The Internet Lay Dormant
The Internet Winter spans roughly between 1966 and the mid 90's and represents the technological advance of the Web as we know it today.
Sharpnet monitored the lay of the land and prepared their ground for what the future would bring...
The Idea Of The Internet
The Internet was the result of some visionary thinking by people in the early 1960s who saw great potential value in allowing computers to share information on research and development in scientific and military fields. MIT (the Massachusetts Institute of Technology), first proposed a global network of computers in 1962, and moved over to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in late 1962 to head the work to develop it.
In the 60's, the relations between both the former USSR and the United States were quite tense, it was the "Cold War". The Government of the United States were concerned about the Nuclear threat the USSR was posing and the idea of having a system capable of operating without a single point of failure using Computers or "nodes" was indeed very interesting. Lawrence Roberts of MIT connected a Massachusetts Computer with a California Computer in 1965 over dial-up telephone lines. It showed the feasibility of wide area networking from one side of a contient to another, but also showed that the telephone line's circuit switching was inadequate as the communication was relying on the Phone line to be "On" and if a failure were to happen the whole transimssion would be lost.
Leonard Kleinrock of MIT and later UCLA developed the theory of packet switching which consists of having a "non-continuous" connection between two nodes, this method was ideal as the line could drop or the amount of data could be of any size for it would not suffer any loss, as lost information could be sent again until the recipient confirms reception of the communication. Kleinrock's packet switching theory was confirmed. Roberts moved over to DARPA in 1966 and developed his plan for ARPANET.
The Internet, then known as ARPANET, was brought online in 1969 under a contract let by the renamed Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) which initially connected four major computers at universities in the southwestern US (UCLA, Stanford Research Institute, UCSB, and the University of Utah).
The Internet Growth
The table below shows a timeline of the growth of the Internet from 1969 to 1997
The Early Adopters
The early Internet was used by computer experts, engineers, scientists, and librarians. There was nothing friendly about it. There were no home or office personal computers in those days, and anyone who used it, whether a computer professional or an engineer or scientist or librarian, had to learn to use a very complex system.
E-mail was adapted for ARPANET by Ray Tomlinson of BBN in 1972. He picked the @ symbol from the available symbols on his teletype to link the username and address. The "Telnet" protocol, enabling connecting to a remote computer, was devised in 1972. The "ftp" protocol, enabling file transfers between Internet sites still in use today, was created in 1973.
The Internet matured in the 70's as a result of an new method of transmission called "TCP/IP" still in use today
Newsgroups, which are discussion groups focusing on a topic, started to be used in 1979 on the "Usenet" Network. This system was providing a means of exchanging information throughout the world and was a significant part of the community building that took place on the networks. Today Usenet is still famous for it's over-heated debates called "Flame wars".
Listserv software was developed for the BITNET network in 1981. Gateways were developed to connect BITNET with the Internet and allowed exchange of e-mail, particularly for e-mail discussion lists. These listservs and other forms of e-mail discussion lists formed another major element in the community building that was taking place.
In 1986, the National Science Foundation funded NSFNet as a cross country 56 Kbps backbone for the Internet. They maintained their sponsorship for nearly a decade, setting rules for its non-commercial government and research uses.
As the commands for e-mail, FTP and telnet were standardised, it became a lot easier for non-technical people to learn to use the Net. It was not easy by today's standards by any means, but it did open up use of the Internet to many more people in Universities in particular. Other departments besides the libraries, computer, physics, and engineering departments found ways to make good use of the Net to communicate with colleagues around the world and to share files and resources.
The Academic Years
While the number of sites on the Internet was small, it was fairly easy to keep track of the resources of interest that were available. But as more and more universities and organizations --and their libraries-- connected, the Internet became harder and harder to track. There was more and more need for tools to index the resources that were available.
The first effort, other than library catalogs, to index the Internet was created in 1989; researchers at McGill University in Montreal, created an archiver for ftp sites, which they named "Archie". This software would periodically reach out to all known openly available ftp sites, list their files, and build a searchable index of the software. The commands to search Archie were cryptic Unix commands only known by the more advanced users.
McGill University, which hosted the first Archie, found out one day that half the Internet traffic going into Canada from the United States was accessing Archie. Administrators were concerned that the University was subsidizing such a volume of traffic, and closed down Archie to outside access. Fortunately, by that time, there were many more Archies available.
Also in '89, Thinking Machines, Corp. developed his Wide Area Information Server "WAIS", which would index the full text of files in a database and allow searches of the files. There were several versions with varying degrees of complexity and capability developed, but the simplest of these were made available to everyone on the Net.
At its peak, Thinking Machines maintained pointers to over 600 databases around the world which had been indexed by WAIS. They included such things as the full set of Usenet Frequently Asked Questions files, the full documentation of working papers such as RFC's by those developing the Internet's standards, and much more. Like Archie, its interface was far from intuitive, and it took some effort to learn to use it well.
Peter Scott of the University of Saskatchewan, recognizing the need to bring together information about all the telnet-accessible library catalogs on the web, as well as other telnet resources, brought out his Hytelnet catalog in 1990. It gave a single place to get information about library catalogs and other telnet resources and how to use them. He maintained it for years, and added HyWebCat (now called LibDex) in 1997 to provide information on web-based catalogs.
The First Search Engines
In 1991, the first really friendly interface to the Internet was developed at the University of Minnesota. The University wanted to develop a simple menu system to access files and information on campus through their local network. The system was called a "gopher". The gopher proved to be very prolific, and within a few years there were over 10,000 gophers around the world. It took no knowledge of unix or computer architecture to use. In a gopher system, you typed or clicked on a number to select the menu selection you wanted.
Gopher's usability was enhanced much more when the University of Nevada at Reno developed the "VERONICA" searchable index of gopher menus. It was purported to be an acronym for Very Easy Rodent-Oriented Netwide Index to Computerized Archives. A "spider" crawled gopher menus around the world, collecting links and retrieving them for the index. It was so popular that it was very hard to connect to, even though a number of other VERONICA sites were developed to ease the load.
The World Wide Web
In 1989 another significant event took place in making the nets easier to use. Tim Berners-Lee and others at the European Laboratory for Particle Physics, more popularly known as CERN in Switzerland, proposed a new protocol for information distribution. This protocol, which became the World Wide Web in 1991, was based on hypertext, a system of embedding links in text to link to other text, which you have been using every time you selected a text link while reading these pages. Although started before gopher, it was slower to develop.
The development in 1993 of the graphical browser "Mosaic" by Marc Andreessen and his team at the National Center For Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) gave the protocol its big boost. Later, Andreessen moved to become the brains behind Netscape Corp (R.I.P.)., which produced the most successful graphical type of browser and server until Microsoft declared war and developed its MicroSoft Internet Explorer.