Category Archives: Internet

An Internet Timeline

We’re just starting week 3 of the 5 week summer iteration of the Internet Course. It’s been intense (a Repo Man’s life is always intense), but also awesome! Last week we collaboratively built the first of four projects this course will produce: an internet history timeline. It covers more than five decades of history, and does a pretty remarkable job framing the history of the internet from Vannever Bush’s “As We May Think” up and until the latest rules surrounding net neutrality released on April 1, 2014. There are 123 points on the timeline, and it is a remarkable breadth of historical moments collected in less than a week—four days to be exact!

The creation process of this timeline was an amalgm of several approaches. First, as a class we decided on using a timeline to learn the history of the web, inspired by this student group’s timeline from last semester narrating the history of ARPANET. After that, we reached out to Jack Hylan, one of the four students who worked on that project, and asked if we could copy their timelineJS template and build off that. He was cool enough to say yes, and we went into the week with the 1950s and 60s done for us. Why reproduce the effort if it’s already been done so well? From there, Alex Marshall and Kimberlee Vizzi  brilliantly directed the project for the week making sure each student in the class took a decade and was adding their work to this wiki page dedicated to the timeline. They also negotiated questions of organization, curation, and then spent the past weekend populating the timelineJS’s Google Spreadsheet with all the dates, titles, descritpions, media, etc.

This was an awesome experience, and I’m really digging the idea of transforming each week into a project focused on producing something that will help others learn about the content we’re covering. And given the way this class designed the timeline in the wiki, I’m imagining the next Internet Course in Fall could further their work by building out this resource with more detailed research about particular elements on the timeline. I’m really fired up with how this class is gelling, and what they’re producing. So good!

Internet History: Watch the Movie

One of the things I am excited about this go around with the Internet Course are all the resources I’m finding thanks to awesome folks like Alan Levine and Micahel Berman. In the comments of my last post, Alan linked me to Ted Nelson’s YouTube channel. On it you can watch Nelson give his own, very particular, history of the world wide web as seen through his “much misundertood initiative” hypertext Xanadu.

So crazy, not only can we talk about Nelson’s pioneering work in the world of hypertext, but we can hear him ran t about the  history of the web just a easily. Something that embitters him to no end given his own hypertext project Xanadu was jettisoned on the rocky shores of historical obscurity.

If that’s not enough, in the same comment thread Michaal links me to yet another awesome internet history gem on the Internet Archive (he was responsible for pointing me to this gem starring Alan Key talking computer interfaces) about the Internet Superhighway.

Here’s the description:

It wasn’t quite the World Wide Web yet, but everybody started hearing about this thing called “the Internet” in 1993. It was being called the Information Superhighway then. This program looks at the earliest stages of the Internet including Aladdin Systems SITComm, a Macintosh communications program for Internet access, and the WELL (Whole Earth Lectronic Link), an early online community. Also featured is a visit to the former Bell Labs in New Jersey (now Bellcore) for demonstrations of internet based teleconferencing, video on demand, ISDN, and optical network technology; a preview of the World Wide Web as used at NASA; a visit to where it all began, ARPA, the Advanced Research Projects Agency in Virgnia; and a look at the Internet Multicasting Service in Washington, the first Internet radio station. Guests include Brendan Kehoe, author of “Zen and the Art of the Internet”, Howard Rheingold, author of “The Virtual Community”, Dr. Robert Kahn, former found of ARPA, and Carl Malamud, author of “Exploring the Internet”. Originally broadcast in 1993.

The role of documentaries and other resources for framing this relatively recent history is part of the process we need to dig deeper into, and I am really loving this.

History of the Mobile Web

The mobile web is a fairly new commodity so it seems a little silly to talk about it but the first internet activated phone was actually available in 1999.  Much of the mobile web before the iPhone in 2007 was applications for very specific functions such as reading news feeds or email and the data usage was charged by the minute. I remember when I used to accidentally hit the up button on the home screen of my Verizon flip phone and would frantically press the cancel button to not be charged for connecting to the mobile web.  That mobile web was a different standard then today’s mobile web, back then we were connecting to the mobile web with 1g. This is when the potential of the mobile wen was not realized and the full power of the social media is just now taking off(Facebook was founded in 2004). These phones had simple web apps on par with today’s mobile web browsers but could only perform one task and at a much slower data transfer rate.

The iPhone which Steve jobs claimed to be 5 years ahead of any other mobile phone was when the mobile web really took off. All of a sudden you could connect your phone to your WiFi and 2g data isn’t unbearably slow. Now there are data plans available for mobile data use because it has become a prevalent.  Even by Steve Jobs estimate the competition has caught up as its more than 5 years since January 2007 release date of the iPhone. palm pilots blackberry touchscreen

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Three Visions of ARPANET

I’ve recently written about Larry Lewin’s 2001 guide Using the Internet to Strengthen Curriculum in regards to it’s argument that educators need to be “taming the web” for their students. Offering an approach to making research on the web palatable by trying to insure against serendipity. Such an idea seems bizarre in retrospect given that, rather than a bug, serendipity is proving to be the web’s most magical feature.

On the train trip back from NYC early Saturday morning I was reading the first chapter of Lewin’s book, “Why the Internet?” One particular bit about the history of the internet struck me:

The internet uses technology that has been around for over thirty years. Established in the 1960s, ARPANET was a computer network that functioned to keep U.S. military installations in constant communication. College and unversity researchers then started using the network to send data over telephone lines from campus computer to campus computer, and from there it grew. (Lewin 2)

Obviously this is an extremely condensed factoidal history, but it piqued my interest because I think the idea that “ARPANET was a computer network that functioned to keep U.S. military installations in constant communications” is an origin story few folks seem to question. It seems totally plausible that such a communications revolution would be spurred on by the Cold War rivalry for global supremacy—it was certainly true for the Space Race.  According to this version of history, ARPANET was a military creation that was then taken up by universities, commercial interests, etc. In fact, Lewin goes on to frame this chronology in the next sentence “College and university researchers then started using the network to send data…” This pervasive, almost commonplace, history that’s often repeated without question is quite different from the one told in Katie Hafner’s 1998 book Where the Wizards Stay Up Late.

This is not necessarily a knock on Lewin. He’s a teacher explaining how to integrate the web into curriculum for other educators. He’s not pretending his guide is a history of the web. In fact, it would be interesting to study the guides of the late ’90s and early ’00s to get a sense of how often this version of the internet’s beginnings gets reproduced. Anyway, the history of the internet is far more varied and complex than the progression from military to university researchers to corproate interests. In fact, from the very beginning all three sectors were deeply invloved in the development of the internet. Robert (Bob) Taylor, the director of the Department of Defense’s  Advanced Research Projects Agency from 1965-1969, got funding to create ARPANET, but the project wasn’t necessarily imagined as a military network for constant communciation between designated sites, rather….

Building a network as an end in itself wasn’t Taylor’s principal objective. He was trying to solve a problem he had seen grow worse with each round of funding. Researchers were duplicating, and isolating, costly computer resources. Not only were scientists at each site engaging in more, and more diverse, computer research, but their demands for computer resources were growing faster than Taylor’s budget. Every new project required setting up a new and costly computer operation….beyond cost-cutting, Taylor’s idea revealed something very profound. A machine’s ability to amplify human intellectual power was precisely what Licklider had in mind while writing his paper on human-machine symbiosis six years earlier. (Hafner 43-44)

Interestingly enough, the network was a way to have computers talk to one another and share resources so that the system would be more efficient and meet growing demand. Taylor was also a disciple of J.C.R. Licklider so the notion of computers as a way to harness the resources beyond time-sharing was the logical extension of his work. Rather than being dictated by Cold War bunker politics, this vision was very much inline with Vannever Bush’s post-WWII vision of the Memex in his 1945 essay “As we May Think.” Technology would make possible an entirely new paradigm for compiling, accessing, and sharing intellectual resources that woud transform our culture.

What’s more, according to Hafner, Bob Taylor’s vision of the ARPANET was not the only frame for the possibilities:

In the early 1960s …. two other researchers, Paul Baran and Donald Davies—completely unknown to each other and working continents apart towards different goals —arrived at virtually the same revolutionary idea for a new kind of communications network. The realization of their concepts came to be known as packetswitching. (Hafner 53)

Reading this blew my mind. The fact that Taylor, Baran, and Davies were all working towards the same idea between 1964 and 1965 is wild to me. What’s more, Baran and Davies had fairly distinct visions of how such a network might be used.

Baran was working on how to build communications structures whose surviving components could continue to fucntion as a cohesive entity after other pieces were destroyed. (Hafner 56)

Baran compares the structure of his distributed networks to neural networks, suggesting that when synapses in the brain breakdown the neural network remaps accordingly. He was very much thinking about the network in terms of the military explanantion of maintaining constant communication between military sites. So there is some basis for the Cold War military communciations explanation, but Baran was little more than a consultant for the building of ARPANET. He didn’t work for the U.S. military. What’s more, I’m not sure ARPANET, or the ensuing developements of the itnernet, were used for anything related to robust Military communications throughout the 60s and 70s.

The motivation that led Davies to conceive of a packet-switching network had nothing to do with the military concerns that had driven Baran. Davies simply wanted to create a new public communications network. (66)

Davies, who coined the term “packet-switching,” imagined this network as a way to rethink mail delivery and postal service more generally. Something Baran and Taylor weren’t necessarily even talking about, but with the creation of email in 1971. Davies vision would prove prescient, electronic mail being the most important application for popularizing the internet.

As for the progressions of ARPANET from Military -> Universities -> Businesses. In fact, Bolt, Beranek, and Newman Technologies (BBN)  was the engineering firm in Boston that ARPA turned to for building the network. What’s more, BBN was made up of a number of researchers who moved in and out of MIT—so much so it was called “the third university” in Cambridge. Military research, universities, and businesses were far more fluid and cooperative in creating the internet than the condensed history allows. What’s more, from 1970 through the 1980s universities developed the lion’s share of network protocols that defined the internet. And we haven’t even mentioned AT&T who partnered with all involved parties to provide dedicated phone lines for the experiment.

The details of the development of ARPANET are varied and truly compelling. What’s more, I’m thrilled a group from The Internet Course will be focusing their research for the final project on just this topic. They’ll be looking at the various visions that framed the development of ARPANET, as well as the various military, university, and commerical interests involved. I look forward to sharing out their work, and maybe they’ll make the soundbyte history of ARPANET that much more nuanced :)

Archie, Veronica, and Other Old Gold Technologies

veronica-from-archieI’ve been having a lot of fun recently exploring old school technologies as part of The Internet Course I’m teaching alongside Paul Bond. Paul wrote an awesome post a couple of days ago investigating the file-sharing protocol Gopher. I’ve been doing some preliminary investigations into early web authoring initiatives as part of various universities’ online services from the early 1990s onward. There’s some really interesting stuff there, and that will be the focus of a follow-up post sometime this week and hopefully a presentation I give about old school university personal publishing spaces sometime soon. I was planning on talking about this at the Domain Incubator rescheduled for later this week in Atlanta, but I’m sorry to say Tim, Martha, and I won’t be attending because it has been cancelled yet again due to weather. Can you imagine an event cancelled twice in two weeks for winter weather in Atlanta? What are the chances? My heart goes out to David Morgen and Pete Rorbaugh, it really sucks.

Anyway, this post is a brief look at some of the remarkable primary documents Andy Rush gave me yesterday when he heard me musing about some of those early university web publishing spaces for the community. You see Andy Rush is old gold: he remembers, he was there. What’s more, unlike the rest of us, he saved the paper handouts people gave him about the web from 1994-1997 :) And I am oh so glad he did.

The first document I read yesterday was “Entering the World-Wide Web: A Guide To Cyberspace” by Kevin Hughes. Remarkably enough, Kevin Hughes is one of only six World Wide Web Hall of Fame Inductees. He might very well be considered the original edtech pioneer of web technologies having created one of the first campus web sites for Honolulu Community College, including a virtual tour of a campus museum. What’s more, his guide for understanding the World-Wide Web is a fascinating historical and cultural document.


A scan of Andy Rush’s photocopied and stapled version of Kevin Hughes’ “Entering the World-Wide Web: A Guide to Cyberspace”

One of the bits from this guide that struck me right away was from the “How was the Web created?” section wherein it talks about how in 1992 Tim Berners-Lee “continued to speak on and evangelize the project”.  Even though it makes total sense that he would have to evangelize the web, at the same time it’s almost bizarre to think that was necessary from our historical vantage point. Just twenty-two years later the web seems so naturalized for us as a cultural artefact.*

how the web was created

Another fact that reinforces Paul’s post about gopher holes was the traffic comparison (in bytes, mind you) between the two protocols between December 1992 and March 1994.


The web came on strong in very little time, although Gopher was only about two or three years old at the time. In May of 1994 Brian Pinkerton of the University of Washington ran his program called “WebCrawler” which found “over 3,800 unique Web sites.” What’s more, Hughes estimates the number of active users of the web around 250,000 to 500,000 in Spring of 1994. Twenty years later and that number is well over two billion? Wild. There is much more goodness in this guide, and I plan on exploring it in more detail over the course of the semester.

Another document Andy gave me was Brendan P. Kehoe’s Zen and the Art of the Internet: A Beginner’s Guide to the Internet.


Kehoe’s guide is crazy because it introduces an internet without the web—IS IT EVEN POSSIBLE!! He provides an overview of a whole range of possibilities from Electronic Mail to Anonymus FTP to Usenet News to Telnet. The section of this guide about Usenet is incredibly funny in that Kehoe can’t hold back his utter disdain for this  ”news community.” Both of these guides are kinda like how-to zines for the intenret in the early 90s. It’s remarkable how many of these protocols and possibilities before of the emergence of the web have moved into internet oblivion. For example, the archie server was created by….

A group of people at McGill University in Canada….It was originally formed to be a quick and easy way to scan the offerings of the many anonymous FTP sites that are maintained around the world.


Currently, archie tracks the contents of over 800 anonymous FTP archive sites containing over a million files stored across the Internet. Collectively, these files represent well over 50 gigabytes of information, with new entries being added daily.

The archie server automatically updates the listing information from each site about once a month. This avoids constantly updating the databases, which could waste network resources, yet ensures that the information on each site’s holdings is reasonably up to date.

This talk about Archie reminded me there was another early search engine for Gopher files (Gopher isn’t even mentioned in Kehoe’s 1992 guide) named Veronica, which I thought was pretty cool in a pop culture kinda way. So Archie searches FTP files and Veronica searches Gopher files, easy enough to remember. D’Arcy Norman turned me onto “early blogging” using the finger protocol (an unfortunate name in many ways) which, unlike Gopher, made it into the Zen and the Art of the Internet guide.


Another early Unix software that gets mentioned in this guide is Talk,  a chat program that was eventually superseded by IRC.

As you probably can tell, I have fallen into a “wormhole” of sorts with all of this, and Im having a blast. Speaking of which, the Zen guide also references some early cultural milestones of the internet, such as the Morris worm created by Robert T. Morris. This was one of the first viruses to be distributed on the internet. And the Zen guide discusses the details, which I’ve heavily excerpted below.

On November 2, 1988, Robert Morris, Jr., a graduate student in Computer Science at Cornell, wrote an experimental, self-replicating, self-propagating program called a worm and injected it into the Internet. He chose to release it from MIT, to disguise the fact that the worm came from Cornell. Morris soon discovered that the program was replicating and reinfecting machines at a much faster rate than he had anticipated—there was a bug. Ultimately, many machines at locations around the country either crashed or became “catatonic.” When Morris realized what was happening, he contacted a friend at Harvard to discuss a solution. Eventually, they sent an anonymous message from Harvard over the network, instructing programmers how to kill the worm and prevent reinfection. However, because the network route was clogged, this message did not get through until it was too late. Computers were affected at many sites, including universities, military sites, and medical research facilities. The estimated cost of dealing with the worm at each installation ranged from $200 to more than $53,000.

So awesome, and this is just the beginning of my travels through various moments of what I hope becomes a class that evolves into a broader cultural history of the internet. It’s five weeks into the first semester of teaching the class now, and I am starting to get visions of what the Internet Course might be.


*One thing to keep in mind is that the online version of the “Entering the World-Wide Web: A Guide To Cyberspace” only contains two sentences in about “How the web was created?” versus the four paragraphs in the May 20th, 1994 version of the printed guide Andy gave me. Not sure if there are other versions on the web, but this is a heads up to that discrepancy.

TIC104: Learning from Internet History

pdp-10This week in The Internet Course we started discussing the topics the class has been researching, summarizing, and conceptualizing for the first three weeks. Five students made up a panel that talked about the History of the Internet from J.C.R. Licklider and the development of ARPANET through Web 3.0—if there even is such a thing. It’s an interesting moment to talk about the history of the web when it’s creator, Tim Berners-Lee, is calling for us to reclaim the web from corporate monopolies and nationalized centralization (maybe that’s Web 3.0).

Screen Shot 2014-02-08 at 3.05.40 PM

On Tuesday evening the students did an excellent job of framing the establishment of ARPANET. They introduced some of the foundational elements undergirding its emergence. Licklider’s Man-Computer Symbiosis article that helped an entire industry re-imagine itself as more than building calculation devices, the establishment of computer time-sharing, and the invention of packet-switching networks (invented by both Paul Baran and Doanld Davies separately during the 1960s). They also covered the various applications for which the internet was imagined: as a re-imagination of the postal service (Donald Davies, National Physics Lab, UK); a decentralized communciations network that could trigger a counter-strike in the event of nucelar attack (Paul Baran, Rand Corporation); and the rather pragmatic need to have various machines talk to one another over a network (Bob Taylor, ARPA).

The fact that the internet was born from several distinct thinkers during the 1960s at roughly the same time is fascianting, and even better is they all converged and collaborated at the end of the decade to focus on accomplishing the herculean engineering feat of building a the beginnign of the internet: ARPANET. It’s a remarkable story, and ehen we teach this course again I’ll recommend making sections of the 1998 1996 history Where the Wizards Stay Up Late required reading (thanks Alan). The panel did the early history of the Internet justice, which was very cool given they based the discussion entirely on their own research and resources. What’s more, Lauren Brumfield ended with a provactive question that led to some excellent discussion: was the internet the greatest invention of the 20th century? Suggesting other possibilities to cosnider: the car, the theory of relativity, the airplane, the atom bomb, etc.

On Thursday the panel was reconvened  to discuss the history of the internet from the 1970s onward. We covered quite a bit during class, but one of the issues we ran into is I hijacked the panel. Facilitating a panel does not mean taking it over ;) We seeded a few questions and subjects worth covering in an email before class, but when I pushed the questions back to them and there was anuncomfortable silence for even a minute I took over. I knew I was doing it, at the same time it was hard to stop. The push to make sure we “cover the history” seemed somehow more important that facilitating a discussion in the course which, done well, would be far more generative. How long have I been doing this? You’d think I would know better.

Paul and I have been working hard this year to restructure our courses to focus around students regualrly sharing what they’ve learned by running the sessions fairly regularly. It worked quite well in the True Crime course last semester. At the same time, it’s still hard for me to let go. I find it so easy to slip back into the role of taking control and framing the history for them, partially from excitement and partially from a necessary discomfort I want to resist. I struggled with that on Thursday night when we discussed the various internet protocols that emerged during the 70s and 80s, as well the various stages of the web, i.e. Web 1.0, 2.0, and the ellusive 3.0.

So, rather than crying over spilt milk, we asked the class at the end of the session how we can make the panel approach better. What’s awesome is they let us know. Here are there tips that we are incorporating for next week when the “How It Works” panel discuss the technical infrastructure of the Internet:

  • Provide specifics about the topic we want covered in the panel
  • Provide a space (such as a Google Doc) where panelists can share some thoughts/ideas  they want to cover
  • Make sure the panelists share their discussion questionwith the class to invoke broader participation (publish those discussion questions for everyone before the panel)
  • Stop intervening! Let it flow, we can always cover issues that are missed as the class proceeds, make it about discovery not coverage (I kinda intuited this one :) )

I’m happy with this, and I think it’s solid advice. I love the way we are running this course, and I have to let go a bit and have faith that experiments in a course like this are valuable and necessary. That said, I’d love here from anyone enrolled in the course who has more advice or feels differently abotu any of it. Teaching is the greatest thing in the world, but it can sure be hard sometimes.

As We May Think

What will the web be like 50 years  from today. Will it even be the web sitting on top of the internet or will it be something else. The changes over the last 50 years have been astounding and profoundly impact how we live and access information.

It really is all about how it can make our lives more efficient. And I think the way we interface with the internet is going to profoundly change for one doing away with the massive slow boxes and having simple chips in our heads or glasses in front of our eyes but that is just the hardware side and everybody knows the magic happens in the software.

So what’s going to change about how we view the web and what I think this really about is growing the web in the concept of it being a series of links(like a spider web) creating the raw data. Tim Berner-Lee has great speech on this and how it is the real power of the web available here. I think when the number of connections grow as humans combine their collective  processing and thinking power to grow the web the relationships it will reveal to us will become obvious and create solutions to problems people weren’t even contemplating when they created that link in the web. What this will create we can only dream of but that is how we unlock the true potential of the web and collective human intelligence.

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Roads and Crossroads of the Internet History

This is the summary of Roads and Crossroads of the Internet History by Gregory Gromov. This online book is about the entire history of the internet and is fantastic really as every single bit of it has a hyperlink source right after it so if you want more depth it’s just a click away. Gregory Gromov does not do much of the writing but instead relies on the greats of internet history to tell the story he just conveniently clips there words together to create a more holistic view that you don’t doesn’t get by reading a single piece. The book has 9 sections too it and I’ll copy the index here for your convenience as it does a great job of outline each section and whose prominently referenced in those chapters.

1. Internet Before World Wide Web
Internet before World Wide Web – The First 130 Years: Atlantic cable, Sputnick, ARPANET,”Information Superhighway”, …
2. World Wide Web as a Side Effect of Particle Physics Experiments.
World Wide Web was born in CERN: the most impressive results of large scale scientific efforts appeared far away from the main directions of those efforts
3. Next Crossroad of World Wide Web History
World Wide Web as a NextStep of PC Revolution … from Steven P. Jobs to Tim Berners-Lee
4. Birth of the World Wide Web, Browser Wars, …
Birth of the Web, Tim Berners-Lee, R. Cailliau, Marc Andreessen, Browser Wars, …
5. Early History of Hypertext
Hypertext Foundation of the World Wide Web: Vannevar Bush’s hyperlink concept, Ted Nelson coins the word Hypertext, …
6. “Living History” of Hypertext.
Hypertext Saga of Theodor Holm Nelson: The Fate of Thinking Person in Silicon Valley …
7. “Xanadu” Plan
The Nelson’s Xanadu Plan to build a better World Wide Web
8. Growth of the Internet: Statistics
Statistics of the Internet & Worl Wide Web: Hosts, Domains, WebSites, Traffic, …
9. Conclusion
What is the nature of World Wide Web?
10 Prehistory of the Internet
The Ancient Roads of Telecommunications & Computers
11 They said it …
People Wrote About This Book

As you can see he covers most of the history of the internet and a lot the questions and answered by the people who created it in a concise, relevant manner.

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The computer as a Communications Device

The computer as a Communications Device  by J. C. R. Licklider, which can be found on page 26 of the PDF or 21 if you look at the actual page numbers, was written in 1968. This article tried to layout how the computer would be used for humans to communicate to each other and ultimately spread thought and content. It does a fairly good job of it as well

“it appears that the best and quickest way to overcome them—and to move forward the development of interactive communities of geographically separated people—is to set up an experimental network of multiaccess computers. Computers would concentrate and interleave the concurrent, intermittent messages of many users and their programs”

For 1968 this is very forward thinking and would really set people to trying to create such a network and he doesn’t stop just there he really goes at a lot of the big issues such as messaging, cost, availability and the communities it would form.

On another note int the first 20 pages of this PDF is  Man-Computer Symbiosis and is also a great article on how computers need to function for computers and helped lay the foundation of  computing as we know it by laying out what computers are, how they can help us, how we’ll use them and all their benefits. I recommend reading it as well.

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