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August 27, 2012 | 0 comments

There are a thousand stories about the origin of the Internet, each with their own starting point and their own heroes. Charles Herzfeld’s tale began in 1961 on a series of tiny islands in the South Pacific. The U.S. military was test-firing a series of ballistic missiles at the island chain, known as the Kwajalein Atoll, with an array of radars and optical infrared sensors recording every re-entry. Herzfeld, the Vienna-born physicist and newly installed chief of the Advanced Research Projects Agency’s missile defense program, was trying to figure out how to make sense of the vast amount of data generated by all of those incoming missiles. The computers he had at the time weren’t up to the task.

Herzfeld, in search of solutions, asked his colleague J.C.R. Licklider out to lunch. They met at the Secretary of Defense’s Mess in the Pentagon’s E Ring, and over a series of meals talked through ideas that would transform computing forever.

Licklider, the head of of ARPA’s Information Processing Techniques Office, was already one of computer science’s leading thinkers. (“Licklider was our prophet. I signed onto his vision from the beginning,” Herzfeld says.) Not only did Licklider predict that one day “human brains and computing machines will be coupled” into a partnership that would surpass either component’s ability to process information. Licklider theorized that people could one day interact with all sorts of computers at once — even though each machine had its...

August 20, 2012 | 0 comments

Here’s the problem with libraries. They catch on fire really easily. As such, they were the prized targets of the invading hordes of antiquity – the model collections of knowledge of their times, whose only fault was their inherent flammability. They were one-man, one-torch jobs. But the hordes didn’t prize the library only for how powerfully it burned. Back in those days, if you wanted to kill a culture, you killed its library. All it took was one chucklehead with a flaming stick to annihilate thousands of years of accumulated knowledge. And it happened often.  “If this is what happens to libraries, make copies,” says Brewster Kahle.

And it’s Kahle’s impulse to copy and preserve that prompted the Internet Society to induct the serial entrepreneur and digital archivist into the Internet Hall of Fame on April 23 in its inaugural year.

Kahle took the library of libraries — the Internet — and made a couple of copies of it, and keeps making copies. One he keeps in servers in San Francisco, the other in mirror servers in Alexandria, where the world’s most famous library burned 2,000 years ago. (His data survived the Egyptian revolution unscathed.)

Through the Wayback Machine, you can see what the web looked like in 1996. And 1997. And 2011....

August 13, 2012 | 0 comments

The world’s first Internet transmission occurred on October 29, 1969. At least, that’s what some people believe. Others say the more important moment arrived eight years later, when a repurposed delivery van equipped with a wireless transmitter sent a message from San Francisco to Norway and back to California by way of satellite.

The date was November 22, 1977, and no one seems to remember what message was sent — or even who was in the van. But they do remember how it was sent. This marked the first time the TCP/IP protocol — the same protocol that underpins today’s Internet — was used to send information across not one, not two, but three independent computer networks.

“It wasn’t just a transmission,” says Bob Kahn, one of the key figures behind that moment. “It was a whole system of network protocols being demonstrated over three different networks.”

You can certainly argue that the first Internet transmission happened much earlier. The world generally agrees it happened in 1969, when researchers at the University of California at Los Angeles sent the inaugural message across the ARPAnet, the government-funded network that eventually evolved into the Internet as we know it. But...

August 6, 2012 | 0 comments

When Lawrence Landweber created the Computer Science Network (CSNET), an intentionally open computer network that helped pave the way for the modern Internet, he knew one day its technology would be used in banking, travel, and commerce. He didn’t predict that the unsecure network he built would today allow hackers to take down websites or extract private information.

In the 1970s, only universities that held military and Department of Energy contracts could use the first packet-switching computer network called the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET). Many other universities longed to connect to ARPANET to share information and stay competitive, so Landweber proposed another academic packet-switching network, CSNET, in 1979.

Not everyone was optimistic about the technology. Some reviews of Landweber’s proposal said that the Internet could never scale to 200 universities and that it demanded too much computing power to run on ordinary computers. However, The National Science Foundation gave $5 million to fund the project in 1981, and Landweber got building.

In addition to building the network, Landweber built electronic-mail, directory, and file-sharing software to run on top of CSNET. In the span of four years, more than 200 universities, organizations, and companies were connected to CSNET, quelling earlier concerns that the network couldn’t operate...

July 30, 2012 | 0 comments

Who invented e-mail? That’s a bit like asking, “Who invented the Internet?” Even those with intimate knowledge of its creation can’t agree on the moment it actually came to life. But amid all the bluster over the origins of e-mail, one man holds a claim that resonates well beyond the rest.

Ray Tomlinson is the reason your e-mail address includes an ‘@’ symbol.

For this reason — and many others — you wouldn’t be remiss in calling Tomlinson the inventor of e-mail. And many do. Earlier this year, in recognition of the seminal electronic mail system he created in 1971, Tomlinson was inducted into the inaugural class of the Internet Society’s (ISOC) Internet Hall of Fame, alongside such pioneers asVint CerfSir Tim Berners-Lee, and Van Jacobson.

After completing an electrical engineering master’s degree at MIT in the mid-’60s and spending a few more years at the university working on a doctorate, Tomlinson wound up at Bolt Beranek and Newman, aka BBN, a Boston company that played a key role in the creation of the...