"The Internet is a result of technological innovation"

NET 12 ~ Assignment 1

by Peter Borbely

Submitted: 6 April 2008
Word count: 1051


This essay intends to recognise the identity and explore the motivation of the Internet' s originators by examining key projects which shaped its history and in doing so, illustrate that the Internet is indeed a result of technological innovation. Several decades of development, involving ever growing number of participants, including individuals, governmental, educational and commercial organisations cooperated and continue to cooperate to further develop this phenomenon.

Building on the conceptual foundations of pre-existing ideas such as those published in Vannevar Bush' s 1945 article As We May Think or a Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researcher, J.C.R. Licklider' s memos on computer networking, a series often referred to as a Galactic Network and were published between 1960 and 1968, amongst other works. The development for practical networking has followed the 1967 proposal of the U.S. Department of Defence' s Advanced Research Project Agency (ARPA), the main benefactor of the initial stages of development. Abbate states in her paper, Inventing the Internet (1999, p.2) that "The US military played a greater part in creating the system than many people realize, defining and promoting the Internet technology to serve its interests." However she also adds that "Networking projects and experts outside the United States also made significant contributions to the systems that are rarely recognized." Parallel developments were conducted at the United Kingdom' s National Physical Laboratory (NPL), at RAND, a non-profit international research organisation, at MIT, at several American and overseas universities and commercial enterprises, such as XEROX PARC (Leiner et al, 2003), however most of these works remained isolated until Lawrence Roberts published and presented his plan for the ARPANET at the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) conference in Gatlinburg in 1967.

There are inconsistent opinions regarding the motivation behind ARPA' s proposal, some of which claim that the military needed a decentralised network to ensure communication in the event of a nuclear attack (Stevenson, 2001), while other views suggest that it was the rationalisation of expensive computing resources between various physical locations (Dodge and Kitchin, 2001, p.11). Nevertheless, the proposal led to the first multi-node computer network linking four major ARPA research sites, University of California' s Los Angeles and Santa Barbara Campuses, University of Utah and the Stanford Research Institute from Mayday 1969. Following this success, the number of terminals grew rapidly and the Network Working Group (NWG) concluded the works of the first complete program, the Network Control Protocol (NCP) in the following year. ARPANET made its first public demonstration two years later in 1972 at the International Computer Communication Conference, where it linked 40 computers together.

Once functional, users started to shape network technologies to meet their needs, using the very same network they were developing, to communicate and organise work flow. "ARPA also allowed the developers of the network to organise themselves" (Stevenson, 2001) - the first Net community consisted of the developers or as they called themselves, hackers, and their forum was the RFC or Request For Comment, a medium still actively used by the W3C among other organisations. "Each phase of the Internet' s growth has been characterised by the relationship between individuals who shared some or all of what Levy called the "hacker ethic" and institutions which funded the creation of the matrix." (Stevenson, 2001) The term hacker has a modified meaning in public understanding nowadays as some hackers gained publicity via security and network attacks; however the original hacker activity means to modify existing technologies, protocols and applications for the better. To distinguish between malicious and good-willed hacking, people still faithful to the original concept are referred to as " ethical hackers" (Gray, 2007). Stevenson also mentions that "ARPA has adopted something of the hacker ethic in its acceptance of a decentralised structure and virtually free distribution of its protocol specifications..."

As a result of the decade long development of ARPANET, real internetworking - linking networks rather than individual computers - was made possible by the implementation of the TCP/IP protocol in 1979 and the opening of ARPANET, which served as the Internet backbone from this point on and enabled other networks such as Bitnet and CSNET to be linked together. TCP/IP became influential due to the funding of ARPA and as a result of its implementation in the most widespread mainframe computer operating system of the time, the Berkeley Unix. (Stevenson, 2001) The military wing split from the mainstream network, the ARPA Internet in 1983, leaving the Internet to be further developed and refined by research and educational organisations. ARPA Internet functioned for another couple of years and the National Science Foundation (NFS) took over the management in 1985 with plans, and U.S. Congressional support, to build a broader and more modern network infrastructure. Relying on this existing technology and progressively expanding networks, it was a CERN researcher, the British Tim Berners-Lee, who developed the concept of the World Wide Web, a hypertext-based platform, which became a synonym to the Internet in popular culture.

It is evident by the scale of contributors that no single power forged the direction of internet technology but rather its progress was a collaborative effort with innovation at the core. The most influential organisation types respective to particular periods of the Internet' s development - as identified by Stevenson - can be summarised by a short list of primary domains based on specifications of one of the key protocols empowering the network, the Domain Name System (DNS):

The Internet is a phenomenon with an inherent tendency to liberate, encourage, and ultimately overcome physical and geographical boundaries as more and more people become wired. Its openness is not only inviting, but it provides a platform for global development, while it is the platform for its own development as well, just as it was from the very beginning of the first functional network.

"The history of the Internet is not, therefore, a story of a few heroic inventors, it is a tale of collaboration and conflict among a remarkable variety of players." (Abbate, 1999, p.3) This structure will continue as Open Source developers share their work free of charge, challenging a multi-billion dollar market of Information Technology, disregarding the world of copyright lawsuits, acting rather in the spirit of the original hackers by sharing results and freely offering products for immediate use and for further development of the technology as a whole.


Abbate, J (1999).
Inventing the Internet, Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press
Bell, D (2001).
An Introduction to Cybercultures. Routledge.
Retrieved 20 March, 2008 from books.google.com.au
Patrick Gray (2007)
Microsoft sends out security over bug scare
Retrieved 4 December, 2007 from http://www.smh.com.au/news/security/microsoft-sends-out-security-over-bug-scare/2007/12/03/1196530575355.html
Barry M. Leiner, Vinton G. Cerf, David D. Clark, Robert E. Kahn, Leonard Kleinrock, Daniel C. Lynch, Jon Postel, Larry G. Roberts, Stephen Wolff (2003).
A brief history of the internet
Retrieved 30 March, 2008 from http://www.isoc.org/internet/history/brief.shtml
Stevenson, J.H. (2001).
(De)Constructing the Matrix: Toward a Social History of the Early Internet
Retrieved 28 March, 2008 from http://www.tranquileye.com/netessays/de_constructing_the_matrix.html


Bush, V (1945). As We May Think
Retrieved 20 March, 2008 from http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/194507/bush
Licklider, J.C.R. Man-Computer Symbiosis
Retrieved 20 March, 2008 from ftp://gatekeeper.research.compaq.com/pub/DEC/SRC/research-reports/SRC-061.pdf

© Peter Borbely

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