Science & Technology
2:00 pm
Wed June 12, 2013

Hunt For The First Web Page Leads To UNC-Chapel Hill

UNC professor Paul Jones located a Web page from 1991 on his old NeXT computer
Credit screen shot

It might not be much to look at, but in the history of the World Wide Web,  this image is a landmark. It's the earliest web page found so far, according to scientists at the nuclear research group CERN (the same organization that developed the Large Hadron Collider) who are trying to locate the genesis of the Web.  The page was brought to their attention by Paul Jones, a professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

At 22 years old, it's not the very first Web page ever created -- just the oldest one located so far. The first Web page was developed by CERN scientist Tim Berners-Lee in 1990 using a Steve Jobs-designed computer called  a NeXT.

CERN’s Dan Noyes, who is spearheading the search for the earliest Web page, told the Associated Press, “data gets overwritten and looped around,” and therefore may make the first Web page difficult to locate. Until recently, CERN's earliest located Web page was from 1992. When National Public Radio did a story on CERN’s search, Paul Jones, a professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, contacted Noyes to tell him that he had an even earlier one from 1991.  Here’s the 1991 Web page:

http://www.ibiblio.org/pjones/old.page.html

The page was put together as a demo on how hypertext works. If you look closely, you can see that the first line says “Welcome to this demonfdgfgstration for Hypertext '91.” It’s referring to the Hypertext '91 conference in San Antonio, Texas. Berners-Lee and his colleague Robert Cailliau submitted a paper on hypertext to the conference, but it was rejected.

Before the conference, the duo shared their web page with Paul Jones, who owned a NeXT computer. Jones wrote about meeting Berners-Lee and visiting that web page on his blog:

"We talked about WAIS and WWW and beer and he pulled out a floptical drive (NeXT pioneered a read-write optical disk in a case. No one followed). I installed Tim’s graphical browser on my NeXT," Jones writes.

On a CERN blog documenting their ongoing search for the earliest Web page, Noyes wrote of a recent conversation he had with Jones, in which Jones said, "There's plenty more stuff on that NeXT, only I've forgotten the password..."

Noyes wrote that he’d post updates on his blog as the search for an even earlier Web page continues.