From chicken to the birth of the WWWPosted: February 5, 2014
One of the many petty things that drives me up the wall is marketers trying to make their product sound fancier and newer than it really is. It’s not remote hosting, it’s “the cloud”. It’s not a program or an application, it’s an “app”. It’s not salt and vinegar, it’s “Sea Salt and Malt Vinegar”. Kettle Chips are delicious crisps and the world is better for having them, but I don’t eat a mess of them and think “wow, I can really taste the sea and malt in here”. I just taste salt and vinegar, which is exactly what I was tasting when I used to eat my Golden Wonder in primary school.
My disdain of marketing tricks reached a new height when I noticed “Hunter’s Chicken” for sale in a shop. Chicken topped with barbecue sauce, cheese and bacon. I used to order it in pubs. That’s hilarious, I pointed out to a friend. Hunter’s Chicken. I guess its old name, “Smothered Chicken”, didn’t sound classy enough. He was confused.
“Hasn’t it always been called Hunter’s Chicken?” he said.
This threw me for a loop. I asked around, but nobody could quite remember what came first, Smothered Chicken or Hunter’s Chicken. Tonight, I decided to settle the question with Google by searching within a date range. The results were inconclusive (Hunter’s Chicken seems to be an unrelated Italian dish, but nobody called it Smothered Chicken before 2003 or so either) but they led me somewhere interesting. I began to wonder how far back some web pages might go.
Now, there are a lot of websites that were registered a long time ago that are still online, but they’ve changed with the times, and the Wayback Machine is limited in its scope. What we need to find is the page that was last updated the longest time ago.
There’s also a lot of pre-WWW stuff out there. Something you have to remember is that the internet is older than the World Wide Web. The terms are used interchangeably these days (and who really says ‘World Wide Web’ any more?) but the internet is really just a bunch of computers, including your own, connected to each other. The World Wide Web, on the other hand, consists of pages of information stored on those computers that all the other computers can access with a web browser, assuming they have the specific address for those pages. For example, you can connect to Buzzfeed because you have the address of http://www.buzzfeed.com, which is really just a shortcut for the real address which is 22.214.171.124 – try entering that into your address bar and it’ll take you there. You’re connecting to their computers and reading the pages they have stored there using your web browser, which uses the Hyper Text Transfer Protocol to interpret the information on those pages and present them to you in a readable fashion. That’s why all web pages start with http://. It’s an instruction to your web browser telling it to interpret the information it finds at the address you specify using HTTP. When HTTP was invented, the World Wide Web became the main way people used the internet to access data.
What I’m getting at is that there will be a lot of information from the pre-HTTP era that is mostly lost to us now, so the oldest surviving web page must be from around 1992, which is when HTTP, and by extension the World Wide Web, properly started. And you know what? There really is a page from 1992 that was last updated in 1992 and is still accessible today, over 20 years later. It’s called Links and Anchors.
It was written by the guy who basically invented the World Wide Web, Tim Berners Lee, and it was one of the first web pages to be accessible. It’s a small explanation of what this new “World Wide Web” thing is. Imagine that. A time when what you were looking at had to be explained to you because no-one had ever seen it before.
So there you have it: from smothered chicken to the birth of the World Wide Web.
That’s right. Smothered Chicken. Not Hunter’s Chicken.