The Internet celebrates its birthday - again

According to one Net pioneer, the Internet has just turned 20. But didn't it just just pass a more mature milestone?

The Internet celebrated its "most logical" 20th birthday on New Year's day -- barely three months after it turned 33.

A posting by one Internet pioneer on an influential mailing list says the most logical origin of the Internet is 1 January 1983, "when the ARPANET officially switched from the NCP protocol to TCP/IP." Bob Braden, who posted the claim on a mailing list of the Internet Engineering TaskForce this week, was a member of the research group that worked on the TCP protocol. There may still be a few remaining T-shirts that read, "I Survived the TCP/IP Transition," said Braden in his posting, which may be disputed by other parties.

There are others who put the age of the Internet a little earlier. On 24 September 1999, a group of Internet luminaries gathered at a private estate in the very exclusive San Francisco suburb of Atherton, California, for a very special bash. The object of their celebration: The Internet. The occasion: Its 30th birthday.

Settling on an exact date is likely to prove contentious; and the Internet is not the only technical entity suffering from vintage vagueness. Email too lacks an exact date of birth. Ray Tomlinson, the American engineer considered the "father of email", can't quite recall when the first message was sent, what it said, or even who the recipient was.

Tomlinson got around difficulties with existing methods of exchanging data by creating remote personal mailboxes that could send and receive messages via a computer network. He also conceived the use of the now-famous "@" symbol to ensure a message was sent to a designated recipient.

And then there was the smiley. Last September, a Microsoft researcher claimed to have dug up a record of the first smiley -- that combination of characters commonly used to denote a joke. The rediscovery, by Mike Jones who works in the Systems and Networking Research Group at Microsoft's Redmond headquarters, appeared to reveal that the emoticon was approaching its 20th birthday.

However, other claims have since dated the smiley earlier. The one that Jones found was posted in a bulletin board discussion at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) by one Scott E. Fahlman on 19 September, 1982.

According to computer applications consultant Charles Herbert, the smiley showed its face sometime earlier. In 1974, Herbert ran a company called Renaissance Computing, which had a contract with Intel to provide programming services to help develop wafer lot control system, Herbert told ZDNet UK. As part of the work, Renaissance Computing submitted yield analysis reports to Intel. "If the yields were within acceptable ranges, Bob (Meyer, who died in 1994) put a Smile Face on the report. If not, there was a frown," said Herbert. "I believe that Bob Meyer may have used the 'Smiley Face' first."

Others say the smiley is even older.

According to Brian Dear, who is writing a book on the PLATO system, which began life in 1960 as a solution to delivering individualised instruction to students in schools and universities across the US, emoticons were regularly used on that system, although in a slightly different way.

"On the PLATO system, emoticons were much richer -- made using multiple characters displayed on top of each other," said Dear. "It was possible to type, say, a single character, then press SHIFT-space (which moved the cursor exactly one space backwards), then type another character. The second would display on top of the first. You could keep doing this for multiple characters and create many different faces, beer glasses, martini glasses, all kinds of things. And people peppered their emails and notesfile (PLATO's newsgroups) postings with them all the time."

Others have noted that emoticons were regularly used in teletype transmissions during the early 1960's.


For everything Internet-related, from the latest legal and policy-related news, to domain name updates, see ZDNet UK's Internet News Section.

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