My 7/19/09 Missoulian column
After writing about Web 1.0, 2.0 and (the inevitable) 3.0 last week, I thought I’d take a closer look at some of the history of the Internet as we know it today.
History changes daily on the Internet: New services and resources appear all the time, while others disappear just as quick. But the backbone of the Internet and many of the basic protocols remain the same from the early days, and it all makes for an interesting story. So here are three anecdotes from the “old days”:
• You might be surprised to find out we got to the age of Facebook and Google from a project that originated in the Department of Defense. In the late 1960s, ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network) looked into the ways that computer systems across the country could all be connected with a standard form of communication. So ARPANET developed packet switching, that standard system of computer communication that continues to this day.
You may of heard the myth that ARPANET’s project was first designed as a military communication system that might be able to survive the damage of a nuclear war. It wasn’t, but that realization came later in other studies.
• Web pages and Web sites were the idea of two people working at CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research) in 1989. Tim Berners-Lee and Robert Cailliau outlined their idea in a paper that said hypertext was a good way to make information widely available, in conjunction with the then quickly growing educational and scientific Internet.
They thought that words and technical terms in documents could be linked to other Web pages that explained more about those terms, and a user could jump from page to page with such “hyperlinks.” That’s what we have now in every Web site, and the Web wouldn’t be what it is without hypertext and hyperlinks.
• And though Al Gore never claimed to “invent the Internet” as politicians tried to spin, he did introduce the the High Performance Computing and Communication Act of 1991 in U.S. Congress that became law. That bill also resulted in the phrase “information superhighway.” Gore’s bill led the way for the educational and scientific networks that underlay the modern Internet, the national information infrastructure.