Unplanned parenthood?

Network World, 03/29/99

The silliness of the reaction a few
weeks ago to Vice President Al
Gore's statement that he created the
Internet got me thinking - is there someone who should be credited
with creating the Internet?

My conclusion is that the vice president has more right than many to
claim to be part of the parental gene pool, but there are a few others
who share the ancestral rights.

There have been a number of key milestones along the path to what
we now call the Internet. For each of these milestones, there is one or
more person who could take credit - the Internet is a success that has
many parents.

I'd start with Paul Baran's work in the mid-1960s that led to the idea
of a datagram, router-based network rather than the switched-circuit
telephone-style alternative.

The next milestone was the 1968 Advanced Research Projects
Agency requests for proposal to create the ARPANet.

Clearly Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn deserve a place in the history books
for developing TCP/IP in the mid-1970s, as does Jon Postel for
bringing the whole messy pile together. These are the traditionally
cited milestones, but three somewhat obscure events were about as

In the early 1980s, DARPA (ARPA had been renamed by then)
funded the University of California, Berkeley to add TCP/IP to Unix
and make it available inexpensively. Now it's far less expensive to use
TCP/IP than to develop a proprietary network protocol.

Also in the early 1980s, a deal was struck permitting ARPANet sites
that were also Computer Science Network (CSNET) members to
open ARPANet access to their faculty, staff and students. Before this
deal, we at Harvard had to limit who could use the network.
Afterward, we started exposing generations of students to the
wonders of e-mail.

Finally, Dennis Jennings, who conceived of the National Science
Foundation Network (NSFNet), decided that the network would only
run TCP/IP, minimizing the chance of dueling protocols.

After these events, the major milestone was the development of the
World Wide Web, for which Tim Berners-Lee generally gets the
lion's share of the credit.

So where does Gore fit in? As a senator, he helped think of and
spearhead the effort that led to funding for the NSFNet and the High
Performance Computing and Communications Program. These
initiatives produced a proof of concept for large, fast data networks
without which we might still be waiting for the phone companies to
deliver ISDN.

None of these people knew what they were doing, in the sense that
none of them could have foreseen today's Internet. But without them,
the world's technological infrastructure would be far inferior today.

Disclaimer: Harvard never knows what it's doing when educating a
student and that's a wonderful thing, but the above are my milestones.