There is a growing interest in computing history, computer networking and how it all came to be. In early 2000’s we began observing an increase in old web sites going extinct. We did not want an important part of our culture disappear, so around 2011 a long term project was started with the goal of preserving these web sites. At first we focused purely on archiving web sites, but later began building a comprehensive service that allowed access to this this newly found content.

Web from the 90s

For the scope of the project, we chose to preserve web sites mostly from around mid-to-late 1990’s. There are several reasons this timeline was chosen. Around this time, the internet experienced a strong global expansion around this time, with half the population in the US accessing the Internet on a regular basis. 

Due to the growing demand, most consumers had their first experience of surfing the Internet at this time. As user base grew, companies started putting themselves online, as more significant early web services opened around this time. There are more resources available for purposes of restoration and archival.

Interactive Museum - not an archive

Our service is an evolution of other web archival projects such as Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine at archive.org in some key aspects.
  1. We’re focused on recreating the 1990’s Internet browsing experience as an online interactive museum.
  2. The web sites are restored in an effort to make them completely functional. Links and images are fixed and several sources are combined to form a historically accurate representations. For this reason, the service can be used as reference (subject to source material availability) to study the formation of the World Wide Web and can be used in a variety of ways including interactive computing museum exhibits or personal vintage surfing experiences.
  3. Web sites are fully browsable with any computer, and even with period correct hardware.
  4. HTTP and FTP protocols are supported and more are being added.
  5. Interactive website content, such as web searches, website visitor counters, chats and web rings are supported and more are being added.
  6. Historical archives are scoured to restore file download links, including software drivers, applications and games.

The project’s aim is to emulate the look and feel of the early Internet and keep preserved content historically accurate to provide a guide for future generations. We prioritize the accessibility of our service, and put a lot of effort in making the website appear as if they were still online, including work put into restoring interactive website features, such as website counters, search engines, chats, web rings, guest books, etc…)

It is a service that can be utilized by computing history organizations for purposes of demonstrating the early World Wide Web, and by vintage computer enthusiasts. It allows users and interested parties to browse the Internet with classic web browsers. That is the essence of the Protoweb platform. New classic web sites are continuously being brought back online thanks to the Internet history enthusiasts who are working hard to rebuild the Internet of the past.

Quality over Quantity

Protoweb wasn’t created to be an all-encompassing archive of data. It’s purpose is mainly to focus on accuracy of the user experience and present web pages as close as possible to original to the user. Over time the list of accessible websites has grown as our volunteer team rebuilds and recovers files from a plethora of sources, and we’re working tirelessly to restore full website functionality. Emphasis is also placed on finding and restoring resources that are at risk of becoming extinct on the real Internet, and they have been made available on Protoweb along with the pages that link to them. FTP sites that no longer exist are made available through the service and all resources on ProtoWeb are free to use.

A team effort to preserve the past

The project is no minor undertaking, however at ProtoWeb, we remain committed to our work in restoring the Classic Web back to its former glory. The project would not be possible without our volunteers’ help. If you have websites you would like to add to the service, or classic resources, data archives, please contact us! We greatly appreciate the help of our fellow digital curators.