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The Tech Archive: Whole lotta birthdays

April 8th, 2011 Posted by Chris View Comments

Yesterday, a faint sound of champagne corks echoed through the interwebs, as some sites decided to  celebrate internet’s 42 birthday. It’s not a round anniversary, but a very  important one nevertheless, as 42 is known to be the answer to all things. Right now, Internet is heading for a midlife crisis – maybe that explains its fascination with Rebecca Black and Justin Bieber.

But for many, the celebration is premature. They believe real birthday won’t happen until October 29. Other experts claim it all started on September 2, 1969. How can it be, that in the age of information we’re not even sure what’s the current age of the Internet?

Usually, knowing your birthday is easy, unless you were found in a basket outside the orphanage gate. You are either born or not, except for the transitional phase, that usually lasts a couple of hours by homo sapiens standards. But it all gets complicated when we try to find a starting point of an incremental process, that spanned over 30 years.

Pinpointing the B-Day

The glorious history of the Internet started with a small and useless metal sphere, shot into orbit by russkies on October 4, 1957. Sputnik did much more than just “beep beep beep”, orbiting earth at 7,780 m/s. It also scared some important people in US Departament of Defense, pushing them to invest in modern technology. In 1958, the Advance Research Projects Agency was created. It quickly started to work on several projects, including a wide-area packet switching computer network that could provide communication in case of a nuclear holocaust. A first glimpse of things to come was published in January 1960 by J.C.R Licklider from Information Processing Technology Office. In his “Man-Computer Symbiosis” he described:

“A network of such [computers], connected to one another by wide-band communication lines [which provided] the functions of present-day libraries.”

In August 1962, another important document came, a “Memorandum for Members and Affiliates of the Intergalactic Computer Network”, also by Licklieder, who was soon recruited by ARPA, because using big buzz words apparently pays off.

Next stop on our tour is April 7, 1969. Almost exactly 42 years ago, a first of “Request for Comments” documents was published by Steve Crocker from University of California, in order to seek views of other ARPA researchers. This effectively set the ground for development of a new network. You can check this message from our founding father here, but unless you worked in computer science back then, you probably won’t understand much. At least there are some nice ASCII pictures.

Another important milestone was reached on September 2, 1969. That’s when a UCLA team led by Leonard Kleincrock connected two computers with a 15-foot gray cable and managed to send and receive data, effectively creating the first node of ARPANET.

October 29, 1969 is also a strong contender. That’s the day when UCLA terminal (SDS Sigma pictured on the left) was connected to the Stanford Research Institute Terminal, and computers exchanged the  first meaningful message. It consisted of two letters: “L” and “O”, because network crashed almost immediately, before full word “login” could be sent.

Of course, Internet didn’t really exist without a common “language”, in which the machines could communicate. First specification of TCP/IP was drafted in December 1974. It was adopted as the only approved communication model of ARPANET on January 1, 1983.

The World Wide Web, a thing most people mistake for the Internet, was born even later, in 1989. First web browser, Mosaic, came in 1993. And if you’re really into dates, and want to know some more, check out this list.

The Great Confusion

That’s a lot of dates to take in, with no conclusive answer. And I only scratched the surface of the topic, omitting other things that helped to shape the Internet, like French Cyclades network or British NPL. So when should you put on the party hat?

Just pick any date, after all it only matters to silly factoid hogs and websites so desperate for content, they scour technology timelines in search of ideas.

My take? Because the internet consists mostly of porn, we can say it was actually born when first adult picture was transferred over the computer network. Unfortunately, the date of this ground-breaking achievement remains unknown. If you happened to work at ARPA in sixties or seventies, and exchanged some dirty stuff with your co-workers , please let me know, so that I have a date to mark on my calendar.

Of course, If you have another idea for the B-Day date, feel free to post it in the comments, for others to laugh at.

Posted in Internet Trends, Technology |

  1. [...] keep in mind that DARPA has a good track record in bringing risky ideas to life. After all, we owe them the Internet. All those silly memes, redundant social networks, information overload, and Rebecca Black came to [...]

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