The History of the Internet The Theologians of the Internet Vanavar Bush: The Memex

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The History of the Internet

The Theologians of the Internet

  • Vanavar Bush: The Memex

  • J.C.R. Licklider: Networked Computers

  • Ted Nelson: Hypertext, or Nonlinear Text

Vanavar Bush: Conceiver of the “Memex”

  • In 1945 Bush published the the article “As We May Think” in The Atlantic Monthly

  • He lays out the concept of a machine called the “Memex”. This machine would be loaded with microforms of texts which would allow the reader to rapidly access the texts

  • The reader could then create their own references which would “link” to other texts or notes, as a sort of path.

  • This theory of interconnections made by the individual, or nonlinearity, is key to how the Internet operates today.

J.C.R. Licklider: Conceiver of Computer Networking

  • Conceived of concept of shared resources for computers over a network.

  • This system would allow for users to exchange data, centralize data storage and work collaboratively on projects.

  • Licklider even foresaw the possibility of having universal programs that users of the network could download and use, irrespective of their machine’s programming. This idea was the precursors to the JAVA programming language.

Ted Nelson: The conceiver of Hypertext

  • Was influenced by Bush’s concept of the Memex

  • Presented a paper in 1965 at the Association for Computing Machinery in which he coined the term hypertext for non-linear organization of texts.

  • Later moved on to attempt to create the “Xanadu” project which would be a storehouse of documents, with links to other documents and previous versions of the same document.

The Technology of the Internet

  • The concept of the “data packet network”



  • TCP/IP

  • Creation of HTTP and HTML code

  • The development of Mosaic / Netscape

Paul Baran: Creator of the Distributed Network

  • Paul Baran of the RAND corporation was charged with coming up with a military communications system that could survive a nuclear attack.

  • In 1962, Baran came up with the idea of creating redundant, distributed connections that would avoid the kind of centralization that could cause a network to fail due to a nuclear strike.

  • Baran also devised a system whereby messages were broken down into “message blocks”, or “packets”

The Distributed Network

  • At each node, the node would store the data packet and would then decide which way to route the packet based on traffic data from the nodes it was connected to. Baran called this “hot potato routing”

  • At the receiving end of the network, the message would be assembled according to the sequence number, irrespective of the order that the “message blocks were received.

  • The system that he designed was based on low-wattage microwave transmitters and would have been capable of carrying 128 encrypted telephone communications, 866 data connections (from telex to digital data up to 19Kb/s)

  • Due to bureaucratic issues, the plan was not implemented.

Larry Roberts: Creator of ARPANET

  • Roberts was hired by ARPA (Advanced Research Projects Agency) and charged with the creation of the ARPANET in 1966, based on the need for better computer resource allocation and exchange of information.

  • His first concept for ARPANET was to directly link each mainframe computer together as hosts via telephone lines. Messages would be sent using Baran’s concept of “packet switching” from node to node until the message was received.

The IMPs

  • The drawback to the direct connect model was the need to use processor power from the mainframes themselves to run the network and the programming language incompatibility from mainframe to mainframe.

  • Based on some advice Roberts received from Wes Clark, the network was constructed with a “gateway” or an “Interface Message Processor” (IMP).

  • This method had the advantage of being able to free up the mainframe’s processing power, and also use a common language for message transmission.

The First Nodes of ARPANET: 1969-1970

  • Using Baran’s idea of “packet switching”, the IMPs first came on-line in 1969, linking the mainframe at the University of California, Los Angles to the mainframe at the Stanford Research Institute. By 1970, Harvard, MIT, and BBS (the manufactures of the IMPs) were connected via 2 transcontinental phone lines.

  • Base Map courtesy Yahoo Reference

USENET: “The Poor Man’s ARPANET”

  • Though ARPANET spread to many institutions in the 1970’s only those institutions that were part of ARPA were allowed to have access.

  • In response to this,in 1979 three graduate students came up with the idea to use the UUCP program (a part of the UNIX operating system) to create a network newsletter.

  • Any “client” computer running UNIX would dial into a “server” computer and check for any changes to the news file. The client would submit to the server any changes (additions) that it had. Any other clients that called in would get both the original news item, plus any additions made.

  • This allowed the individual users to post messages and comments as well as receive replies.

  • By 1988, this system supported 11,000 sites, and carried over 1,800 messages a day.

TCP/IP: The enabler of the “network of networks”

  • In 1974, Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn submitted a paper in which the outlines of a new network transmission protocol called Transmission-Control Protocol.

  • The key part of the protocol was that it encoded information into “envelopes” and passed them onto the network via a gateway. The Envelope would start with an address, and the actual packet data would not be read by any of the network nodes except for the computer it was intended for.

  • Thus, the contents of the packets could be of any type of data or packet segment, so long as the addressing was TCP protocol.

  • This enabled the exchange of data between different networks and computer formats.

Tim Berners-Lee: The Creator of the World Wide Web

  • In 1980 Berners-Lee created Enquire, a program based on Bush and Nelson’s concept of hypertext. Links in the Enquire system would open further pages of information.

  • In 1990, he created HTTP (HyperText Transfer Protocol) which would transmit hypertext documents over the web.

  • In that same year he created HTML (HyperText Markup Language) in which to write pages, a browser to view the HTML pages, and the concepts of URL (Universal Resource Locators)

  • This system was text-based only, with no graphics, and page links were footnoted reference numbers at the end of a page.

Marc Andreesen: Creator of Mosaic

  • In 1992 Andreesen, a graduate student at the NCSA (National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois) created, along with Eric Bina, the first graphical Web browser, called Mosaic.

  • Mosaic was critically different from previous web browsers in that images were now able to be displayed, text was able to be further formatted, and links were now able to be imbedded into the text.

  • Mosaic was launched early in 1993 and was an immediate success. It quickly became the browser of choice.

Andreesen left NCSA at the end of 1993 and became one of the founding programmers of Netscape Navigator.

  • Andreesen left NCSA at the end of 1993 and became one of the founding programmers of Netscape Navigator.

  • By 1996, Netscape was being used by 75% of all web users.(1)

  • However, by 1999, Netscape was eclipsed by Microsoft’s rival product, Internet Explorer and Netscape was bought by AOL for $10 billion.(2)

  • Footnotes:

  • Internet Pioneers.

  • Ibid.

  • Sources:

  • Griffin, Scott. Internet Pioneers. On-Line:

  • Naughton, John. A brief History of the Future. London, Orion Books, 1999-2000.

The Internet as Interactive Networked Media Today

  • Is it anything new?

  • How does it differ from other media forms?


  • Gordon Graham: “radically new” and “merely novel”

  • Transformation is the key to this distinction

  • Is the Internet transforming our “personal and social lives”?

What separates the Internet from older media forms?

  • Network character of the Internet is crucial

  • Three key features arise from this:

    • Decentralisation
    • Interactivity
    • Open Access
  • None exclusive to Internet, but each sufficiently different in scale and character to give Internet unique identity

Decentralisation (Production)

  • Most media decentralised, but oligopolies prevail

  • Limited dominance in specific areas (Internet Explorer in browser market)…

  • …but fierce competition in other areas (UK ISP market)

Decentralisation (Consumption)

  • “Surfing the net”: can a Website hold my attention as long as a Sunday newspaper?

  • Failure of major portals to establish themselves as multi-channelled attractions (, AOL)

  • Hype of Internet and promise of freedom and control (“Where do you want to go today?”) has countered this portal approach.


  • All forms of media are fundamentally interactive…

  • …but the Internet allows for malleable, social interaction

  • Hyperlinks: the foundation of Internet activity

  • “Virtual communities”: chat rooms and newsgroups

Interactivity continued….

  • “Virtual worlds?”: is Everquest really the 27th strongest economy in the world?

  • A “technological prosthesis” (McLuhan), that is attached to us…

  • … or a Cyberspace that surrounds us

Open Access

  • Distinction between consumption of information and production

  • Web-based news service is cheaper than it’s newspaper rival -- but not in an Internet café.

  • Fixed cost barrier to cheap Internet access

  • A Website is easier to produce than a private radio show…

  • …but old problem of marketing remains

The Internet: “Radically new?”

  • Substantially different media form

  • “Radically new” for those who use it…

  • …but inconclusive collateral benefits.

  • May transform our social and personal lives, but still an emerging technology:

  • “The Future’s arrived. It’s just not evenly distributed yet.”

  • William Gibson

Déjà Vu All Over Again ?? : The Radio

  • In the 1920’s with the dawn of radio in the USA, there was no consensus on how the new technology would be able to expand. It became clear that for radio to be used to its full capacity, some sort of funding structure would need to be created to support it.

  • However, there was a general consensus that a commercial format (with direct advertising) was not in the public interest.

  • Some of the ideas proposed were radio licensing (using the BBC as an example), and a tax on radios sold (a one-time fee).

  • The idea that won out however, was the use of sponsorship, whereby a commercial enterprise sponsored a program (or rather, the airtime) for a toll.

  • This indirectly led to the network system and the marginalization of the amateur broadcaster due to bandwidth restrictions.

  • Eventually, direct commercials replaced sponsorship on the commercial networks.

Déjà Vu All Over Again ?? : The Internet

  • By 1996, the World Wide Web was made up many small “webcasters” with no real commercial entity dominating the web spectrum.

  • However, disk space and bandwidth were fairly high in cost, presenting a barrier to the smaller amateur.

  • In 1997, GeoCities created the sponsorship model for users to build “homesteads” with 2Mb of space on a web server. By allowing a small ad on each page of your website, you had free site hosting.

  • This model was taken up by other providers and has allowed for a rapid expansion of web pages on the World Wide Web. In essence, it has made the WWW a more diverse and expansive environment.

  • Now, direct advertising is becoming more prevalent, with the advent of the infamous “pop-up ads”.

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