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Surfing the shores of time

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By Roger Snodgrass

Most of the Internet is lost in time.

It’s an amazing information system, most would agree, but for all practical purposes it exists mostly in the present and has a shrouded past.

This simple paradox as it applies to the Internet has been troubling Herbert Van de Sompel for quite awhile.

He’s a computer scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory, team leader of research and prototyping in the lab’s Research Library

Working with Michael Nelson, a professor of computer science and a colleague from Old Dominion University, Van de Sompel has decided to do something about this missing time dimension on the Internet.

“Log on to the CNN Web page,” he said in an interview this week. “You can get today’s page, but you can’t get to the previous day’s page.”

That’s because when one types the hypertext transfer protocol, “http://” into the address bar in the computer browser, that computer talks to a server, which is set up to display only the current page.

“You can’t say, give me six months ago,” Van de Sompel said.

Books, letters, monuments, almost any record system one might think of – they almost always have a time or a date somewhere, which gives them a definite time dimension.


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