Nine people came together at CERN for five days and made something amazing. I still can’t quite believe it.
Coming into this, I thought it was hugely ambitious to try to not only recreate the experience of using the first ever web browser (called WorldWideWeb, later Nexus), but to also try to document the historical context of the time. Now that it’s all done, I’m somewhat astounded that we managed to achieve both.
Want to see the final result? Here you go:
That’s the website we built. The call to action is hard to miss:
Behold! A simulation of using the first ever web browser, recreated inside your web browser.
Now you could try clicking around on the links on the opening doucment—remembering that you need to double-click on links to activate them—but you’ll quickly find that most of them don’t work. They’re long gone. So it’s probably going to be more fun to open a new page to use as your starting point. Here’s how you do that:
Document from the menu options on the left.
- A new menu will pop open. Select
Open from full document reference.
- Type a URL, like, say
- Press that lovely chunky
You are now surfing the web through a decades-old interface. Double click on a link to open it. You’ll notice that it opens in a new window. You’ll also notice that there’s no way of seeing the current URL. Back then, the idea was that you would navigate primarily by clicking on links, creating your own “associative trails”, as first envisioned by Vannevar Bush.
But the WorldWideWeb application wasn’t just a browser. It was a Hypermedia Browser/Editor.
- From that
Document menu you opened, select
- Type the name of your file; something like
- Start editing the heading and the text.
- In the main
WorldWideWeb menu, select
- Now focus the window with the document you opened earlier (adactio.com).
- With that window’s title bar in focus, choose
Mark all from the
- Go back to your
test.html document, and highlight a piece of text.
- With that text highlighted, click on
Link to marked from the
If you want, you can even save the hypertext document you created. Under the
Document menu there’s an option to
Save a copy offline (this is the one place where the wording of the menu item isn’t exactly what was in the original WorldWideWeb application). Save the file so you can open it up in a text editor and see what the markup would’ve looked it.
I don’t know about you, but I find this utterly immersive and fascinating. Imagine what it must’ve been like to browse, create, and edit like this. Hypertext existed before the web, but it was confined to your local hard drive. Here, for the first time, you could create links across networks!
After five days time-travelling back thirty years, I have a new-found appreciation for what Tim Berners-Lee created. But equally, I’m in awe of what my friends created thirty years later.
Kimberly was absolutely amazing, diving deep into the original source code of the application on the NeXT machine we borrowed. She uncovered some real gems.
Of course Mark wanted to make sure the font was as accurate as possible. He and Brian went down quite a rabbit hole, and with remote help from David Jonathan Ross, they ended up recreating entire families of fonts.
John exhaustively documented UI patterns that Angela turned into marvelous HTML and CSS.
Through it all, Craig and Martin put together the accomanying website. Personally, I think the website is freaking awesome—it’s packed with fascinating information! Check out the family tree of browsers that Craig made.
What a team!