Deja Vu: The Web Remembered

Deja Vu allows you to experience the web's early years of stark text landscapes navigated with "line mode" browsers -- a fascinating snapshot of the environment endured by the web's pioneers.

The web wasn't always an online environment populated with visually rich web sites. Initially, web pages were simple text affairs, and to navigate from page to page or from one web server to another you entered its link "number" as a command on your computer terminal.

It's hard to visualize this awkward mode of navigating the web, but for the time it was considered a breakthrough in terms of making the Internet easily accessible to users.

At the Deja Vu web site, created by PÄr LannerÖ of Metamatrix in Stockholm, you can actually experience the web as it was, using emulators of the first web browsers and copies of popular web pages as they existed more than a decade ago. You can also trace the development of the "inline" browser, which displayed both images and text in the same window, using emulators for both the Mosaic browser and the earliest version of Netscape.

The release of Mosaic, the first widely available inline browser, was the "tipping point" that caused the web's explosive growth. Looking at Deja Vu's emulator of Mosaic, you may wonder what the big deal was. Pages from 1994 displayed in the Mosaic emulator look amateurish and awkward by today's standards.

But for the time, combining images, text, and links all on the same page was an astonishing advance in web technology. And further, the Mosaic browser included an editor, allowing anyone with even basic skills to become a web page author. That's all it took to spur an explosion of creativity among web users, and for commercial interests to realize the value of staking a claim in cyberspace.

It's both fun and instructive to use these emulators to view archived pages from the web's early days. It's also interesting to load URLs for contemporary web pages into the emulators, to see how they are displayed. Take a look at the home page, for example.

An ongoing problem with early graphical browsers was the rapid advance of new features. Pages were typically "optimized" for a particular version number of a browser, and if you didn't have that version the page would not display properly. This meant most web users would scramble to download each new version of their browser as soon as it was released. Fortunately, we don't have to do that too often any more.

Deja Vu also provides an interesting interactive timeline of notable web milestones, with fascinating annotations and commentary. It's a great site for spending a bit of time waxing nostalgic over the web that was, and for experiencing for yourself just how far the web has progressed in its relatively short lifetime.

Deja Vu
Go to the emulator to re-live an era in the history of the web, or go to the timeline to read about the old times.

The Early World Wide Web at SLAC (1991-1994)
Fascinating history, chronology, and details of the first U.S. website, at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center.

Tech pioneer recalls how he brought the World Wide Web to America
Profile of Paul Kunz, who on Dec. 12, 1991, installed the first web server in America on an IBM mainframe computer at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC).

Line Mode Browser Commands
An overview of the commands available for the web's first "killer app," the line mode browser.

The Wayback Machine: A Web Archives Search Engine
SearchDay, Oct. 30, 2001
The Wayback Machine is a phenomenal search engine that contains over 100 terabytes and 10 billion web pages archived from 1996 to the present.

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About the author

Chris Sherman is a frequent contributor to several information industry journals. He's written several books, including The McGraw-Hill CD ROM Handbook and The Invisible Web: Uncovering Information Sources Search Engines Can't See, co-authored with Gary Price. Chris has written about search and search engines since 1994, when he developed online searching tutorials for several clients. From 1998 to 2001, he was's Web Search Guide.