Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Forty glorious years of Internet history

Goofy videos weren’t on the minds of Len Kleinrock and his team at UCLA when they began tests 40 years ago on what would become the internet. Neither was social networking, for that matter, nor were most of the other easy-to-use applications that have drawn more than a billion people online.

Instead the researchers sought to create an open network for freely exchanging information, an openness that ultimately spurred the innovation that would later spawn the likes of YouTube, Facebook and the World Wide Web. There’s still plenty of room for innovation today, yet the openness fostering it may be eroding. While the internet is more widely available and faster than ever, artificial barriers threaten to constrict its growth.

Call it a mid-life crisis.
A variety of factors are to blame. Spam and hacking attacks force network operators to erect security firewalls. Authoritarian regimes block access to many sites and services within their borders. And commercial considerations spur policies that can thwart rivals, particularly on mobile devices like the iPhone.

“There is more freedom for the typical internet user to play, to communicate, to shop — more opportunities than ever before,” said Jonathan Zittrain, a law professor and co-founder of Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society. “On the worrisome side, there are some longerterm trends that are making it much more possible (for information) to be controlled.”

Few were paying attention on September 2, 1969, when 20 people gathered in Kleinrock’s lab at the University of California, Los Angeles, to watch as two computers passed meaningless test data through a 15-foot gray cable.

That was the beginning of the fledgling Arpanet network. The 1970s brought email and the TCP/IP communications protocols, which allowed multiple networks to connect — and formed the internet. The internet didn’t become a household word until the ’90s, though, after a British physicist, Tim Berners-Lee, invented the web, a subset of the internet that makes it easier to link resources across disparate locations. Meanwhile, service providers like America Online connected millions of people for the first time.

That early obscurity helped the Internet blossom, free from regulatory and commercial constraints that might discourage or even prohibit experimentation. The free flow of pornography led to innovations in Internet credit card payments, online video and other technologies used in the mainstream today.

Already, there is evidence of controls at workplaces and service providers slowing uptake of file-sharing and collaboration tools. If such barriers keep innovations from hands of consumers, we may never know what else we may be missing along the way.

The journey of the Internet

1969 | On September 2, two computers at University of California, Los Angeles, exchange meaningless data in first test of Arpanet, an experimental military network 1972 | Ray Tomlinson brings email to the network, choosing @ as a way to specify email addresses belonging to other systems 1973 | Arpanet gets first international nodes, in England and Norway 1974 | Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn develop communications technique called TCP, allowing multiple networks to understand one another, creating a true internet 1983 | Domain name system is proposed. Creation of suffixes such as ‘.com’, ‘.gov’ and ‘.edu’ comes a year later
1988 | One of the first internet worms, Morris, cripples thousands of computers
1990 | Tim Berners- Lee creates the World Wide Web while developing ways to control computers remotely
1993 | Marc Andreessen and colleagues at University of Illinois create Mosaic, the first web browser to combine graphics and text on a single page
1994 | Andreessen and others on the Mosaic team form a company to develop the first commercial web browser, Netscape. Two immigration lawyers introduce the world to spam, advertising their green card lottery services
1998 | Google forms out of a project that began in Stanford dorm rooms. US government delegates oversight of domain name policies to Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN
1999 | Napster popularizes music file-sharing and spawns successors that have permanently changed the recording industry
2000 | The dot-com boom of the 1990s becomes a bust as technology companies slide
2004 | Mark Zuckerberg starts Facebook at Harvard University
2005 | Launch of YouTube video-sharing site 2007 | Apple releases iPhone, introducing millions more to wireless internet access

World internet population surpasses
250 million in 1999
500 million in 2002
1 billion in 2006
1.5 billion in 2008


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