The irremediable disappearance of everything that was published in the early years of the internet


In 2005, student Alex Tew had a millionaire idea.

The 20-year-old was thinking about how to pay for his studies to earn a business degree.

He was worried that the special check he had on his bank account would multiply.

Then he wrote in a notebook: "How to Become a Millionaire".

Just 20 minutes later, the answer came to mind: create a website called The Million Dollar Homepage.

The site template was obscenely simple. There were one million pixels of advertising space, were available for purchase in blocks of US $100 to $ 1 per pixel.

After buying them, they were his forever.

When the millionth pixel was sold, Tew would be a millionaire. At least that was the plan.

Mouth to mouth

The Million Dollar home page was released on August 26, 2005, after Tew spent a whopping $ 50 on domain registration and configuration.

Advertisers bought pixels and provided a link, a small image and a few lines of text for when the cursor moved over their image.

Alex Tew

Getty Images
Alex Tew in 2005 with his one million dollar idea: the site called The Million Dollar Homepage.

After just over a month, thanks to word of mouth and growing media attention, the Tew home page raised more than $ 250,000.

In January 2006, the last 1,000 pixels were sold in an auction for $ 38,100.

Tew had made his million.

Dinosaur online

The home page of Millions of dollars are still online, almost a decade and a half after its creation.

Many of the customers (including the newspaper) The Times United Kingdom, travel service, Yahoo! online portal and the tenacious rock duo D) had 15 years of advertising for this one-time payment.

The site still has several thousand visits a day, so it was probably a very good investment.

Tew, who now runs the Calm meditation application, has been able to pay off his debts and even have money left over.

But also the home page he created also became something else: a living museum of a was earlier than IInternet.

Fifteen years may not seem like a long time, but in terms of the internet it's like a geological age.

40% of the links on the Million Dollar Pixel homepage are now linked to dead sites. Many of the others now point to completely new domains because their original URL has been sold.

That homepage of Millions of dollars is a sign that the decline of this early period of the internet is almost invisible.

Before the web, the closure of, say, a local newspaper was often given wide coverage.

In contrast, online sites die, many of them without pain or glory. So much so that you can only know when you click on a link and hit an empty page.

What happens with writing, sung, drawn …?

One example of such deaths was the closure of AOL pioneer music sites in April 2013.

The collective work of dozens of publishers and hundreds of long-term collaborators abruptly disappeared.

Little is left of all this, plus a handful of items saved by the Internet Archive, a San Francisco-based non-profit foundation created in the late 1990s by computer engineer Brewster Kahle.

It is the most prominent group among organizations around the world that Redeem some of the last vestiges of the first decade of the internet presence before it disappears completely.

"If it were not for them, we would have nothing" from the source material, says Wendy Hall, executive director of the Web Science Institute at the University of Southampton.

"If Brewster Kahle had not created the Internet Archive and started saving things without waiting for anyone's permission, what we would have lost everything"

Hall notes that national archives and libraries have expertise in archiving books, journals and periodicals because printing has existed for centuries.

But the arrival of the Internet and the speed with which it has become a massive medium of communication and expression may have surprised them.

"The British Library, for example, receives a copy of every local newspaper published," he explains.

But as newspapers have shifted from paper to web, the file takes on a different form.

Who will pay the bill?

A big problem when trying to file what is posted on the internet is that it never stands still. Every minute, every second, more photos, videos, texts and more are added to the mountain of information.

While digital storage has fallen dramatically in price, archiving all of that stuff still costs money.

"Who's going to pay for it?" Asks Hall. "We produce much more material than we used to generate".

Jason Webber, who works in the Web Archive area of ​​the British Library, says the problem is much bigger than most people believe.

"It's not just about the startup material, most of the internet is not being stored," he says.

"The Internet Archive started creating file pages in 1996. That is 5 years after the first web pages were created. There's nothing from that era that has been copied from the web live. "

Tim Berners-Lee, July 1994.

Physicist Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web in 1989, but the first page disappeared and was rebuilt some time later.

Even the first web page created in 1991 no longer exists. The page that appears in the World Wide Web Consortium is a copy made years later.

"I think there was a very low level of awareness that something is missing," says Webber.

"The digital world is very ephemeral, we look at our phones, things change and we do not really think about it, but now people are falling into account. how much we could be losing"

The least public

Webber emphasizes that the material that organizations have the right to assemble is one that can be seen publicly.

An even greater culturally or historically important data are in the archives of.

And few of us hold this to posterity.


The error on a MySpace server caused the social network to lose 12 years of stored music.

We think that the material we publish on social networks is something that will always be there, at a click of the keyboard.

But the recent loss of about 12 years of music and photos on social networking site pioneer MySpace, which was once the most popular site in the United States, shows that even the material stored on the largest site may not be safe.

Even Google services are not immune. Google+, the search giant's attempt to impose a social network that rivals Facebook, closed this week.

Did they back up the photos and memories shared by all users?

"Putting your photos on Facebook is not archiving them, because one day Facebook will not exist"says Webber.

Biased history

If you have any questions about the temporary nature of the site, take a few minutes to navigate the millions of dollars home page. It's a test of how fast our past is disappearing online.

There is another side to data loss.

Hall, of the University of Southampton, points out that not archiving stories from news sites could lead to a selective view of the story.

New governments may choose not to keep stories or files that are not favorable, for example.

"As soon as there is a change of government, the sites close", says Jane Winters, a professor of digital humanities at the University of London. "Or think about the sites of the electoral campaigns, which by their nature are configured as temporary."

Sometimes lost places echo even more seismic changes, such as the deaths and births of the nations themselves.

"It happened with Yugoslavia: .yu was the top-level domain for Yugoslavia and it ended when the republic collapsed. There is a researcher who is trying to rebuild what was before the rupture," says Winters.

"The politician is often linked to the technician", he adds.

Of course, this very modern problem has a history.

"We've always had to deal with gaps in historical records, we know some of them, but some of us just have no idea."

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