Noteworthy discoveries in the SLAC web archive

November 4, 2014
Nicholas Taylor
logo graphic appearing on the "SLAC Home Page" 1994-1995

In the course of creating a browsable archive of the SLAC earliest websites, we discovered a number of interesting facts and features that might not be readily apparent on casual browsing. While surely not an exhaustive catalog, we hope that these observations will help you to quickly get into the archive and discover some of what it has to offer.

Establishing web conventions

Evolving web architecture

Updates and mistakes

Web archiving considerations

  • Deepening the record of the historical web: Open Wayback, the software that we're using to re-present the websites, features a hard-coded 1996 start date, reflecting the year that Internet Archive and other institutions started archiving the Web. Our digital archaeology project has resulted in temporally-addressable content going back to 1991, which required us to modify the upstream code.
  • The Web has always been hard to archive: the web archiving community recognizes that the Web's transition from a collection of static documents accessible to crawlers to an executable environment only intelligible to more sophisticated archiving clients poses a growing challenge for content capture and preservation. The oldest U.S. website, itself just a database front-end, demonstrates that even early web systems are complicated to archive using contemporary tools.
  • Ancient web; modern browser: a major part of the experience of the SLAC earliest websites that our re-presentation doesn't effectively simulate is accessing them through a historical interface, such as the MidasWWW browser. CERN provides a line-mode browser emulator for accessing the first webpage, and we're interested in exploring a similar feature in the future.