Would There be the World Wide Web without Baby Boomers?

Birthplace of the Mosaic Browser

What, exactly, is the internet? Basically it is a global network exchanging digitized data in such a way that any computer, anywhere, that is equipped with a device called a ‘modem’, can make a noise like a duck choking on a kazoo”  —-Dave Barry

I wanted to write a little bit about the history of the Internet, and what better way to start by displaying a quote from one of the funniest baby boomers ever, Dave Barry. OK, today most of us don’t use those squawking modems anymore, but we can remember the early days of the World Wide Web and the squawking modems that came with it. But do you know the people and some of the technology (not the real complex theories) behind the Internet or the World Wide Web?

Well as a matter of coincidence, as I decided to write this post, I came across a couple of articles that spoke about the 20th anniversary of the World Wide Web. That’s right, this past week the Web turned 20. It seems as if it has been around forever. Back in the early 90’s many of us boomers would have been in our 30’s and of course it was some of those 30-year old boomers that were behind the advent of the Web. More on that later in this post (with links to the very interesting articles). But what is interesting is that long before there was the World Wide Web, there was the Internet (only no one knew about it).

The Early Days

The Internet, basically a bunch of computers networked together using specific protocols, got started in the 1960’s. A protocol? you ask. Well, I don’t want to get into a lot of science, but a protocol is basically a system of rules that define how something is to be done. In computer terminology, a protocol is usually an agreed-upon or standardized method for transmitting data and/or establishing communications between different devices. In plain English, a protocol is a common language shared between two computers so they can communicate with each other.

Once it became possible for computers in remote locations, many different networks were established. One of the earliest was called ARPANET. It was created at UCLA and Stanford University, where the computer systems in the two schools became connected. By the end of the 1960’s this network became widespread, connecting many universities  in the United States and also included a small number of European universities. Although European universities were developing their own networks, such as x.25. The x.25 is a dial-up system that became widespread on both sides of the Atlantic because it was available for business use. The British Post Office and Western Union started using this system to move data. Some of the earliest dial-up Internet providers, Prodigy, CompuServe, and America Online (remember them?) used this system.

Early Ways to Move the Data

One of the later networks used on the Internet was called Usenet, which was developed by two baby boomers, Tom Truscott and Jim Ellis. This system was developed in the early 1980’s. Truscott and Ellis were students at Duke University. They invented a way to use scripts to scripts to transfer news and messages over a UNIX connection (called UUCP) to the nearby University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. This became the Usenet protocol. Later gateways and links were created between  Fidonet and many bulletin board systems. The low cost of this system and the ability to use x.25 dial up systems and leased lines allowed Usenet (or UUCPnet) to grow very fast. I remember the early Internet days, where the Internet existed mainly of bulletin boards, also know as BBS.

Vincent Cerf was born just a few years before the baby boom officially began, so we’ll call him an honorary baby boomer. His work with Robert Kahn in the 1970’s led to the TCP/IP protocol still used today. This protocol uses a computer called a router to send packets of information to other computers in various computer networks. What Cerf created was an internetwork protocol. This lets different computer networks, each with their own network protocols, to communicate with each other.

This allowed for a true Internet because now many different independent computer networks could be tied together. The nearly final form of the TCP/IP protocol took shape in 1978, and the term Internet first became used in 1974 as an abbreviation for Internet protocol. Because this protocol did not need to be compatible with any other network protocol, any type of infrastructure, such as x.25 dial ups, could be used to carry the internet traffic. The groundwork was set. By the end of the 1970’s there was a true workable international Internet. However, the technical means of using it and its text-based structure did not make it truly accessible to most people. That was soon to change.

The Birth of the World Wide Web

CERN, the European Center for Nuclear Research is considered to be the birthplace of the World Wide Web. CERN was a leader in technology and began to use the TCP/IP protocol to connect its various computer networks. In 1980, a British Scientist and baby boomer name Tim Berners Lee while working  at CERN developed a way to connect his lists of contacts with hypertext. By 1990, Lee had created the HTTP protocol, HTML, the first Web browser (so that HTML could be read), and the first Web server.

Wired blog’s Geek Dad points out that Berner’s Lee published the first Web page on August 6, 1991 (20 years ago). Its address was Info.cern.ch. The original site does not exist anymore, but see the article I linked to for more information. By 1994, Berners Lee helped to create the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), which creates the standards for programming on the Web. Berners Lee still heads the organization today.

Together with fellow baby boomer Robert Cailliau, Berners Lee sought funding for his project. But they found no takers at CERN. However, Paul Kuntz of the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center was impressed and brought the technology back to California. The technology was used there as a way to display the SLAC’s catalog of online documents.But there would need to be another breakthrough to make the World Wide Web go global.

Web Browsers and Early Adopters

It took the post baby boom generation to get the World Wide Web off the ground. Marc Andreeson led a team at the National Center for Superconducting Applications (NCSA) at the University of Illinois Champlain Urbana to create the first Web browser called Mosaic. Later the Mosaic browser was adapted for commercial use by the Netscape browser. Today most modern Web browsers are still based on the original Mosaic browser.

But the story of the Web browser may not have happened without a baby boomer in the picture. The funding for the Mosaic project came from a congressional act called the High Performance Computing and Communication Act of 1991 (HPCA). This act is also known as the Gore act because it was sponsored and encouraged by then Senator, future vice president and baby boomer Al Gore. This act let to the creation of the National Information Infrastructure (NII), which Gore referred to as the “information superhighway.” From that point forward the Internet and the World Wide Web took off. By the end of  the 1990’s, we all knew about the Internet and most of us had used it at least a little.

So there you have it. Although the Web seems to be ruled by the post baby boom generations, if weren’t for baby boomers it may not even be here.

Now tell me what you think. I still want to write posts that help you use the Internet, or the World Wide Web as we learned here. But I also thought it would be interesting to talk about the history and the early days, so I created a special category for this. If  you like this, tell me. If you hate it or were bored to death reading this,  also tell me. Use comments, Twitter, or drop me a message on the Contact page.

Most information from this post is from Wikipedia.

Photo by Marc Smith on Flickr


One Response to Would There be the World Wide Web without Baby Boomers?
  1. […] write about Steve Jobs? Well this blog is a blog for baby boomers, and as I pointed out in my post Would There be a World Wide Web without Baby Boomers, Steve Jobs was one of us, a baby boomer, without whom many of us would never have gotten into […]

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Hi, My name is David Goldman and this blog is not about the World Wide Web. It will talk about that, but mostly this blog will talk about how today's technology has changed the way we go about our everyday lives. Technology, especially the World Wide Web, has changed the way we live our everyday lives. I want to empower you with the knowledge of today's technology to compete with vigor in today's world. You can click the link below to find out some more about me and this blog.

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