The Internet has its 30th Birthday, Hip Hip

Foto Internet 2013-03-13 om 19.04.02

The MOTOR of our Society = INTERCONNECTION, and one of its main components and facilitators for that, is the worldwide “Internet”, which is getting more important every day.

Internet World

Its birth is fixed by several sources around 1983 *), although its fathers and mothers are many, (like every success has). Those who established its preconditions can be traced back to the late 60’s: Paul Baran, Louis Pouzin, Donald W. Davies and Derek L.A. Barber, Leonard Kleinrock. They where designing and building the first computer-networks. Now 30 years later the “Network of Networks” has about 2.5 billion very active users. The following chart shows how many percent of the total of users each country has, against time.


The Internet has been and will be a spectacular success, and its growth is still viral ((exponential growth in numbers of nodes, addresses, traffic and teledensities of users; the sustained doubling time W [internet] = about 12 months, which figures since 2 to the power 30 = 2 billion, so next year it will be 4 billion)). Most of us can hardly imagine life, society and economy without Internet. Indeed many things would halt and even lives would be harmed. For instance when doctors can not be reached in time or when remote controlled heating systems fail.

Viral growth means that something attracts others to join and is catchy like a cold. The general public is hardly aware of this and most them are unaware what “the Internet” is and confuse it usually with “the WWWeb”, since that is what they see on their screen. This lack of public (and therefore political) knowledge is dangerous since now that internet penetrates so many aspect of our lives the very fabric of it is under attack from a number of sides who want to manage, change and control it with sometimes good long-time general-interest intentions, but still without enough ‘knowledge’ or clue what it is they are talking about. So here is my attempt to help start doing something about that knowledge gap.

1. What is The Internet? It is a worldwide network of interconnected autonomous networks for digital communication between computers that are used by people. Its name derives from INTER-net, a network between things. Any of those billions of computers can connect to any other computer, and ask for information on it if such access is allowed, similar to the public road infrastructure for cars, on which you can drive anywhere and can enter garages if allowed.

2. So what drives the interest to connect ever more computers to this huge infrastructure? This can best be explained by rephrasing this question as: “What problem did it solve?” for those interesting in sharing information on those computers and communicating between each other, at the start in the academic communities in the USA, France and the UK. That problem was twofold:

A. Firstly, if you want to interconnect two different”central computers”, the direct solution says you put a translator box between them. This is however complicated and it can only translate and transfer messages which have a shared meaning on both sides. In the case of French people talking to Japanese ones for instance only those concepts which belong ((junction of sets)) to both cultures can be translated. Much is ‘lost in translation’ or does not exist at the side of the sender. A second problem is that if more computer systems are added to the translator it becomes an obstacle in the sense of processing power. Such central translator does not perform well and does not scale up when more computer systems are connected.

B. The second problem is that when the network would have been built in a decentralized fashion with intermediary computers acting as switches, the transit traffic flowing through those computers would swamp all other computing activity on the then expensive university hosting computers.

A very elegant solution to both problems was defined and is still in force as an “architectural guideline”, which would stop further growth when not upheld: < construct a network fabric of interconnected routers and switches using the very simple (on purpose) internet protocols to transmit and route datapackets, without discriminating what is in them, between computers that are in principle connected to this fabric as outside peripherals >. So the computers are not IN the networks, but attached to them. And in fact all complexity and wonderful new uses of the Internet are kept outside. When the applications or users outside this network want to do something together they should arrange and program that on an “end-to-end basis” outside the network. There are no “services” or filters inside the Internet. We wanted to avoid that, before you can continue your car trip, you have to have dinner first at a restaurant. Well restaurant (read: information service) owners would love that and will see to it that their premises are very well accessible with cars, but roads should not be exclusive for their services or for only certain types of cars. Open roads benefit all. That is why Internet as an open infrastructure for communication and collaboration is a motor for society. In the case of the Internet these roads for bits are optic fiber cables dug in the ground and on the ocean floors that connect the routers and switches:

European Internet backbones 2000

This ‘end-to-end’ architecture guideline is in its basic form also the root of the so-called “net neutrality” and “internet freedom” discussions; see the book, ref [1] below. This architectural solution is the only way Internet can grow in penetration and capacity and stay multi-purpose useful for an ever-growing array of new applications. describes in essence what the group of network architects laid down as the rules of interconnection, overseen until now by the Internet Architecture Board (IAB) of The group that formulated the foundation guidelines consisted of David D. Clark, Vinton Cerf, David P. Reed, Brian Carpenter and several others not known to me, but which are in the Hall of Fame of (see below). And they designed and implemented the Internet Protocol (IP) and kept it simple! Van Jacobson’s algorithm for the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) helped solve the problem of congestion. TCP/IP is at the core of Internet.

3. How will the Internet develop and grow further? Changes and improvements are made all the time, but in my opinion the most spectacular things now and in the near future are:

0– > Ever improving access by Google glasses, laptops, smartphones and tablets via wireless and the internet to cloud computing services in datacenters, which are huge server farms,

0– > Airborne, satellite and interplanetary Internet links. Vinton Cerf is very exited about this off-planet Internet growth. See the picture below which I made years ago, on the left side.

Fractal internet

— > On the right side of the Mandelbrot Fractal we will see many on-body sensors and devices that are IP protocol connected, Machine-to-machine (M2M) interconnections like for instance Philips LED lights which can be addressed and controlled by smartphone, but will also ‘talk’ together and with sustainable energy sources on what basically is an in-home Internet. This development is also called “the Internet of Things” (IoT) and it is expected to result in huge amounts of data traffic between billions of devices, and people.

So we are looking at a healthy growing fabric, not only in numbers of connected computers and devices but also growing on several geographic scales at the same time.


Happy birthday to the godfathers, most of which are mentioned in the “Hall of Fame” where also this year new very distinguished people will be added, but also to all engineers and visionaries that run, improve and extend The Net continuously.

I hope to see the day that the Internet, the energy grids, Nature and human communities will be interwoven into what I have called “the Weave”, a new life form on the planet, see my earlier blog

Jaap van Till, connectivist,   vantill (at) gmail (dot) com

[1] For further reading on the policy implications of (changes to) the Internet architecture I recommend: Barbara van Schewick, “Internet Architecture and Innovation”, MIT Press 2012; see

PS. To get the dates*) more right here is a description of what happened. Maybe the general public does not give a hoot about this, but my geek friends do 🙂 As with most great idea’s that have spectacular and wide results there are several phases leading up to its birth/conception/ launch into the world. These phases where:

a. Preparatory, dating and courting phases: Invention of Packet Switching, connection less links, statistical multiplexing/PADs, distributed computing and time-sharing.

b. Fertilization: On October 29, 1969, at 10:30 p.m., UCLA engineering professor Leonard Kleinrock and student Charley Kline attempted to send a message from one Honeywell computer to a similar unit 600 kilometers away at Stanford Research Institute in Palo Alto. The connection speed was 50 kb/s. Development and use of SNA (IBM) and DECnet (Digital Equipment) and X.25/X.400 (CCITT, now ITU) also had great impact.

1969, first Email message sent over an experimental IP protocol network. Email (social medium!) later turned out to be much more successful than computer resource sharing between the university computer centers, as was thought at the inception of the network building projects. People can do different things than planned 🙂

c. Birth of “Internet”: On January 1, 1983 “flag day” the protocols on ARPAnet where changed from NCP to IP (Internet Protocol). Design and implementation of Routers and Switches. Implementation of the structured improvement process (instead of a committee project) of the ISOC Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) and its ‘Requests For Comment’s (RFC’s, not standards).

((Hat tip to Christine Karman and Michiel Leenaars for their clarification of dates))


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