File Under: Multimedia

Timeline Traces How the Web Became the Web

Everything begins in The Garden of Forking Paths. Image: Screenshot/Webmonkey.

The history of the web is long and convoluted; so long and convoluted, in fact, that putting together a complete picture can be overwhelming.

John Allsopp, who has logged quite a few years helping shape web history, was undaunted by the winding story of the web and recently launched The Web History Timeline Project to help map it out.

The goal isn’t to cover the entire history of the web; rather, Allsopp is interested in “the most important milestones in the history of ideas, whether they’re the publication of seminal articles and books, the publication of important standards and RFCs, the release of important software (browsers, servers, tools, libraries) or significant events, such as the founding of the W3C.” And The Web History Timeline isn’t just a static document; you can suggest “significant milestones in the history of web design and development” yourself using the Google Docs form over on Allsopp’s site.

The big question with the history of the web is always, Where do you start? How far back does the idea behind the web actually go? Vannevar Bush’s famous essay, As We May Think, in which he describes the Memex, “a sort of mechanized private file and library,” is a popular jumping-off point, but Allsopp opts to go even further back in the stack to Jorge Luis Borges’ 1941 short story The Garden of Forking Paths. Starting with Borges helps make our liberal arts degrees feel a little bit less useless, so we’re all for that starting point.

The Web History Timeline isn’t just informative; it looks great too. The project was built with Verite’s Timeline.js library, which handles most of the design heavy lifting. For more info on Timeline.js, check out the project page or grab the code from GitHub.

It’s also worth noting that we first heard about The Web History Timeline project on Eric Meyer and Jen Simmon’s new podcast The Web Behind, on which Allsopp was the inaugural guest. That episode is well worth a listen, and be sure to add the feed to your favorite podcast app for more on the early days of the web.