The First Fifty Years Of The Internet
from the as-written-by-the-winners dept
The more recent stuff in the article doesn't add much, but there's a great discussion of the early years, where there are even a few themes that may sound familiar around here -- including the idea that multiple people seem to come up with the same ideas at the same time. For example, the article notes that both Paul Baran and Donald Davies entirely independently came up with the idea of packet-switched networks, and one of Baran's quotes in the article is:
"I get credit for a lot of things I didn't do. I just did a little piece on packet switching and I get blamed for the whole goddamned Internet, you know? Technology reaches a certain ripeness and the pieces are available and the need is there and the economics look good -- it's going to get invented by somebody."It's Stigler's Law all over again.
Somewhat related to that is the interesting tidbit about how CERN originally wanted to patent the World Wide Web, until Tim Berners-Lee talked them out of it (as recounted by Robert Cailliau):
"At one point CERN was toying with patenting the World Wide Web. I was talking about that with Tim one day, and he looked at me, and I could see that he wasn't enthusiastic. He said, Robert, do you want to be rich? I thought, Well, it helps, no? He apparently didn't care about that. What he cared about was to make sure that the thing would work, that it would just be there for everybody. He convinced me of that, and then I worked for about six months, very hard with the legal service, to make sure that CERN put the whole thing in the public domain."Imagine how different the world would be if the Web were patented early on? It almost certainly would have massively stunted development.
Also, amusingly, from multiple people early in the piece, AT&T plays the roll of the clueless big company who wants nothing more than to kill the internet and keep its monopoly:
Paul Baran: The one hurdle packet switching faced was AT&T. They fought it tooth and nail at the beginning. They tried all sorts of things to stop it. They pretty much had a monopoly in all communications. And somebody from outside saying that there’s a better way to do it of course doesn’t make sense. They automatically assumed that we didn’t know what we were doing.AT&T trying to kill the internet, not seeing the business opportunity and insisting things could never work (when they obviously did)? That all sounds mighty familiar...
Bob Taylor: Working with AT&T would be like working with Cro-Magnon man. I asked them if they wanted to be early members so they could learn technology as we went along. They said no. I said, Well, why not? And they said, Because packet switching won't work. They were adamant. As a result, AT&T missed out on the whole early networking experience.
Bob Kahn: Let me put it into perspective. So here we are when there are very few time-sharing systems anywhere in the world. AT&T probably said, Look, maybe we would have 50 or a hundred organizations, maybe a few hundred organizations, that could possibly partake of this in any reasonable time frame. Remember, the personal computer hadn't been invented yet. So, you had to have these big expensive mainframes in order to do anything. They said, There's no business there, and why should we waste our time until we can see that there's a business opportunity?
Bob Metcalfe: Imagine a bearded grad student being handed a dozen AT&T executives, all in pin-striped suits and quite a bit older and cooler. And I'm giving them a tour. And when I say a tour, they're standing behind me while I'm typing on one of these terminals. I'm traveling around the Arpanet showing them: Ooh, look. You can do this. And I'm in U.C.L.A. in Los Angeles now. And now I'm in San Francisco. And now I'm in Chicago. And now I'm in Cambridge, Massachusetts -- isn't this cool? And as I'm giving my demo, the damned thing crashed.
And I turned around to look at these 10, 12 AT&T suits, and they were all laughing. And it was in that moment that AT&T became my bete noire, because I realized in that moment that these sons of bitches were rooting against me.