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THE INTERNET AND INTERNATIONAL SCIENTIFIC COLLABORATION

developed network web development

Although the Internet and the World Wide Web have become synonymous with global retailing and ‘e-commerce’, both were originally developed in response to the needs of scientists to share scientific data and collaborate better. Throughout most of its nearly forty-year history, the Internet has not only been developed by computer scientists, but its evolution has been heavily shaped by collaboration on science projects.

The Internet has its origins in work on packet-switched networks at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in the US in the early 1960s, when the idea of connecting a number of remote computers together in a ‘network’ was first seriously considered. Contrary to a widespread myth, this research was never initiated by military requirements for robust communications networks that could withstand nuclear war, although later on it became necessary to ensure that the Internet was robust enough to continue functioning even when large portions of the underlying physical network had failed. In 1965, two computers in Massachusetts and California were connected via telephone line, making the first wide-area network (WAN) ever built. Two years later, after the realization that three separate research groups at MIT in Cambridge, MA, RAND in Santa Monica, CA, and the National Physical Laboratory in the UK were all working on similar ideas, a proposal was made to build ARPANET, a national (and later international) network connecting many academic institutions and research organizations. By the end of 1969 the first four sites were connected to the ARPANET, at UCLA, Stanford, UC Santa Barbara and the University of Utah, and what was eventually to become the Internet had been born. The first international nodes, NORSAR in Norway and University College, London, were added in 1973.

The Internet was more than just an extension of ARPANET however – the essential difference being that the Internet was conceived as a network made up of multiple different networks, which could be of different architectures and design. Thus the Internet could include radio and satellite networks, as well as different types of telephone-based networks. This required the development of better packet-switching technology, that could tolerate ‘lost’ packets, radio interference and noise, etc. In order to accomplish this, the Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) was developed by Bob Kahn at DARPA and Vince Cerf at Stanford University in the early 1970s. Around the same time, in 1972, electronic mail (email) was first developed, and quickly became the first ‘hot’ application for the new network, being extensively used to allow academic groups to communicate discoveries and discuss ideas. Throughout this period, it was the scientific community that was both developing the technology, and constituting its primary user, benefiting through being able to work together on projects (including the Internet development) regardless of geographical separation. As the number of computers connected to the Internet mushroomed during the late 1970s, it became necessary to find a way of maintaining the ‘address book’ of names of the networked computers. This resulted in the development of the Domain Name System (DNS) by Paul Mockapetris of the University of California, which is how your PC knows which computer on the network to connect to when you type ‘www.yahoo.com’, or any other website name. At the same time new and improved communications hardware in the form of ‘gateways’ and ‘routers’ were developed to handle the new network traffic, which was by then growing at an exponential rate.

By 1985, the Internet was well established as a technology supporting communication between the scientific and R&D communities, and was beginning to spread to other communities for daily communication. At this time, communication was already largely by email and the ability to access files on one computer from another was widely used, but the Internet lacked the graphical interfaces that we are familiar with today. The widespread use of the Internet by the non-academic community required the development of the World Wide Web (WWW) , first proposed in 1989 by the British computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee at CERN, Switzerland. Even so, the WWW was initially envisioned principally as a means of helping CERN’s large-scale physics projects organize their documentation, rather than as a way of commercializing access to the net. In the space of a few months in 1990, Berners-Lee and his colleague Robert Cailliau developed two of the main components of the web, namely the hypertext transfer protocol (HTTP) and hypertext mark-up language (HTML) . HTTP provides a means of accessing files, whilst HTML is a format for displaying and linking documents. Berners-Lee also developed the concept of the Universal Resource Locator (URL) , through which every document or ‘page’ on the web has a distinct and unique ‘address’.

The final technical innovation necessary for the popular success of the web was the development in 1993, by Marc Andreessen at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois, of Mosaic, the first widely used ‘ browser ’. A browser is a software program used for navigating the web easily and for viewing web pages including graphics; the subsequent development of the first commercial browser, Netscape, made Andreessen the first Internet billionaire.

Through the vastly improved ease of access to documents offered by the WWW technologies, not only has the Internet become standard communications technology for the world-wide scientific community, enabling international collaboration on research hitherto impossible, but also it has brought everyday benefits. Over 300 million people (in the year 2000) regularly used the Internet for communicating, finding information, and buying products and services. E-commerce in 2000 was worth well over $100 billion per year; a figure which is expected to grow ten-fold in the next few years, to reach 20% of global gross domestic product.

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