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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...

July 23, 2012 | 0 comments

In 1983, you could ask for your own internet address. But not after 6 p.m. California time. Or over the Christmas holiday.

When the internet was still the ARPAnet — the government-funded network that connected various research outfits across the country — you couldn’t get an address without the help of Elizabeth “Jake” Feinler and the Stanford Research Institute’s Network Information Center. And the NIC wasn’t open around the clock.

“If you wanted to add a machine to the network, you had to call SRI, and you would talk to the Network Information Center and ask for a name and an address,” says Paul Mockapetris, who worked on the ARPAnet in the early- to mid-’80s as a researcher at the University of Southern California. “The problem is that SRI was off during Christmas week, and they went home on weekdays.”

Mockapetris is the man who solved this problem. He invented the Domain Naming System, or DNS, which automated the management of internet names and addresses by spreading the duties among myriad servers setup across the network, and ultimately, it allowed the internet to operate without the NIC or any other single naming authority.

Though the DNS has evolved...

July 16, 2012 | 0 comments

Craig Newmark calls his recent induction into the Internet Hall of Fame for building Craigslist a “clerical error.” If it were (and it most definitely is not), there would be a certain symmetry to it. Errors, or happy accidents, have a way of finding the eccentric technologist. Newmark’s eponymous internet site is the chief example.

Newmark, who describes himself as a 1950s-style nerd, “pocket protector and all,” worked at IBM post-college writing multitasking kernels for DOS. When the World Wide Web was still young, and just making its way from universities and large companies into the average person’s home, Newmark created a small events list in 1995. The list highlighted social gatherings of interest to internet developers — folks like Newmark. “Back then, I saw a lot of people helping each other out and thought I should give back by starting a simple events list,” says Newmark. “I got feedback on the list and did something about it, and it eventually grew into Craigslist.”

The list took off via word-of-mouth and grew into one of the most trafficked sites on the internet. For almost five years, Newmark ran Craigslist as a nonprofit, even as the first large internet companies emerged and their founders made fortunes. In 1999, the height of the dot-com boom, Newmark finally relented to pressure to turn his little list into a money-making venture and...

July 9, 2012 | 0 comments

Geoff Huston, the gadfly who got Australia online, warns that address shortage could strangle the Internet.

Geoff Huston was born the year television arrived in Australia. But his parents wouldn’t let him watch. While he sometimes snuck away to friends’ houses with TV, Huston says his deprivation forced him to read. Through books, he developed a love of words, a love that oddly enough led him to become the father of the Internet in Australia.

The Internet Hall of Fame inducted Huston as an inaugural member for his crucial work to get Australia online in the late 1980s. While he’s honored to be included, Huston says the credit is overblown. He says he just happened to be the geek who could speak.

“When geeks came together, I guess I was just articulate about stating what we wanted,” Huston says. And what they wanted was simply to connect.

Back in the proto-Internet early ’80s, Huston says connecting wasn’t so simple. Network techs were locked in what he calls the “great protocol wars” over which was the best technology to allow computers to talk to each other. Then multi-protocol routers came along and made that debate pointless. Universities began building networks on their campuses. Huston and others believed the next logical step was to connect those campus networks together to make a...

July 2, 2012 | 0 comments

Before Nancy Hafkin came along, Internet in Africa hardly existed.

From the late 1980s until 2000, Hafkin worked for the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), the branch of the United Nations focused on economic development in all countries in Africa. While working in Ethiopia, Hafkin began to notice that information was largely inaccessible on the continent. She decided to tackle that problem by launching the Pan African Development Information System.

“All the countries of the continent were supplying information to databases and we wanted people to access all the information stored in them,” says Hafkin. “At that time there was not a single public library in Ethiopia.”

One particularly slow exchange of information from Ethiopia to Niger took nine years.

The databases were set up to exchange data through low-orbit satellites, but at the time the satellites didn’t exist. If someone wanted to share the data, they had to fax it or send it through the mail. One particularly slow exchange of information from Ethiopia to Niger took nine years, Hafkin mentions in her Internet Hall of Fame induction speech. The painfully slow exchange of data pushed Hakfin, and her team to get a digital network set up in Africa.

Hakfin began to establish an Internet communication infrastructure in Africa by building email...