The first ever ‘archaeological dig of the internet’ has been launched in London, aimed at preserving some of the earliest websites for future generations.
With the web turning 20, but despite the huge impact it has had on our world today, many of the sites that have shaped the internet are now on the verge of extinction.
A collection of the digital industry’s leading figures, led by web pioneer Jim Boulton of digital content agency Story Worldwide (www.storyworldwide.com), are opening the unique exhibition, entitled Digital Archaeology, in Shoreditch, to kick start Britain’s inaugural web archive.
Since the internet’s invention in the early 1990s, organisations of all shapes and sizes have updated their websites, sometimes numerous times each year, or launched completely new versions to market.
With every update or new site, the old versions of websites are effectively removed from the web, unable to be traced online from that point onwards, and most often stored on disappearing hard drives and redundant servers belonging to the digital artisans who first created them, never to be seen again.
“In five years time or so, I doubt websites will exist and I expect the vast majority of sites from the first twenty years of the web to be gone forever,” said Jim Boulton, the curator of Digital Archaeology. “Today, when almost a quarter of the earth’s population is online, this artistic, commercial and social history is being wiped from the face of earth, within millions of hard drives lying festering in recycling yards or rusting in garages.
“This intense digital erosion of the first incarnations of web design has meant that with every update or site relaunch, the previous version is buried in a digital graveyard. As servers and hard drives come to the end of their lives, so will the opportunity to restore and resurrect the sites they house.
“The web has become an integral part of our lives, and to not start historically archiving the defining sites of the first 20 years of its existence is simply neglectful. If we don’t act, many of the websites that inspired a generation of interactive designers will disappear forever.”
Creating the Digital Archaeology exhibition has involved mobilising some of the most influential digital designers of the last two decades, each of them resurrecting sites that Boulton and his advisory panel felt deserved a presence at the inaugural ‘dig’.
The exhibition, running from Wednesday 10th November to Friday 12th November, also includes film montages of interviews with the brains behind those sites on display, discussing their forgotten jewels, the challenges, the highs, the lows, and the stories behind them.
The event kicks off a wider industry vote, appealing to the digital design industry to voice their opinions as to which other sites from yesteryear should be included in the proverbial digital vault.
“These sites, created by some of the greatest digital artisans on the planet, inspired a generation of digital designers who fundamentally changed online experiences,” said Boulton. “But this is just the view of the exhibition panel. There are undoubtedly many other sites out there that people will think deserve a place in the Hall of Fame. We’d like to hear from them.”
The sites to be showcased at the inaugural Digital Archaeology exhibition are:
Industry insiders are being asked to visit www.storyworldwide.com/digital-archaeology to submit their own views on other sites that need to be resurrected.
Boulton and his team will then subsequently choose the next set to be included from those put forward, and endeavour to unearth them in the coming months.
Jim Boulton is the entrepreneur behind one of the UK’s earliest and most innovative web start-ups, Large Design, now rebadged Story Worldwide following a 2007 creative merger. The idea for Digital Archaeology came from his experiences leading digital campaigns that have embraced the tidal shift away from one-way brand sites towards the social web, and ultimately the connected desktop. With this trend, Boulton believes, comes the death of the website. And when combined with the view that the majority of these sites are being stored on soon-to-be obsolete technology, he felt compelled to make sure history was not lost forever.
“The digital artisans of the last 20 years were focused on staying in business and moving on to the next project. Archiving their work was the last thing on their mind.” he said.
The exhibition, part of Internet Week Europe, is taking Boulton back to his roots. The exhibition is being held in the studio where he and his colleagues created some of the first sites – Large Design.
“The sites showcased at Digital Archaeology were the result of a DIY culture in offices that didn’t have the glitz and glamour that many of the global web businesses of today enjoy. Many of them were created in studios just like Large’s, and with this event we have stayed true to heritage of the subject matter.
“And it’s nice to be back somewhere I used to call home.”