Tuesday, February 14, 2006

My short history of the Internet, part 1.

Okay, so I've been connected to the internet, one way or another, for the last 15 years. That in itself makes me such an expert in the field I should be invited on TV talk shows all the time. Or not.

In any case, here it is: my own abridged history of the Internet.

“There be the internet”: fiber optics do the dance inside a wiring closet.

First came email - not much more available in 1990, except for a few ftp servers. We had an account on Unix machines, with our personal disk space on the server: our home directory. Ah-ha. Big deal. Of course as students we didn't have much in the way of actual homes back then, so having a home directory was just great.

Along came the first chat systems: I was on one of those when the first gulf war broke out (and if this isn't history, I don't know what is). And there were the Usenet News, which were a sort of useful mean of communication at the time.

Then came the first online library catalogs, in text mode of course. Then came gopher, the first navigational system for accessing data repositories. And then, in 1993, came the World-wide web.

Why did the “web” become such a thing so fast? Well, first, it was technically simple, if not simplistic. Second, server software was made available for free - good old CERN httpd server, took a matter of minutes to set up on any Unix machine with TCP/IP connectivity. Once you had that running, it was a child game for any self-respecting geek to write html pages about, er, whatever - and, tah-dah! it was available worldwide. Third, graphical user interfaces were quicly available, making things just as simple on the client side.

Then a strange thing happened: the fit was so good that it took off - and people started to have their personal computers hooked up to the internet. Now, that was quite unexpected: most of the computers connected to the internet at that time were Unix machines, with a few VMS servers here and there; the idea any PC or Mac could be connected too came as a bit of a shock, and indeed neither Windows 3.1 nor Apple System 7 had native IP capabilities.

Anyway, there was this new medium, and not much to fill it yet - naturally, all of us CompSci students had to jump on board... We had our home directory; now we had to have our home pages. Conveniently enough, the home pages were located in a subdirectory of our home directories. Now we could say anything we wanted to the world. Provided of course we had something to say.

The way I remember it, I set up my first web pages in the autumn of 1993 to show pictures I took back from a trip to Greenland to friends of mine who had moved to the other end of France (Hi guys, by the way!) - pictures scanned in grey scale with a hand scanner, and don't ask me how I managed to transfer them onto the server. And the html pages themselves were written with a plain text editor, of course - I am still very uncomfortable using any kind of html editor. They're for sissies anyway. Ha.

O.K. folks, let's stop here for today. Next episode will be: From home pages to weblogs, very soon on a web browser near you.


Zanni said...

I was JUST talking to my best friend about how, in college, we tried to use this IM-ish thing that didn't really work very well for a couple of reasons:

1) Whatever it was we were using totally sucked.

2) We didn't really "get" the whole concept so we would write these longwinded letters while the other person, across the country, sat and waited in whatever dismal computer lab until she could write HER longwinded letter for the other one. Suffice it to say, there were no LOL's etc. I still don't know what most of those mean, but am learning quickly from my students.

Le Plume said...

Eh. Way back when, though, we used to chat with the Unix talk command - keystroke by keystroke transmission on two separate halves of the screen. Made it a bit difficult to end sentences, obviously. Or to keep at least the appearance of gramaticality.

(Hey, I like that phrase. I'll reuse whenever possible.)