Sergei V. Duzhin

Reminiscences of an old webmaster

May 29, 1997

Last week, I overheard a conversation between two housewives in Pereslavl-Zalessky: "Will that cold weather ever cease?" -- "I've seen a weather forecast on the Internet. It says it's going to become warm in a few days".

Among laymen, the word "Internet" is nowadays synonymous with "World-Wide Web". Below are my personal reminiscences about how it all started.

In February 1992, Ben Segal, one of the chief Internet authorities at CERN, Geneva, has arranged my coming to ICTP, Trieste, Italy to work for the preparation of the International School of Networking, headed by Alvise Nobile. Ben also suggested that I have a look at the newly born W3 project. The project, started by Tim Berners-Lee in 1990, was still at an experimental stage, and every new server was an event. In March 1992, I have set up a WWW server at ICTP. (l allow myself to quote the document just referenced:

Sergei Duzhin has put up a server also labelled "experimental" at ITCP in Italy. This has local information and information about schools held at the institute. He plans to use it as an example for students at the coming communications school to show them how to organize an information system.)

At that time, installing the software (a server -- tuned with the help of the system manager Marco Bordin -- and a text-mode client provided with a set of hypertext documents) was not considered as trivial a task as nowadays, and beginning webmasters, like myself, used to work in personal e-mail contact with Tim.

In my archives I keep 16 letters that the inventor of WWW sent me and 13 letters I wrote him. We discussed the technical details of software installation, the features of HTML, the advantages of WWW over Gopher and WAIS and other related things. Below I quote 3 passages of Tim's letters.

The server I started at ICTP belongs to the first list of all the 26 WWW servers that existed in the world in 1992. The historical document kept intact at (previous link) mentions

Italian physics institute (experimental server)
under the now non-existent address

After I left ICTP, in the winter 1992-1993, this computer experienced a disk crash, and the WWW server died -- to be revived by the system manager Marco Bordin only in 1994 when the Web began its triumphant raid over the planet.

Fragments of letters by the father of WWW

Date: Wed, 4 Mar 92 17:13:09 GMT+0100
Subject: Re: WAIS vs Gophers vs WWW
To: Duzhin Sergei <duzhin@itsictp.bitnet>

> Among the systems listed, I'm acquainted with Gopher and WAIS.
> My impression is that both of them are exactly wide area hypertext
> systems having both links and search capabilities.
> I was even prompted to ask you why did you start a new project instead,
> for example, just opening a Gopher site at CERN.

You are right that they all look the same because you are accessing them
using  WWW.
That is because the WWW model is general enough to include all of them.
However the WAIS and Gopher models are not so general if you look into them.

1.      WAIS has no hypertext. All you can do is search an index.
        You can search for files describing indexes.
        When you view WAIS with W3, the gateway makes you a link from
        a "source" file to the index it describes.  Also, the results
        of a seearch are represented as hypertext. However, you will
        notice that each WAIS index is attached to a particular database
        and you never get a link outside that...

2.      Gopher has no hypertext, but it has menus. When your're in Gopher
        you are retrieving a file or you are looking at a plain menu with a
        line per item. This is much simpler, and one reason why Gopher has
        spread so much: its easier to make clients.  But its not as nice for


Date: Fri, 27 Mar 92 15:09:46 GMT+0100
Subject: Re: ALICE

By the way, I like your ICTP server -- you seem to have got exactly the
idea of how information should be organized.


Date: Thu, 4 Jun 92 23:12:56 MET DST
From: (Tim Berners-Lee)
Subject: Re: distrubution lists


It is with regret that we remove you from the lists, but we'll
look forward to having you back on the net in the autumn!
You've done lots of good things, and provided lots of useful feedback.
I'm in the US right now, so I'll ask JFG to actually fix the lists.
A la prochaine


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