Series Introduction by Karl Auerbach
Today, in 2022, the Internet is everywhere.
Thirty years ago there was no World Wide Web.
Sixty years ago there was no Internet.
This series looks at the first half of those sixty years, 1965 through 1995.
Those decades saw the opening of telephone circuits to public uses; the rise of packet switching; the creation of TCP and IP; the invention of Ethernet; the convergence of academic and research networks; the deployment of network exchange points; and the maturation of routing and naming protocols.
We stop this series with the rise of the World Wide Web, not because it is uninteresting, but, rather, because we would never be able to cover it within our lifetimes.
Our purpose is to illuminate the ideas, the excitement, the people, and the conflicts of a period that will have as much influence on human society as did Gutenberg’s movable type.
Although we will be touching on a lot of technology, this series is not an explanation of how the Internet works.
As we looked back at the creation and evolution of the internet, certain impressions formed:
- There was no grand plan, there was no great vision.
- The internet is a collage of many minds; the net emerged out of the contributions of many.
- There are no Internet deities.
- The internet could have gone other ways (or not at all.)
- The internet is not finished; there is much more to be done.
- The internet is more than the World Wide Web.
- And sometimes government initiatives can produce great things.
The Internet Engineering Task Force often says that it believes in “rough consensus and running code”.
The word “running” is important.
The internet grew through practical trial-and-error.
Ideas and code that did not work were replaced with ones that did.
This series is organized into several dozen chapters. Some chapters will deal with technical development; others with groups of people; and others with events and ideas.
We will often stray onto the backroads of Internet History to visit ideas that were not adopted or events that have faded from popular view.
We are not creating a chronology; too much was happening in parallel.
Each chapter of this series will contain one or more short video episodes.
Why should you believe us?
Because we were there.
We were a part of this history.
The Internet has been our life’s work. We were (and remain) active participants.
We come to these interviews not as strangers but as co-workers often with friendships reaching back many decades.
The voices you will hear are primary sources.
Of course we add our own gloss.
And we admit that our viewpoint is personal.
It is our intent to be honest and accurate.
However, we are telling the history as we saw it and as we experienced it.
We have opinions; we have biases.
We are not neutral.
We fully expect that others who lived and participated in this grand endeavor will have other points of view.
Our plan is to eventually publish all of our source material so that others may use it to tell their own stories of how the Internet came to be.
So where do we begin?
People have been communicating at a distance for thousands of years. Even in ancient days written letters were relayed across long distances.
Given sufficient time, great conversations, such as between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, were possible.
What’s so special about the Internet?
- It is fast.
- Time and distance vanish.
- Cost has become almost negligible.
In our view the immediate technical predecessor to the Internet was the electrical telegraph network from the 1830’s.
The Internet works by moving data that has been chunked into “packets” that are relayed through a sequence of intermediary “store and forward” relays.
The Telegraph system worked in much the same way with individual telegrams being sent via intermediary stations where each message would be written down and then sent to the next station.
The telegraph system was concerned with small, independent electronic messages. Even then those messages were sometimes called “packets”.
Users of the telegraph could, and often did, assemble multiple telegrams into a longer conversation, much as we use TCP to assemble sequences of internet packets into something longer, such as this video.
You are probably asking “But what about the telephone system?”
The classic telephone system was based on circuits that persisted for the duration of the conversation. It is only in the last decade or two that our telephone system became digital and packetized.
We are not professional film makers.
We are funding this effort out of our own pockets.
We do not have a planned release schedule.
And we may amend and update a published episode if we learn something new.
Thanks for watching this introduction and we hope you will watch as we release subsequent episodes.
So, as the cliche goes: “Please like and subscribe”.