Category Archives: timeline

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!

Chalk talk

I looked over Jim’s collection of chalkboard shots, and thought a little about each one.

In the 70s, we see conditions developing – protocols (like FTP), applications (email, games), and personal computers (Apple II). These things are setting the stage for the Internet as we know it. Viruses are in there too, another part of the Internet as we know it. As Jim mentioned, personal computing and the internet were on separate paths. I suppose they needed to be at that point. The computer needed to develop as a household device so that there would be a broad user base to connect to the net.

The 80s saw a number of networks pop up – USENET, NSFNET, bulletin boards – and further infrastructure development with TCP/IP and DNS. Early in the 80s author William Gibson coined the term cyberspace. Some people in the science fiction community, like Gibson, imagined things to come. This was the Cyberpunk movement. One of Gibson’s famous quotes is “The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed.” I see that idea manifested over and over again in this course. Everything was there long before most people knew about it. Everything has roots that go back much farther than we might expect.

The Web was born in the 90s. By that time, personal computers were commonplace in the workplace, and were becoming more common in the home. The net was becoming commercialized and ISPs like AOL were making home connections more affordable. Services like AOL and Geocities created communities where people could interact online. This led to explosive growth in computer sales. Amazon showed how businesses could exploit online communities, although I don’t think they were actually profitable at any point in that decade. The dot-com boom-bust came from that combination of explosive growth and elusive profitability. P2P and Craigslist, showing up late in the decade, had considerable impact on the offline businesses of music and newspapers respectively going into the next decade.

The 00s seem to be the decade of social media, with blogging, Myspace & Facebook, photo and video sharing, and other sites of that ilk. What’s notable about these, it seems to me, is not so much what people do with them as much as how many people are on them. And the information they have on all those people, which bleeds into the Big Data idea that takes hold more in the next decade.   We also see legal mechanisms to deal with P2P, like DCMA and DRM, and extra-legal ways to deal with that, like Bittorrent and Tor. A major technological event was the introduction of the Iphone, spurring the mobile web.

And that takes us up to the current decade, with even more ubiquitous computing, like wearable tech and the internet of things. Since things are on the internet as well as people, all the possible IP addresses are getting used up, which necessitiates the move to IPv6.

And there’s the international internet – even though the internet always had international input – Davies and Berners-Lee, for example – it started out very US-centric, and a lot of what we’ve talked about in class has been US based even if it is a world-wide web. But if we look at the top sites as ranked by Alexa, only half of them are American. Some countries, like China and Iran, want more regulated communications more than the web was built for. And due to NSA activity, US based sites and servers are no longer considered as secure as they once were. Could this lead to a fracturing of the web? I don’t know, but the character of the internet, its ethos of openness, is changing.