Friday, October 30, 2009

What Hath Satan Wrought?

It was 40 years ago this week that a computer at UCLA "talked" to a computer at Stanford, thus paving the way for what would become the Internet and, in the '90s, the Web.

If you click on the image at the top right, you'll see a record of the first message sent over the ARPANET, as it was then called, as annotated and preserved by Leonard Kleinrock, who is still a UCLA computer professor.

This record is an excerpt from the "IMP Log" that we kept at UCLA. I was supervising the student/programmer Charley Kline (CSK) and we set up a message transmission to go from the UCLA SDS Sigma 7 Host computer to the SRI SDS 940 Host computer. The transmission itself was simply to "login" to SRI from UCLA. We succeeded in transmitting the "l" and the "o" and then the system crashed! Hence, the first message on the Internet was "Lo!".
And behold!

In their 40th-anniversary salutes this week, an astonishing number of media outlets got their chronology all wrong, and placed the oft-designated "fathers of the Internet," Robert Kahn and Vinton Cerf, at the scene on Oct. 29, 1969.

In fact, it wasn't until the early 70s that Kahn and Cerf invented the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) and the Internet Protocol (IP), the technologies used to transmit information on the Internet.

Cerf is now Google's Chief Internet Evangelist, and in this 2008 Beet.TV video interview, he provides some interesting perspective on the future of the Web, especially as it relates to video consumption.

You'll find good articles about the birth and development of the Internet in Forbes, and in the Guardian of London. Forbes also has an excellent Internet Anniversary quiz.

A day after the anniversary, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) announced that it would accept Web addresses (URLs) in non-Latin letters, meaning that next year you'll start seeing Websites in Arabic, Korean, Japanese, Greek, Hindi, Cyrillic (Russian), and, most prominently, Chinese.

"This is only the first step, but it is an incredibly big one and an historic move toward the internationalization of the Internet," ICANN's President and CEO Rod Beckstrom said.

From our perspective, nothing has evolved as much as video. When we built our first Website in the early '90s, there were less than 1,000 Websites in existence, and most of them were known as "personal pages," manually catalogued by Yahoo (in that pre-database, pre-Google era). Everything was "flush left" and with a 14K modem, it took forever for a small still image to load. You'd pray it didn't crash your computer, forcing you to reboot. Video? Fuhgetaboutit! If you wanted to view a 5-second clip, you'd start downloading it at bedtime to view when you awoke in the morning.

Now, of course, you can watch entire movies and TV episodes via the Web, and we're at the point where the Web is becoming the primary media outlet for video production and consumption. And though more than 1.6 billion people around the world are connected to the network, that still represents only a fifth of the planet's population -- so adventures aplenty lie ahead.

We planned to write this ode on Thursday, the actual anniversary date, but we've been laid low with a nasty cold. So, yes, you might well ask, why is it that we can befriend thousands of strangers from places we've never been, and communicate with them in real time, for free, halfway around the planet ... and we still can't find a cure for the common cold?

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