archie but the Web was new to me. The applications were probably demonstrated on Silicon Graphics or possibly Sun workstations. The Web browser I saw was the Viola which was publicly released in May 1992.

A screenshot of Viola running under X-Windows is illustrated. It should be noted, however, that this image shows a later release of the browser since, in December 1992, the Web was text-only with inline images only becoming available with the release of the NCSA Mosaic browser.

Despite its text-only origins the potential of the Web was apparent to me from the first time I saw it. The ability to have have links within a document, as opposed to Gopher which provided only links from menu items, was a clear strength of the application as was the integration with a range of existing Internet services, such as FTP and Gopher, as well as links with a variety of backend services, such as directory applications which were already starting to be integrated with the Web.

At that time I was the Information Officer in the University Computing Service and was looking for a tool which could be used to provide access to online information provided by the Computing Service as well as, I hoped, form the basis of a Campus Wide Information Service (CWIS).

A small number of Universities were at that time starting to explore the potential of Gopher to provide a CWIS and that was the technology I expected would be used at Leeds. But on 9 December 1992 I saw the Web for this first time and was convinced that I have seen a new vision of the future. It was twenty years ago today, but it’s another set of Beatles lyrics which are more appropriate:

Roll up for the mystery tour.
The magical mystery tour is waiting to take you away,
Waiting to take you away.

When were you taken away by the Web?

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9 Responses to ““It Was 20 Years Ago Today””

  1. Ben said

    I was. From the moment I saw a web browser (Mosaic) at the Department of Community Medicine, Canynge Hall, University of Bristol. I was a rookie librarian/information manager and knew what I was seeing was going to transform my working life.

  2. Brian
    Happy memories :-)

    First sighting of the web must have been in 1993 when a colleague at NERC Research Vessel Services worked out how to post status reports from ship captains onto some sort of webserver. I hacked together an awk script to spot the latitude and longitude in the free text message and insert an appropriate hyperlink to the XEROX PARC map server. Most of the time the ships were out in mid-ocean so the maps were rather dull, but it looked nice when they were near a coast.

    Then in 1994 I moved to Cardiff where my job was “we understand there’s something called a webserver; we think the university ought to have one; find out what it is and make it”. Of course I discovered that CompSci already had several, but they were more interested in developing what became IMDB than my CWIS. Then on via web caches (first in Wales, I claim) to security, incident response and my current job of explaining why the law doesn’t work very well for this thing that barely existed twenty years ago. And trying to make that situation better, of course.

    So it probably was a life-changing experience. If I hadn’t tripped over the web then, I probably wouldn’t be studying for a second law degree now ;-)


  3. Adrian said

    How time flies!! I remember first using Gopher (and email) in 1992, when my job as an archaeological conservator for English Heritage was moved to the Institute of Archaeology, UCL, but I have a feeling my first experience of the Web was with Lynx on Unix and Mosaic on Windows, so that would be 1993. I continued as a conservator until January 1999, all the time using the web to support the teaching that I was involved in as well as developing sites for personal interest. That experience enabled me to switch careers and I left the Institute and walked round the corner from Gordon Square to Malet Street and started as the Web Editor at Birkbeck College, University of London. Those were the good old days when you needed no formal education in Internet-reated things, just relevant experience, which was great for me! So the Web gave me a new career, which I’ve now been doing for longer that my first one!

  4. Jill shacklock said

    Yes I was bowled over Brian and all thanks to you. Shortly after seeing it yourself, with your usual enthusiasm and lust for new but useful technology, you came to our inter university meeting and showed the rest of us what was on the horizon. I had been in a similar position to you. About to put a lot of work into Gopher but not really wanting to as it just didn’t seem to fit the bill, or inspire. You saved me that painful journey and I am forever grateful.

  5. Martin said

    Early 1995. I was 15. I told some of my friends at school that this was going to be massive. They mostly nodded politely and changed the subject. One was kinder and made a point to call me a dickhead.

  6. Richard said

    Some time in 1995 – I was working on pretty closed government systems, where Web awareness was slow to arrive, and for a long had to be a strictly extramural activity. I can’t honestly remember whether I first got online at home, when I bought a US Robotics 14.4k modem for my Mac Classic II, or on the Sun workstations in the computer labs at Birkbeck, where I was doing my MSc. But by ’96, even at work, I was busy creating demo sites and suggesting the benefits of ‘some kind of internal website’, which I only discovered much later was called an Intranet!

  7. Virginia said

    1995 sometime, at MIMAS (or MIDAS as it then was), and I could see this would be big. I quickly moved all my gopher information over to the Web and was probably the first person there to really do any CGI scripting!

  8. […] institutional Web service at the University of Leeds. As I described in a post entitled “It Was 20 Years Ago Today” the service was launched in January 1993 after a group of researchers organised a […]

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