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Web 25

Histories from the First 25 Years of the World Wide Web

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Niels Brügger

Web 25: Histories from the First 25 Years of the World Wide Web celebrates the 25th anniversary of the Web. Since the beginning of the 1990s, the Web has played an important role in the development of the Internet as well as in the development of most societies at large, from its early grey and blue webpages introducing the hyperlink for a wider public, to today’s multifacted uses of the Web as an integrated part of our daily lives.

This is the first book to look back at 25 years of Web evolution, and it tells some of the histories about how the Web was born and has developed. It takes the reader on an exciting time travel journey to learn more about the prehistory of the hyperlink, the birth of the Web, the spread of the early Web, and the Web’s introduction to the general public in mainstream media. Furthermore, case studies of blogs, literature, and traditional media going online are presented alongside methodological reflections on how the past Web can be studied, as well as accounts of how one of the most important source types of our time is provided, namely the archived Web.

Web 25: Histories from the First 25 Years of the World Wide Web is a must-read
for anyone interested in how our online present has been shaped by the past.

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Chapter Nine: Historical website ecology: Analyzing past states of the web using archived source code (Anne Helmond)

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chapter nine

Historical website ecology

Analyzing past states of the web using archived source code

Anne Helmond

In this chapter I offer a historical perspective on the changing composition of a website over time. I propose to see the website as an ecosystem through which we can analyze the larger techno-commercial configurations that websites are embedded in. In doing so, I reconceptualize the study of websites as historical website ecology. The website’s ecosystem can be detected by examining the source code in which a website’s connections with third parties have become inscribed. If archived, this provides a way to examine changes in a website’s ecosystem and transformations in the techno-commercial configurations of the web through the changing composition of a website. Moving the site of analysis from the content of websites to the context of websites opens up new areas for web historical research. Focusing on the archived source code of websites does not only enable analyzing web technologies used to construct them, which can tell us something about the web’s underlying infrastructure, providing insights into how the web is built and how websites are connected, but can also serve as a means to investigate the web’s economic underpinnings, to understand the business models of websites and third parties and trace the economically valuable data flowing between them. In this chapter I take a contextual approach to historical website analysis by viewing the website as an environment that is inhabited and shaped...

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