Revisiting (and maintaining) a twenty year old web page. Mauveine: The First Industrial Organic Fine-Chemical.

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Almost exactly 20 years ago, I started what can be regarded as the precursor to this blog. As part of a celebration of this anniversary,[1] I revisited the page to see whether any of it had withstood the test of time. Here I recount what I discovered.

The site itself is at www.ch.ic.ac.uk/motm/perkin.html  and has the title “Mauveine: The First Industrial Organic Fine-Chemical” It was an application of an earlier experiment[2] to which we gave the title “Hyperactive Molecules and the World-Wide-Web Information System“. The term hyperactive was supposed to be a play on hyperlinking to the active 3D models of molecules built using their 3D coordinates. The word has another, more negative, association with food additives such as tartrazine – which can induce hyperactivity in children – and we soon discontinued the association. This page was cast as a story about a molecule local to me in two contexts; the first being that the discoverer of mauveine, W. H. Perkin, had been a student at what is now the chemistry department at Imperial College. The second was the realization that where we lived in west London was just down the road from Perkin’s manufacturing factory. Armed with (one of the first) digital cameras, a Kodak DC25, I took some pictures of the location and added them later to the web page. The page also included two sets of 3D coordinates for mauveine itself and alizarin, another dyestuff associated with the factory. These were “activated” using HTML to make use of the then very new Chime browser plugin; hence the term hyperactive molecule.

This first effort, written in December 1995, soon needed revision in several ways. I note that I had maintained the site in 1998, 2001, 2004 and 2006. This took the form of three postscripts to add further chemical context and more recent developments and in replacing the original Chime code for Java code to support the new Jmol software (Chime itself had been discontinued, probably around 2001 or possibly 2004). With the passage of a further ten years, I now noticed that the hyperactive molecules were no longer working; the original Jmol applet was no longer considered secure by modern browsers and hence deactivated. So I replaced this old code with the latest version (14.7.5 as JmolAppletSigned.jar) and this simple fix has restored the functionality. The coordinates themselves were invoked using the HTML applet tag, which amazingly still works (the applet tag had replaced an earlier one, which I think might have been embed?).  A modern invocation would be by using e.g. the JSmol Javascript based tool and so perhaps at some stage this code will indeed need further revision when the Java-based applet is permanently disabled.

You may also notice that the 3D coordinates are obtained from an XML document, where they are encoded using CML (chemical markup language[3]), which is another expression from the family that HTML itself comes from. That form may well last rather longer than earlier formats – still commonly used now – such as .pdb or .mol (for an MDL molfile). 

Less successful was the attempt to include buttons which could be used to annotate the structures with highlights. These buttons no longer work and will have to be entirely replaced in the future at some stage.

The final part of the maintenance (which I had probably also done with the earlier versions) was to re-validate the HTML code. Checking that a web page has valid HTML was always a behind-the-scenes activity which I remember doing when constructing the ECTOC conferences also back in 1995 and doing so probably does prolong the longevity of a web page. This requires “tools-of-the-trade” and I use now (and indeed did also back in 1995 or so) an industrial strength HTML editor called BBedit. To this is added an HTML validation tool, the installation of which is described at https://wiki.ch.ic.ac.uk/wiki/index.php?title=It:html5 I re-ran this again and so this 2017 version should be valid for a little while longer at least. The page itself now has not just a URL but a persistent version called a DOI (digital object identifier), which is 10.14469/hpc/2133[4]. In theory at least, even if the web server hosting the page itself becomes defunct, the page could – if moved – be found simply from its DOI. The present URL-based hyperlink of course is tied to the server and would not work if the server stopped serving.

To complete this revisitation, I can add here a recent result. Back in 1995, I had obtained the 3D coordinates of mauveine using molecular modelling software (MOPAC) together with a 2D structure drawing package (ChemDraw) because no crystal structure was available. Well, in 2015 such structures were finally published.[5] Twenty years on from the original “hyperactive” models, their crystal structures can be obtained from their assigned DOI, much in the same manner as is done for journal articles: Try DOI: 10.5517/CC1JLGK4[6] or DOI: 10.5517/CC1JLGL5[7].

At some stage, web archaeology might become a fashionable pursuit. Twenty year old Web pages are actually not that common and it would be of interest to chart their gradual decay as security becomes more important and standards evolve and mature. One might hope that at the age of 100, they could still be readable (or certainly rescuable). During this period, the technology used to display 3D models within a web page has certainly changed considerably and may well still do so in the future. Perhaps I will revisit this page in 2037 to see how things have changed!


The old code can still be seen at www.ch.ic.ac.uk/motm/perkin-old.html

It should really be postscript 4.

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References

  1. P.W. May, S.A. Cotton, K. Harrison, and H.S. Rzepa, "The ‘Molecule of the Month’ Website—An Extraordinary Chemistry Educational Resource Online for over 20 Years", Molecules, vol. 22, pp. 549, 2017. http://dx.doi.org/10.3390/molecules22040549
  2. O. Casher, G.K. Chandramohan, M.J. Hargreaves, C. Leach, P. Murray-Rust, H.S. Rzepa, R. Sayle, and B.J. Whitaker, "Hyperactive molecules and the World-Wide-Web information system", Journal of the Chemical Society, Perkin Transactions 2, pp. 7, 1995. http://dx.doi.org/10.1039/P29950000007
  3. P. Murray-Rust, and H.S. Rzepa, "Chemical Markup, XML, and the Worldwide Web. 1. Basic Principles", Journal of Chemical Information and Computer Sciences, vol. 39, pp. 928-942, 1999. http://dx.doi.org/10.1021/ci990052b
  4. M.J. Plater, W.T.A. Harrison, and H.S. Rzepa, "Syntheses and structures of pseudo-mauveine picrate and 3-phenylamino-5(2-methylphenyl)-7-amino-8-methylphenazinium picrate ethanol mono-solvate: the first crystal structures of a mauveine chromophore and a synthetic derivative", Journal of Chemical Research, vol. 39, pp. 711-718, 2015. http://dx.doi.org/10.3184/174751915X14474318419130

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One Response to “
Revisiting (and maintaining) a twenty year old web page. Mauveine: The First Industrial Organic Fine-Chemical.

  1. Henry Rzepa says:

    An update to the curation. The 20 year history of this and the other MOTM sites has recently been published; DOI: 10.3390/molecules22040549.

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