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Teh interwebs turn 30 and there’s no going back

Emi Kobayashi. This is what the internet was made forWikipedia lists January 1, 1983 as the birthdate of English footballer Calum Davenport, English actor Thomas Morrison, Japanese glamour model Emi Kobayashi, and South Korean Olympic archer, Park Sung-Hyun.

Of these four, we all know the internet was made for the likes of Ms Kobayashi (pictured right).

On this momentous date, I was 10, and had literally no idea that it was also the day the modern internet went live, when it adopted the TCP/IP rules that still underlie connections worldwide.

With TCP/IP, individual networks like Arpanet, NASA’s Ames Research Facility, and Harvard University were able to easily connect to each other. The internet was made up of US government and academic networks, with a few pioneering European sites including University College, London.

Arpanet, the US military network, had been using TCP/IP since 1980, but other networks had their own rules – or protocols in geekigook – that made it hard to talk to each other.

TCP/IP, or Transport Control Protocol/Internet Protocol, was created by networking granddaddies Vint Cerf and Robert Kahn. Cerf is now famously the vice president and chief internet evangelist at Google.

With common rules in place, Arpanet went from 400 nodes 30 years ago to about 28,000 in 1986, when with a vital tweak in 1986 by Van Jacobson was introduced let it scale to the size it is today.

The internet birthed the first online communities in places like Usenet, and introduced email, although it took a Brit and other Europeans at CERN to create the modern online world of websites, blogs, social networks and online business.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee and colleagues created HTML – Hypertext Markup Language – which lets users connect information in a World Wide Web that’s all accessible and pointy-clicky.

Free for all

As with TCP/IP, Berners-Lee shared HTML freely and they both became rapidly established as standards for others to build on, and improvements to both have been rolled out freely. The freedom of the internet and Web are guaranteed by the openness of its standards.

That attitude hasn’t necessarily been shared by those who live off it: the web is now defined by Google’s search algorithm, over which the “Do No Evil” corporation maintains an obsessive secrecy – ask anyone who’s ever been unexpectedly blacklisted.

Some have taken the freedom of the internet from philosophy to economics, arguing that anything we can share online can have no economic value, so content piracy is inevitable as well as acceptable.

That hasn’t stopped the internet industry and online business being worth a trillion Pounds today, and being expected to more than double by 2020.

Governments and businesses such as Google and Facebook also increasingly want our personal information to be a freely-available commodity they can farm for their own gain, and this will be a battleground for the next decade.

Internet Splat Map by jurvetson/Flickr

Everywhere we go, the net will follow

We’ll also see TCP/IP and its offspring extend into every home appliance, from fridges to lightbulbs, as we become able to monitor and control them from our phones, and they talk to each other to do more and more automatically. The connectivity map above will look much the same, but much, much larger.

It’s hard to accept that some of these ‘if’ moments are really ‘whens’: your fridge will talk to your chosen supermarket chain; your aircon, heating, and locks will adjust themselves automatically to your presence; and your car will become a more boring, much safer self-driving transport.

Cerf's Up by Joi/FlickrNASA and Cerf have been working for several years on a space-based internet that will allow its growing fleet of probes to become a network that passes information to home, instead of competing for direct links to home.

That’s just a starting point too: if Richard Branson and others get space tourism off the ground, travellers in orbit or on the Moon will not want ‘getting away from it all’ to include being unable to post their holiday snaps on Facebook.

The internet: it’s everywhere, and it’s there to stay. 

Images: Internet Splat Map by jurvetson/Flickr. Cerf’s Up by Joi/Flickr


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