Monday, September 11, 2006

An early example of the power of the internet (salute to Jon Postel)

Rewind back to 1984. The Mac had just been introduced (it was a beige cube the size of those blocks of ice people carried with tongs). Van Halen was topping the charts. The World Wide Web was a decade away.

I have just started my first job out of college, working for GTE Labs (Sylvan Road, Waltham, Massachusetts), in their IT group. I am helping develop a local networking strategy for the labs. (Never mind that I don't have the first bit of practical knowledge.)

And there is this new networking protocol called TCP/IP that people are starting to talk about. "John," says my boss, "take a look into this TCP/IP thing and see if it's something we should be working with."

Where to start? There is nothing in the company library, the public library or the bookstore (even special-order--remember, no for another twelve years).

Flummoxed, I go back to my boss. He says, "Why don't you try posting a message on CSNet?"

I stare at him blankly.

"It's a network of colleges and labs. Try putting a post on this electronic bulletin board and see what happens."

So I do. My post, more or less: "I am interested in learning more about TCP/IP. Can anyone help me find some resources on this subject?"

Within a week, a large shipping box appears at my cubicle. Inside are the complete TCP/IP specifications, including, IP, UDP, TCP, FTP, Telnet and SMTP. With a note: "Read these in good health. Best regards, Jon Postel, Information Sciences Institute, University of Southern California."

"Who is this person?" I think to myself. Then I read the specs. For several of them, he is the author or co-author. Oh. And I am a kid barely out of college who can't even spell TCP/IP.

This is the internet in a microcosm. Every cool thing that's happened in the internet since is in some way related to this event (think MySpace - Ebay - chat - email - blogs - wikis - etc.). Person A is interested in something. Person B is too. They connect as peers. Information flows from Person A to Person B (sometimes in reverse, too). And ignorance dissipates a little.

Thanks again, Mr. Postel.

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