History of the Internet and the Digital Future

From P2P Foundation
Jump to navigation Jump to search

* Book: A History of the Internet and the Digital Future. by Johnny Ryan. Reaktion Press, 2010 URL = http://johnnyryan.wordpress.com/


Cover of A history of the Internet and the digital future

A great adjustment in human affairs is underway. The pattern of political, commercial, and cultural life is changing. This story is about the death of the center and the development of commercial and political life in a networked system. It is also the story about the coming power of the networked individual as the new vital unit of effective participation and creativity. Driving this move from the center is the Internet.

This is the first book to describe the entire history of the Internet, from the Cold War to the cloud. It reveals the trends that are shaping the businesses, politics, and media of the digital future, and analyzes the impact of the internet on the balance of power between the state and the individual, and on issues of censorship and freedom of expression.

"A history of the Internet and the digital future is the first book to describe the entire history of the Internet, from the Cold War to the cloud. Reveals the trends that are shaping the businesses, politics, and media of the digital future. Also analyses the impact of the internet on the balance of power between the state and the individual, and on issues of censorship and freedom of expression."

"Both an enormously useful work and great read. Read it and understand what has made the Internet different." –Professor Tim Wu, Columbia Law School

"Johnny Ryan takes us through the history of the Internet to demonstrate how it has changed everything. But that’s not all; he also identifies what’s to come in the future. We are in a new era of transformation that has been powered by the Internet. Understanding the trends driving this revolution is pivotal to success. Consider this book your road map to getting there." –Marc Benioff, Chairman and CEO of salesforce.com

"Johnny Ryan has admirably captured the sweep of the Internet’s development from its earliest days, showing us how its profound impact is in part an accident of history, a phenomenon whose most interesting and liberating aspects could fade without reinforcement of its core values." –Professor Jonathan Zittrain, Harvard Law School

"Absolutely fascinating … If I had to pick one book about the Internet, this would be it!" –Rebecca Johnson, Amazon top 10 reviewer

Author information

Johnny Ryan is a Senior Researcher at the Institute of International & European Affairs in Dublin, where he leads the Digital Future Programme. He has spoken at Google, the UN, the OSCE, and the European Commission, on digital issues. He submitted his PhD thesis at the University of Cambridge in December 2010. From 2009-2010 he was principal investigator on the IIEA's study on regulation of online content for the European Commission. He was the author in 2008 of a strategic report to government entitled The Next Leap, which was launched by the Irish deputy Prime Minister and set out a strategy for Ireland’s digital sector to capitalise on the digital media boom. In 2007 his book Countering militant Islamist radicalisation on the Internet became the most cited source in the European Commission’s impact assessment that decided against proceeding with an EU-wide Internet censorship system. He has written in BusinessWeek, NATO Review, and The Irish Times, and blogs such as OpenDemocracy. He is an Irish citizen and lives in Dublin.


Chapter: Introduction

The Internet, like many readers of this book, is a child of the industrial age. Long before the arrival of digital communications, the steam engine, telegraph pole and coalmine quickened the pace of the world. Industrialized commerce, communications and war spun the globe ever faster and increasingly to a centripetal beat. Control in the industrialized world was put at the centre. The furthest reaches of the globe came under the sway of centres of power: massive urbanization and a flight from the land created monstrous cities in the great nations; maritime empires brought vast swathes of the globe under the sway of imperial capitals. The training of workmen, the precise measurement of a pistol barrel’s calibre, the mass assembly of automobiles, all were regimented, standardized in conformity with the centripetal imperative. The industrial revolution created a world of centralization and organized hierarchy. Its defining pattern was a single, central dot to which all strands led. But the emerging digital age is different.

A great adjustment in human affairs is under way. The pattern of political, commercial and cultural life is changing. The defining pattern of the emerging digital age is the absence of the central dot. In its place a mesh of many points is evolving, each linked by webs and networks. This story is about the death of the centre and the development of commercial and political life in a networked system. It is also the story about the coming power of the networked individual as the new vital unit of effective participation and creativity.

At the centre of this change is the Internet, a technology so unusual and so profoundly unlikely to have been created that its existence would be a constant marvel were it not a fact of daily life. No treatise or arch plan steered its development from beginning to end. Nor did its success come from serendipity alone, but from the peculiar ethic that emerged among engineers and early computer lovers in the 1960s and ’70s, and through the initiative of empowered users and networked communities. The combination of these elements has put power in the hands of the individual, power to challenge even the state, to compete for markets across the globe, to demand and create new types of media, to subvert a society – or to elect a president.

We have arrived at the point when the Internet has existed for a sufficiently long time for a historical study to reveal key characteristics that will have an impact on business, politics and society in the coming decades. Like all good histories, this book offers insight into the future by understanding the past. The first section of this book (Chapters 1–4) examines the concepts and context from which the Internet emerged. The second section (Chapters 5–9) traces how the technology and culture of networking matured, freeing communities for the first time in human history from the tyranny of geography in the process. This section also describes the emergence of the Web and the folly of the dot-com boom and bust. The final section (Chapters 10–13) shows how the defining characteristics of the Internet are now transforming culture, commerce and politics.

Three characteristics have asserted themselves throughout the Internet’s history, and will define the digital age to which we must all adjust: the Internet is a centrifugal force, user-driven and open. Understanding what these characteristics mean and how they emerged is the key to making the great adjustment to the new global commons, a political and media system in flux and the future of competitive creativity.

Source: excerpted from the introduction to A history of the Internet and the digital future, Reaktion Books, 2010, pp 7 - 8. http://www.thehistoryoftheinternet.net

Chapter 3: The Essence of the Internet

"The Internet is a loose arrangement of connected but autonomous networks of devices. Each device, a "host" in networking jargon, uses a "protocol" to communicate with other devices on the network. These protocols tie together diverse networks and govern communication between all computers on the Internet. Not only are the protocols elemental to the Internet and how it works, but the unique collaboration between their designers was the formative event of Internet culture. In as much as any single element of the whole can be, these protocols are the essence of the Internet. The remarkable manner in which a team of young collaborators developed these protocols set the tone for the future development of Internet culture. As their work on the protocols proceeded they began to establish the informal conventions that would characterize the tone of collaboration and discussion on the Internet thereafter. The process began in a bathroom, late on the night of April 7, 1969.

As BBN started building the IMPs for the ARPANET in 1969, an important piece of the network was missing: the software that would govern how computers would communicate. Graduate students at various facilities funded by the US Department of Defense Advance Research Projects Agency (ARPA) had been given the task in 1969 of developing the missing communication protocols. They formed an informal "network working group." Finding themselves working in a vacuum, the students connected to ARPANET, who had been given the task in 1969 of developing the technical protocols, also began to establish the informal protocols that would influence interpersonal communications on the Internet in general.

Uncertain of their positions within the hierarchy of the ARPANET project, the students issued notes on their protocols under the title "Request for Comments" (RFC). Steve Crocker, a graduate student who had received his bachelor's degree at UCLA only a year before, used the title Request for Comments to make the invitation to participate as open as possible, and to minimize any claim to authority that working on so crucial an aspect of the network as its protocols might imply. The first RFC document, which set the tone for the next half century of Internet culture and initiated the process to define the protocols that govern virtually all data exchange on the planet, was composed in humble circumstances. Its author recalls: "I had to work in a bathroom so as not to disturb the friends I was staying with, who were all asleep." The tone in which the RFCs were typed was distinctive.

Crocker was the de facto leader of the small group of six. He and two others of the group had been at the same high school in Los Angeles, Van Nuys High, and were graduate students of Leonard Kleinrock. (Kleinrock was under contract with ARPA to run the network measurement center at UCLA.) Crocker was writing a document that outlined some broad ideas on how the students would pass around ideas through "temporary, informal memos." Even as he drafted the document, the prospect of disapproval from far above in the academic hierarchy weighed heavily upon him:

- In my mind, I was inciting the wrath of some prestigious professor at some phantom East Coast establishment. I was actually losing sleep over the whole thing.

Crocker was eager to open up the process to as many of his peers as possible:

- Closely related to keeping the technical design open was keeping the social process around the design open as well. Anyone was welcome to join the party.

Vint Cerf, an early participant in the informal networking group (and now vice president of Google), sums up the approach and context:

- Keep in mind that the original developers of the host level protocols were mostly graduate students. We adopted a humble and inclusive posture and a mantra that Dave Clark ultimately coined as "rough consensus and running code"—that means we don't really vote exactly, we just try to assess rough consensus among the group trying to agree on proposed standards.

RFC 3, released in April 1969, elaborated on the character and objectives of the RFCs (note that the word "Host" here refers to a connected computer):

- These standards (or lack of them) are stated explicitly for two reasons. First, there is a tendency to view a written statement as ipso facto authoritative, and we hope to promote the exchange and discussion of considerably less than authoritative ideas. Second, there is a natural hesitancy to publish something unpolished, and we hope to ease this inhibition.

RFC 3 continues in the counter-hierarchical vein, establishing the principle that no text should be considered authoritative and that there is no final edit. This is a pivotal element of the "perpetual beta" described in the next chapter. Also implicit was that authority was to be derived from merit rather than fixed hierarchy. A later elaboration of this principle was:

   We reject kings, presidents and voting.
   We believe in rough consensus and running code.

Crocker's RFC, though penned in humble circumstances, set the open, inviting tone of the next half century of Internet culture and initiated the process to define the protocols that govern virtually all data exchange on the planet. Since Crocker's RFC there have been almost six thousand RFCs published, which maintain an open, collaborative approach in Internet-engineering circles. The meritocracy of the RFCs was exemplified by a generation of delinquent programmers at MIT from the late 1950s to the late 1960s, who in turn created the "hacker" culture that influenced much of what was to follow. The first fruit of the graduate students' labour was the NCP, the Network Control Protocols, which governed communications between machines on the Internet. The NCP, however, was merely the first protocol that allowed communications on the ARPANET. An "internetworking" protocol that could tie different machines and networks together was yet to come." (http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/news/2011/03/the-essence-of-the-net.ars)

Chapter 11: New Audiences, the Fourth Wall and Extruded Media

Disruptive distribution

Since Edison’s first recording of ‘Mary had a little lamb’ on a tinfoil cylinder phonograph in 1877, the recording industry has undergone successive crises of technical transition: first from cylinder to disc, then from acoustic to electric recording, to magnetic tape, to cassette, to 5-inch compact disc in 1982, and to mp3 in 1992. The expansion of Internet access among pc users from the mid-1990s may have produced the most seismic shifts yet.

In 1996 the song ‘Until it sleeps’ by Metallica became the first track to be illegally copied from CD and made available on the Internet as a compressed mp3 file. A pirate nicknamed ‘NetFrack’ was responsible.1 He announced the mp3 revolution in music piracy to Affinity, an underground electronic magazine:

I’ve thought of the idea of somehow pirating, music . . . The problem in the past . . . was [hard disk] space . . . We eliminated the size constraints. We use a new format to compress our music. The mp3 format.2 

MP3 music compression, NetFrack announced, could turn a 50mb copy of song from a CV into a 3 or 4mb file, and turn hours per download into minutes. By 2008, according to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, 95 per cent of all music downloaded on the Internet would be illegal.3 Before sound compression was invented, sound waves generated by human speech were generally relayed along telephone cable as analogue waves and degraded in quality the further they travelled. Recorded sound could be digitized using pulse-code modulation (PCM), which records a digital copy of the analogue signal by taking samples of it at regular intervals that can then be reproduced indefinitely and perfectly. However, the problem was that digitization requires the transfer of so much data that standard telephone lines could not carry it. In the 1970s a researcher at Erlangen–Nuremberg University in Germany named Dieter Seitzer had begun researching the problem of relaying digitized speech across standard phone lines. Yet even as he and his students worked a new generation of ISDN lines and fibre-optic cabling was introduced that was sufficient to carry digitized speech. Seitzer turned his attention to the transmission of high-quality music, which remained beyond the new system’s capacity to transmit.

One of his students, Karlheinz Brandenburg, approached the problem using psychoacoustics, the same discipline that had first introduced Licklider and BBN to computer networking. Modern microphones are capable of picking up a range of frequencies far beyond the human ear’s threshold of audibility. Humans hear sound between 20 Hz and 20,000 Hz and are incapable of deciphering sounds masked by other sounds occurring at the same time, or, depending on the sound, immediately after.4 Brandenburg realized surplus sound beyond the threshold of audibility could be excluded from recordings to produce high-quality recording using less data. In 1987 Eureka, an intergovernmental European research fund, supported further development of digital sound encoding at Erlangen–Nuremberg University, now partnered and lead by the Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits. In 1989 Brandenburg submitted his PhD thesis on ‘optimum coding in the frequency (OCF) domain’, which contributed to an encoding system that could allow the transmission of music in real time at reasonable quality over telephone lines. The Moving Picture Experts Group (mpeg), a part of the International Standards Organization (ISO), adopted a refined version of the OSF system under the none-too-catchy name ‘ISO mpeg Layer 3’ in December 1991. MPEG 3 was initially used to relay sound footage between TV and radio facilities. By 1995, however, PCs were becoming fast enough to decode mpeg 3 files. An internal staff poll at Fraunhofer decided on a new type of file for the pc that would use mpeg 3. They called it ‘mp3’.5 To demonstrate mp3 to pc users, Fraunhofer released a demonstration program called ‘WinPlay3’ which, as a sign of things to come, was promptly illegally copied by a student in Australia.6 The doors to Internet music piracy were cast open. Within two years the combination of more powerful PCs, free mp3 software and faster Internet speeds made music piracy a widespread phenomenon. By May 1997 a USA Today headline announced that ‘sound advances open doors to bootleggers’.7 In March 1998 a Korean firm released the first portable mp3 player, the ‘MPMan F10’, which had a capacity of 32mb, sufficient for only eight or nine tracks. Then in September 1998 Diamond Multimedia released the first popular mp3 device, ‘The Rio’. Diamond sweetened the deal for consumers by working with a new website called mp3.com which agreed to provide music to Rio owners. Immediately, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) launched an injunction against the manufacture of the Rio on the grounds that the device violated the US Home Recordings Act. After extensive legal action it was determined at the us Court of Appeals in 1999 that the Rio was legal.8 Now mp3 would become a consumer format.

As the RIAA v Diamond case was drawing to a close an undergraduate at Northeastern University named Shawn Fanning was busy developing software to simplify the process of acquiring illegal mp3s. Fanning, whose online nickname ‘Napster’ later became famous, was perfecting a new type of ‘peer-to-peer’ (p2p) software.9 It was also called Napster, and it allowed Internet users to find and copy music easily. Napster was a decentralized system by which Napster users could search and download from each other’s collections. Not only would Napster allow one to find music far more easily than illegal music sites that were constantly being shut down, it also included discussion tools to let users participate in online communities based on shared music tastes.10 Napster quickly gained popularity on us university campuses where high-speed connections fuelled an explosion in music piracy. By the end of 1999 the RIAA had sued Napster and on 13 April 2000 the band Metallica, whose track had been the first ever mp3 pirated by NetFrack in 1996, also sued Napster, along with several universities whose networks had been used for downloading. In February 2001 the Napster service was forced to shut down after a year of legal battles. By this time the genie was out of the bottle.

MP3 was proliferating across the Internet and former Napster users had a choice of new services to choose from. In October 2001, the year Napster was shut down, Apple computer launched its first ‘iPod’ mp3 player. The 5gb iPod had well over a thousand times the capacity of the first mp3 player three years before, allowing listeners to carry ‘1,000 songs in your pocket’.11 Former users of Napster drifted off to a range of successor services. Many adopted a new technology called ‘BitTorrent’, a refined peer-to-peer system used among the Linux community from 2001 to transfer large programs.12 By simultaneously downloading different parts of the file from many users, BitTorrent dramatically sped up the rate of transfer while lowering the load on individual users’ connections. Like the segmented data packets invented by Paul Baran and Donald Davies at the dawn of digital networking in the 1960s, the BitTorrent method of segmenting large downloads into chunks from different users was very efficient. The more popular a given file became the more people could ‘seed’ parts of it and the faster it could be downloaded by a ‘leecher’.

As more Internet users began to connect using ‘broadband’ speeds, television programmes and popular films became standard fodder for pirates using BitTorrent. Now not only the music industry but film and TV were grievously threatened by the Internet. NetFrack, who had hailed the advent of 4MB music file in 1996, could now pirate an entire movie, a thousand times larger, less than a decade later. The film and music industry watched aghast as entire movies began to circulate around the Internet in advance of their commercial release.

<Chapter continues in A history of the Internet and the digital future>

Source: excerpted from the introduction to A history of the Internet and the digital future, Reaktion Books, 2010, pp 151 - 154 www.thehistoryoftheinternet.net