Research ∕ Learning

The institutional web presence again

Lorcan 2 min read

I pointed to Brian Kelly’s note about the evolution of the University of Bath’s web presence the other day. Brian works at UKOLN, which is at the University of Bath. He uses the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine to chart how the University’s web presence changed over the years, and makes some observations about design and format choices in the context of our developing sense of good practice.
In this context, I was interested to come across this page describing the ‘history of U.Va. on the web’. I have not seen other examples like this, but then I have not looked for them. It strikes me as interesting and useful.

The University’s original gopher server, named “minerva” (for the goddess of wisdom) was installed in 1991. The University’s first published Web site was the University Library site, posted by John Price Wilkin in 1993. [History of U.Va. on the Web, U.Va.]

It is interesting to see John Wilkin's name there. And it is interesting to see mention of …….. Gopher!
To connect this back to Brian’s note, here is an extract from the UKOLN Newsletter of September 1994.

The UKOLN server

In June 1992 Sun Microsystems Ltd. presented a SPARCserver to UKOLN that is now being used to:
  • host BUBL (Bulletin Board for Libraries), a service that is administered from the University of Strathclyde by Dennis Nicholson with support from teams of subject specialist volunteers
  • maintain the UK National Entry Point gopher, a list of links to all registered UK gopher servers
[UKOLN – Newsletter, issue 2]

The UK National Entry Point was initially set up by Andy Powell.
As I have mentioned before, BUBL rejoiced for a while in the URL (another link which no longer works). BUBL was an early adopter of the web. In fact, we gave Tim Berners-Lee access to the machine above to install the web server to which BUBL moved. Andy has told the story of what happened then several times:

Andy then related an amusing story of personal embarrassment from 1993 when he was asked to set up a username on a UKOLN machine for someone called Tim Berners-Lee so he could install something called a ‘WWW server’ – probably an early version of the CERN server [25]. Andy, being a Gopher [26] man at the time hadn’t heard of a WWW server but duly set up the account, exchanging a few emails about how and where the code should be installed. Not long after this the NCSA, whose graphical browser was attracting attention at the time, released their popular server [27]. Andy promptly deleted the Tim Berners-Lee installed server, his account and all email correspondence exchanged, having no idea who Tim Berners-Lee was. As good an example as any of digital history lost forever to the unsentimental and impassive indifference of the Unix command line. [‘IWMW 2006: Quality Matters’, Ariadne Issue 48]

Who knows what the future will be interested in?

Note: The original quote from the UKOLN newsletter above had links to images of bullet points – the links were broken. I replaced with a list. A small persistence issue. Formatting updated on 11/28/2023.

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