The Computer Revolution/The Internet Revolution

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Timeline[edit]

The development of the internet is filled with currents and counter-currents, repression, dissension and rebellion. It isn't a simple story of success after success but rather includes missed opportunities, projects that were feasible and still haven't been achieved, and futile efforts, projects that were repeatedly attempted despite being provably impossible. The history of the internet is filled with individual events, none of them meaningful without context. This is the story of the internet, not one of heroic god figures walking upon the Earth but of human beings who dream and act upon those dreams.

Recurring threads to be coded:

  • discussion networks; human-nets
  • archives / engines
  • protocols / technologies
  • multimedia

The 80's[edit]

  • 1980 - Making use of Unix v7's UUCP facility, A News sees the birth of Usenet between UNC and Duke universities. At this time, the ARPANET is a tightly-controlled self-contained network under the regulation of the US Defense Communications Agency. In contrast, the UUCPnet is quickly conceived of as a self-regulated public network mostly kept hidden from management. After all, management does have to approve hundreds of 1980 dollars in monthly phone bills and possibly several thousand in initial equipment expenditures.
  • 1980 - Mark Horton feeds the human-nets ARPANET mailing list into the FA.Human-nets Usenet newsgroup. Human-nets discusses the implications of a worldwide computer communications network, usually referred to as WorldNet. The connection is strictly one-way but the ability to eavesdrop on ARPANET discussions provides critical incentive to join Usenet.
  • 1981 - UCB's ucbvax is used as a gateway between the ARPANET and Usenet for various mailing lists. This initial breach in the iron curtain is precarious. MIT loses several months fighting legal battles after being threatened off of the ARPANET for serving as a gateway from Usenet. It remains impossible for a UUCPnet user to send email to an ARPANET user.
  • 1982 - The word "cyberspace" is coined by William Gibson in his novelette "Burning Chrome" and will subsequently be popularized in his novel "Neuromancer" (1984).
  • 1983 - Usenet gets its first cross-Atlantic link using a dialup modem connecting DEC's decvax and Mathematisch Centrum's mcvax in the Netherlands.
  • 1983 - TCP/IP replaces the ARPANET's NCP. It will not be adopted in Europe where OSI models are considered sacred despite the hatred of the users they are imposed on.
  • 1984 April 1 - Piet Beertema of MC forges a news article from President Chernenko of the USSR announcing the Soviet Union's entry on the Usenet. Some people caught in the hoax respond that it was in bad taste to raise their hopes of much improved US-USSR relations. The Pentagon will investigate "how to deal with" this breach in national security, the USSR's entry on Usenet. The USA maintains an embargo of advanced computing technology.
  • 1984 June - FidoNet is created over version 7 of Fido.
  • 1985 April - The WELL (originally Whole Earth 'Lectronic Link) goes online.
  • 1987 May - John Gilmore, Brian Reid and Gordon Moffett unilaterally create the alt. hierarchy of Usenet, starting with alt.drugs.
  • 1988 April - Gene Spafford unilaterally refuses to create soc.sex, prompting the creation of alt.sex and alt.rock-n-roll. It will be some time before anyone realizes that alt. newsgroups are immortal.
  • 1988 August - The first IRC network, EFnet, goes online.
  • 1988 November 2 - Robert Morris unleashes the first ever internet worm
  • 1988 November 17 - EUnet gets its first open transatlantic connection with the internet.
  • 1989 Tim Berners-Lee created HTML as everyone knows and loathes. He is credited with inventing the web, despite the fact that he did not.

The 90's[edit]

  • 1990 July - Mitch Kapor, John Perry Barlow, and John Gilmore found the Electronic Frontier Foundation to protect civil liberties on the internet in response to the US Secret Service's seizure of Steve Jackson Games' computers (no charges were filed, the company was nearly ruined).
  • 1990 October - Col Needham releases shell scripts that allow searching of rec.arts.movies' datafiles. This will eventually become the IMDB (Internet Movie Database).
  • 1991 - MP3 is defined and standardized.
  • 1991 - Gopher is released.
  • 1992 - The Lynx browser is released to work over Gopher and native markup.
  • 1993 - The US government announces the Clipper chip as a means to promote encryption breakable by the government. The proposal is roundly condemned.
  • 1993 Mosaic version 1.0 is released. It was described as "the killer application of the 1990s" because it was the first program to provide a slick multimedia graphical user interface to the Internet.
  • 1994 January - Yahoo.com is founded.
  • 1994 July 7 - The Fraunhofer Society released the first MP3 encoder called l3enc.
  • 1994 December - Netscape releases Netscape Navigator 1.0
  • 1995 - Amazon.com goes online.
  • 1995 - Deja News' searchable Usenet archive goes online.
  • 1995 September - Ebay goes online out of Pierre Omidyar's living room.
  • 1995 August - Infoseek goes online as a directory service, available on a paid subscription basis.
  • 1995 December - DEC labs' Altavista research project goes online, available for free.
  • 1996 - The Internet Archive is founded. The Wayback Machine's archive dates back to 1995.
  • 1996 November - ICQ was introduced by Mirabilis, an Israeli start-up company. The first general instant messenger for non-UNIX computers.
  • 1996 December - Macromedia Flash version 1.0 is released. (Source: The History of Flash)
  • 1997 - Winamp is released.
  • 1997 September - Stanford University's Google research project goes online
  • 1998 January - the Drudge Report initiates the Clinton sex scandal
  • 1998 - PHP version 3.0 is released. The first version that closely resembles PHP as we know it today
  • 1998 - Audiogalaxy started.
  • 1999 - Napster is released. It was the first peer-to-peer music sharing service. It led audiogalaxy to create its famed P2P satellite.

The 00's[edit]

  • 2001 February - Google acquires Deja's Usenet archive
  • 2004 February - Facebook is founded.

Special Topics[edit]

Killer applications[edit]

A killer application is an application which justifies in everyone's minds their acquisition of an entire computer. The first killer internet application was email. The second was the web. The third was peer to peer file sharing.

Eras[edit]

The internet has experienced distinct eras, rarely associated with any particular event. The earliest era was one of shared computing. This was the era of shell accounts, before home computers, and SLIP/PPP over phone lines became ubiquitous.

The beginning of the new era coincided with the rise of the graphical web browser. Before presentation was offloaded to home computers using SLIP/PPP dialup, it simply wasn't feasible to allow each user to run a graphical application on the central servers.

(Note that this new era was just a new paradigm and hardly an advance in every way. With the demise of shell accounts, it is no longer possible to search Usenet articles without downloading their contents to one's home computer. This was a significant problem before broadband.)

This third era we are in is simply the broadband era. Whether it is from the cable, phone or electric utility company, broadband provides enough network bandwidth that users make use of the network in a qualitatively different way (music and video swapping, and Voice over IP).

The fourth era just now beginning is one of not wireless but mobile networking. The hallmarks of this era are MP3 players, cell phones and to some extent PDAs. Electronic paper, if it ever actually gets built, would be symbolize the peak of this era.

The fifth era being planned in research labs like Xerox PARC's is one of ubiquitous computing and will require that the current transition from personal computers back to social computers be complete.

Peer to peer[edit]

The original peer to peer application was Usenet. Almost from the first, Usenet was conceived as a way of sharing files (articles) and directories (newsgroups) between peers. Further, Usenet has a long history of being used to distribute movies, pictures, music and software. Software in particular has been distributed on Usenet from its very beginning and was one of the reasons given to management to justify the enormous expense of joining Usenet. When Napster came along in 1999, it was structured differently from Usenet for the simple reason of the very different demands of music users.

In particular, music users were unwilling, and quite unable, to carry the entire load of every other music users' library. But more importantly, analogues to newsgroups were deemed unacceptable from the first. With no way to structure or fraction users' libraries of music, being able to search for individual objects (songs or albums) and keeping track of individual users became key requirements. These requirements served as constraints that naturally enough gave rise to very different architectures from Usenet's.

Web-based applications[edit]

Web-based applications follow a venerable history of running a low-availability service on top of a high-availability service in order to increase the availability of the former.

In the 90s, FTP and even Web services were available through email since email was by far the most widely available service. In fact, even some Usenet newsgroups were available through email through the intermediary of newsgroup to mailing list gateways. The greatest problem involved providing anonymous email services over email. Remailers largely died off after anon.penet.fi was forced to hand over users' information by the Finnish government at the behest of the Church of Scientology.

In that era, PPP and SLIP were hardly ubiquitous and not everyone had a shell account at their ISP, if the ISP even provided shell accounts. Nowadays, the most widely available service is the web and so other services run on top of it. With this history behind it, the minor innovation of putting services on the web hardly merits the appelation of an innovation.

  • email
  • newsgroups, of both the Usenet and non- varieties
  • wikis
  • blogs
  • bookmarks

Privacy Protection: Europe vs Anglo-American attitudes[edit]

ECHELON is an international electronic espionage network that aims to tap into all communications lines. ECHELON is maintained by the Anglo-American (USA, Canada, UK and Australia) governments and is unaccountable to anyone else. The Anglo-American governments are routinely accused of spying on their own citizens using ECHELON.

While the European Union is routinely betrayed by the United Kingdom (which supplies up to the minute information of confidential meetings to the USA), the EU has seen enough threat in ECHELON to fund the development of unbreakable quantum cryptography technology in 2004.

It is against this broader background that any issues of privacy protection must be evaluated.

The Anglo-American governments' attitudes to privacy is roughly summed up as 'you don't have any'. In 1993, the US government introduced the Clipper chip in order to be able to break into citizens' cryptographically secured communications. In 2000, the UK government passed an Act enabling police to demand a citizen's cryptographic keys without a warrant.

The response of Anglo-American governments towards corporate intrusions of privacy is characterized by appeals to self-regulation. Corporate powers are simply expected to refrain from doing so. This contrasts with European attitudes towards violations of privacy which is criminal legislation.

It's only in response to the "War on Terror" and at the behest of the United Kingdom that the European Union expanded police espionage powers. Needless to say, this doesn't apply to corporate intrusions on privacy ... in Europe. In fact, the European Union is set to cease transacting personal information with the USA if it continues to refuse to enact legislation.

Only with this context in mind is it possible to understand certain American citizens' fanatical commitment to absolute privacy. Their governments' hostile actions has led them to quite justified paranoia. It is why the Electronic Frontier Foundation is headquartered in San Francisco and not in Brussels.