Tuesday, September 21, 2004

The Internet Goes Commercial

It's been so interesting talking to Len Kleinrock, as I prepare to interview him for Memory Lane, about the beginnings (circa 1962) of ARPANET, the precursor to the Internet, built by a bunch of guys (including Len) and DARPA money way back when.

One thing that keeps knocking me out is remembering the days in the early 1990's when that crew of folks (mostly academics and seriously heavy engineer, telecom and geek types) handed over their Net to the whole wide world, and especially when it went "commercial" and all the screaming, yelling, forecasting of doom and gloom that many people stirred up at that time.

If you were around then, do you REMEMBER what the web looked like then? Think back. Do you recall what it looked like before advertising, spam, banner ads, all of it?

Here's some stuff from the Wikipedia:

The interest in commercial use of the Internet became a hotly-debated topic. Although commercial use was forbidden, the exact definition of commercial use could be unclear and subjective. Everyone agreed that one company sending an invoice to another company was clearly commercial use, but anything less was up for debate. The alternate networks, like UUCP, had no such restrictions, so many people were skirting grey areas in the interconnection of the various networks.

Many university users were outraged at the idea of non-educational use of their networks. Ironically it was the commercial Internet service providers who brought prices low enough that junior colleges and other schools could afford to participate in the new arenas of education and research.

By 1994, the NSFNet lost its standing as the backbone of the Internet. Other competing commercial providers created their own backbones and interconnections. Regional NAPs (network access points) became the primary interconnections between the many networks. The NSFNet was dropped as the main backbone, and commercial restrictions were gone.

It seems like we haven't had a chance to slow down and catch our breath on the Net since those days. I don't think we had any idea what was about to happen at that time -- what ecommerce would, could, should encompass. The extension ".com" for ".commercial" to distinguish commercial enterprises from ".edu" or ".educational" organizations (and .org, .mil, .net) was just an idea then ... and we've come a long way riding that bucking bronco, haven't we?