I will shortly be moving offices (along the corridor from where I’m currently based). The process of sorting out my files is providing a valuable opportunity to get rid of out-of-date papers. It is also very intriguing when I find various old papers, providing an opportunity to reflect on the past and the views we had back then of the future.

Some things which have brought back memories:

  • An ALT workshop on Hypertext In The Unix Environment held at the University of Kent at Canterbury in September 1993. This was intended as a roadshow for the Guide hypertext systems which was developed at the University of Kent, I was invited to talk as the organisers were aware that the Web was generated a lot of interest. I remember enjoying giving that talk, as I was confident that the Web would be a winner and Guide would probably die off or just have a niche role. Does anybody know what happened to Guide?
  • A copy of the Newsletter published by the Computing Service, University of Leeds in November 1993. I was editor of the Newsletter at the time and this issue featured online information services, in particular the Web, with a colour front cover showing screen shots of XMosaic and example of use of the Web. Unfortunately, although the Newsletter was published on the Web, in appears to be no longer available (the online issues date back to 2004).
  • A mention in the University of Leeds’ Report newsletter of my talk on Global Publishing on the world wide web at Oxford University on 2 March 1994. I remember the room being overflowing and the audience being fascinated to discover that third parties had created Web interfaces to cultural resources hosted (on an FTP server) at Oxford University. I discovered a few weeks later that the talk generated much interest within the University, with the help desk receiving requests from users wishing to have the Mosaic browser installed on their PCs and others who wished to set up departmental Web servers. This caused consternation, as apparently a committee had decided that the University’s future lay in the provision of a Gopher service for the University.
  • Slides from a trip report of the first World Wide Web Conference (W3 as it was referred to in May 19994). This conference, which at the time was referred to as the Woodstock of the 1990s canadian pharmacy (the Gopher crowd were the squares, I assume), attracted 380 delegates, including 46 from the UK.
  • A photocopy of an article about the Internet published in the Yorkshire Evening Post on 6 June 1994, just after I got back from the first Web conference. The article’s sub-title was “Greenpeace use it, supermodel Claudia Schiffer hates it and Bill Clinton thinks it’s wonderful. Tim Power explores Internet – the new Information Superhighway“. I remember the journalist quizzing me about Internet pornography and despite my protestations (“there’s pornography in print and on films; why focus on Internet pornography?”) that was the angle taken (” Bulletin boards within the ‘Net have become ideological grounds for anti-facist and hard-right racists groups. Paedophile rings and pornographers are also weasling their way around the ‘Net …“). Also the photographer asked me to look upward and to the right; I discovered why when the article was published, as I was looking up Claudia Schiffer skirt! Still I managing to get the local angle in: “Computer wizards at Leeds where quick to spot the potential. They helped develop the World Wide Web or W3 a kind of universal language which lets ‘Net users find their way around tis digital labyrinth.

This brought back memories of some of the things we were doing with the Web at Leeds University in 1993 and 1994. But is this memory being lost? Should the University of Leeds seek to capture some of the stories of its early involvement with the Web? I should also point out that the Computer Science department has recently celebrated its half-centenary and a feature article in the Alumni newsletter using this as an opportunity to reprint photographs of female computer operators in miniskirts!

And as well as the relevance for the University of Leeds, it does strike me that if we lose the early history of the Web we may repeat the mistakes made back then. This is of particular importance at present, with the current debates of the merits (or not) of Web 2.0 and of the challenges our institutions are facing in seeking to exploit such technologies. Let’s not forget that the Mailbase archives for the web-support list, which was set up in 1993 or 1994, disappeared when this service migrated to JISCMail 🙂