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.

Museum - not an archive

Our service differs from 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 user experience as an online interactive museum.
  2. The web sites are restored in an effort to make them completely functional. Links and images are manually fixed and several sources are combined to form a historically accurate representation. For this reason, the service can be utilized as a reference to study the formation of the World Wide Web and can be used in interactive computing museum exhibits and personal hobbyist projects.
  3. The web sites are browsable with original period correct hardware.
  4. HTTP and FTP sites are supported and more are being added.
  5. Dynamic website content, such as web searches, website visitor counters, web rings are supported and more support 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 dynamic content (website counters, search engines, web rings, guest books…)

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 ProtoWeb, and the service is developing, as more web sites are brought online thanks to the Internet history enthusiasts who are working hard to contribute content and fix broken links.

Quality over Quantity

ProtoWeb was never meant to be an all-encompassing archive of data. It’s purpose is mainly to focus on accuracy of the user experience and present the archived content as close as possible to original to the end user. Over time the list of accessible websites has grown as our volunteer team reconstructs and recovers files from a plethora of sources, and we’re working tirelessly to restore full website functionality including dynamic content such as search engines, guest books, web rings, visitor counters and much more. Emphasis has also been given to finding and restoring rare downloads, and they have been made available 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 to contribute, classic resources, data archives, or are eager to help us restore websites, please contact us! We appreciate the help of our fellow digital curators.