Networking history

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This article will summarize a few milestones in computer networking history and Internet in particular. Special attention will be paid to:

  • Uses in education
  • Uses that change people's lifestyle and work habits

Some Milestones


Licklider (1960) wrote "Man-Computer Symbiosis": “Man-computer symbiosis is an expected development in cooperative interaction between men and electronic computers. It will involve very close coupling between the human and the electronic members of the partnership. The main aims are 1) to let computers facilitate formulative thinking as they now facilitate the solution of formulated problems, and 2) to enable men and computers to cooperate in making decisions and controlling complex situations without inflexible dependence on predetermined programs.”


  • J.C.R. Licklider & W. Clark On-Line Man Computer Communication coined the Galactic Network concept encompassing distributed social interactions
  • Packet switching was invented (the basis of all modern computer networks). A message can be broken down into packets like:
sender - receiver - message

Such a packet can travel from one device (computer) to another. Today, various higher level protocols exist to organize this transport (see Internet).

  • Douglas Engelbart publishes Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework. “An hypothesis has been stated that the intellectual effectiveness of a human can be significantly improved by an engineering-like approach toward redesigning changeable components of a system.” [1] (Engelbart, 1992). On of the 8 examples discussed is "team cooperation": “We have experimented with having several people work together from working stations that can provide inter-communication via their computer or computers. That is, each person is equipped as I am here, with free access to the common working structures. There proves to be a really phenomenal boost in group effectiveness over any previous form of cooperation we have experienced.” [2]. Engelbart's ideas did have an impact on Licklider and Taylor.


Licklider &Taylor (1968) wrote The Computer as a Communication Device. In this paper the authors argue that the computer's main role will be an interactor, i.e. a device that augments man-to-man communication, i.e. bring together distributed intellectual resources as online interactive communities.

At a project meeting held through a computer, you can thumb through the speaker's primary data without interrupting him to substantiate or explain. (reproduced by permission of the Systems Research Center of Digital Equipment Corporation)
  • “In a few years, men will be able to communicate more effectively through a machine than face to face.”
  • “What will on-line interactive communities be like?" ..."In most fields they will consist of geographically separated members, sometimes grouped in small clusters and sometimes working individually. They will be communities not of common location, but of common interest..."”
  • “What will go on inside? Eventually, every informational transaction of sufficient consequence to warrant the cost. Each secretarys typewriter, each data-gathering instrument, conceivably each dictation microphone, will feed into the network.”
A communication system should make a positive contribution to the discovery and arousal of interests. (reproduced by permission of the Systems Research Center of Digital Equipment Corporation)


  • In December 1969, the first version of Arpanet (Internet) went online. It connected four computers from four universities (UCLA, Stanford Research Institute, UCSB, and the University of Utah). The project leader was Bob Kahn from BBN (Cambridge,MA).
Drawing of the first ARPA Network
  • In the same year RFCs (Requests for Comments), i.e. a procedure to author technical documents that define that most fundamental of aspects of Internet came to life. David Crocker wrote RFC 3 - Documentation conventions.
  • Telnet (TELecommunication NETwork), remote connection to another computer over a internet-like network was one of these earlier standards (still being used, though if you care about security you should use something like ssh instead).


Early version of File transfer protocol (FTP), revised in 1980 and 1985. Still very popular. Since FTP is inherently insecure (not even passwords are encrypted), you might consider using safer alternatives like SFTP or SCP.


Ray Tomlinson (BBN) created the first e-mail program. A few years later it became current to insult people with "he/she can't even read her email...

  • UUCP (Unix-to-Unix CoPy), the first Unix specific "networking framework" was developed at AT&T Bell. One year later it was included with UNIX.


  • Birth of TCP: According to Vint Cerf's FAQ: “During 1973, we developed the concepts underlying the Internet and prepared a preliminary paper in September of that year that we presented to the International Network Working Group (INWG). INWG was an informal group of network researchers primarily from the US and Europe, all of whom had an interest in packet switching technology. Bob and I revised our paper after the September INWG meeting and it was published in May 1974 in the IEEE Transactions on Communications. [...] Bob Kahn and I continued to interact as the details of the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) emerged. In December 1974 the first full draft of TCP was produced.”
  • Later, the so-called Internet Protocol (IP) was separated from the Transmission Control Protocol (which initially combined both functions).


  • TCP/IP, the main technical pillar of Internet emerged in mid-late 1978 in nearly final form and was finalized in 1991.
  • “The Internet protocol suite is the set of communications protocols that implements the protocol stack on which the Internet and many commercial networks run. It is part of the TCP/IP protocol suite, which is named after two of the most important protocols in it: the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) and the Internet Protocol (IP), which were also the first two networking protocols defined. (Wikipedia, retrieved 17:16, 27 March 2007 (MEST))”
  • The first MUD, an adventure game with multiple players, was developed by Roy Trubshaw and Richard Bartle at Essex University in England in 1978. MUDs predate modern MMORPGs by 2 decades. The principle is almost the same :)


  • Usenet (based on UUCP), the first decentralized forum system was created by Steve Bellovin. It became hugely popular in the nineties.
  • Bitnet by IBM (and later also adopted by DEC) was created. It was used for email and listservs. It was adopted universities (in particular humanity departments without Unix access) and companies.


  • In January 1983, NCP was banned from the ARPANET and TCP/IP was required.


  • Digitized communication and networking in education started in the mid 80's (e.g. Hiltz, 1988) using other protocols than Internet and became popular by the mid-90's, in particular through the World Wide Web (WWW), eMail and Forums.
  • Whole Earth 'Lectronic Link (WELL) started (see next item)
  • Farmer and Morningstar of LucasFilm created Habitat, and on-line world for Commodore 64. Farmer then worked on the Palace an early 2D graphic multiuser world (which sadly is dead), Worlds Away (Active Worlds, Sims Online and Second Life. Morningstar used to work on the Xanadu project and later got involved in several online worlds projects and other software projects.


Hiltz, S. R. (1986). The virtual classroom: Using computer-mediated communication for university teaching. Journal of Communication, 36 (2), 95-104.


Howard Rheingold (1988), "Virtual Communities, Whole Earth Review:

  • “The network of communications that constitutes a virtual community can include the exchange of information as a kind of commodity, and the economic implications of this phenomenon are significant; the ultimate social potential of the network, however, lies not solely in its utility as an information market , but in the individual and group relationships that can happen over time.”


  • Peter Deutsch et al. (McGill University in Montreal) created Archie, an index machine for public ftp sites. Something like the grandfather of Google. This service allowed people to find software and texts.


  • The University of Minnesota developer gopher named after a mascot but also means "go fer". Gopher was a user-friendly server that allowed administrators to build menus to access local or remote files and services (e.g. phone directories, library interfaces). Gopher became quite popular: Within a few years there were thousands of servers (TECFA had one too) but after a few years it couldn't stand up to the World-Wide Web.
  • Like Archie for FTP archives, Veronica (Very Easy Rodent-Oriented Netwide Index to Computerized Archives) made an index of the world's gopher menus.


MOOs, a MUD variant that allows users to perform object oriented programming within the server, i.e. having the users participate in ultimately expanding and changing how the server behaves to everyone. MOOs became somewhat popular in the early nineties in education.


Tim Berners-Lee et al. consolidated the World Wide Web with its two main components: HTTP and HTML.

“Pick up your pen, mouse or favorite pointing device and press it on a reference in this document - perhaps to the author s name, or organization, or some related work. Suppose you are directly presented with the background material - other papers, the author s coordinates, the organization s address and its entire telephone directory. Suppose each of these documents has the same property of being linked to other original documents all over the world. You would have at your fingertips all you need to know about electronic publishing, high-energy physics or for that matter Asian culture. [....] (Tim Berners-Lee, et al (1992-94) World-Wide Web: The Information Universe)”

Q: What did you have in mind when you first developed the Web? (TBL FAQ) R: The dream behind the Web is of a common information space in which we communicate by sharing information. Its universality is essential: the fact that a hypertext link can point to anything, be it personal, local or global, be it draft or highly polished. There was a second part of the dream, too, dependent on the Web being so generally used that it became a realistic mirror (or in fact the primary embodiment) of the ways in which we work and play and socialize . That was that once the state of our interactions was on line, we could then use computers to help us analyze it, make sense of what we are doing, where we individually fit in, and how we can better work together.

W3 is a "distributed heterogeneous collaborative multimedia information system (WorldWide Web Seminar, 1993). Daniel K. Schneider was there getting information from the source. So this is an advertisement. At TECA we [teach] Internet technologies in education and use the WWW in our own teaching since 1993 :)


  • The first graphical multi-platform browsers appeared, in particular Mosaic (whose main developer later founded Netscape)
  • Educators perceive the Web as a chance to renew pedagogies. Computer-mediated communication becomes the buzzword. But there also are first interactive contents (based on CGI/server-side computing).



  • Internet goes commercial. Also, Microsoft enters the game.
  • At the third WWW conference, Peter Brusilovsky presented Intelligent Tutoring Systems for World-Wide Web, i.e. at the time when such systems were going out of favor. 10 years later the topic is back.
  • Internet/WWW technologies diversify: Search engines (e.g. Alta Vista), client-side scripting (e.g. JavaScript), streaming formats like RealAudio, VRML.
  • In education technology CMC becomes established, E.g. in 1994 Starr Roxanne Hiltz published The Virtual Classroom: Learning Without Limits Via Computer Networks, Norwood NJ, Ablex.


Ultima Online, was the first popular MMORPG in the western hemisphere


XML is born, a basis for standardization of Internet representation and communication formats.



  • 500 million computers connected to the Internet
  • According to Vint Cerf's FAQ, “The protocols of the Internet started with TCP/IP but there are now hundreds of them, layered one on top of the other, providing an enormous range of capabilities. The most significant additions since TCP/IP were the Border Gateway Protocol (BGP), the Domain Name System (DNS) protocols, multicasting, real time protocol (RTP and RTCP), in addition, of course to the email protocols ( such as POP3, IMAP and SMTP), remote login protocols (TELNET), file transfer protocol (FTP) and the World Wide Web protocols (notably HTTP, SSL, HTML, XML and so on). The ability to carry compressed voice and video is a major step forward. As will be the new "quality of service" protocols such as Multi-protocol Label Switching (MPLS) that will allow packets of information to be given different priorities so that the urgent o nes can be delivered more quickly. Telephony is moving ahead with Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) and many methods for digitizing and packeting voice [....]”

“I think many, many more devices will be on the Internet - many of them household appliances, automobiles and personal digital assistants like the Palm Pilot and cell phones, pager, email agent and web browser. There will be new laws for doing business on the Internet, for moving funds and carrying out securities transactions. People will telecommute using the Internet and they will deliver information products and services through it. A lot of entertainment will be Internet-based including Internet-enabled group video games. Internet will be in our cars, planes, trains and in personal devices (like cell phones, pagers and personal digital assistants).”

Note: Vint's FAQ was retrieved on 18:02, 29 March 2007 (MEST), but the quoted answers were probably a few years older.


  • Smartphones and tablets show a very strong growth rate. By 2014, there are more such devices than PCs,....


General Internet History Indexes

General Internet History

  • Living Internet. In-depth reference about the Internet, prepared to provide livingperspective to this most technological of human inventions.


  • Engelbart, Douglas C. Augmenting Human Intellect : A Conceptual Framework in Friedewald, Michael (Edit.). Menlo Park (Ca) : Stanford Research Institute, 1962. 134 p. HTML Reprint
  • Morningstar, Chip and F. Randall Farmer (1991) in Michael Benedikt (ed.), 1991, Cyberspace: First Steps, MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass. HTML (this can is also reproduced in other places)
  • Kent, Steven L. (2003) Alternate Reality, The history of massively multiplayer online games.,, HTML
  • Licklider, J.C.R. (1960). Man-Computer Symbiosis, IRE Transactions on Human Factors in Electronics, volume HFE-1, pages 4-11, March 1960. (Reprinted in In Memoriam: J.C.R Licklider 1915-1990, Digital, August 7, 1990 PDF Reprint)
  • Licklider, J.C.R. & Robert W. Taylor (1968). The Computer as a Communication Device, Science and Technology, April 1968. (Reprinted in In Memoriam: J.C.R Licklider 1915-1990, Digital, August 7, 1990 PDF Reprint)
  • Howard Rheingold (2000) Tools for Thought, The History and Future of Mind-Expanding Technology (revised edition), MIT Press, ISBN 0-262-68115-3 Online version in HTML (the first version was written in the early 80's).