Recently at university I had my first ‘Making Web Cultures’ class, it was definitely an educational session, as I can safely say I left that lesson learning something new. The lecture was about the emergence of the internet, before that lecture I was one of those sinners who constantly referred to the ‘internet’ as the ‘web’ and vice versa, well if I’m perfectly honest I probably thought the ‘web’ was a synonym for internet. I must say I am a little embarrassed that I didn’t know the difference, as I religiously browse the web. I spend a ridiculous amount of time online; between work, uni and my personal life so I should really know the difference.
Dr Sanjay Sharma’s morning lecture revolutionised my perspective on this modern day tool. Who would have thought this device that’s used so regularly can have its origins linked back to Sputnik 1. Sputnik 1 was the first man-made object to be successfully launched into space by the former Soviet Union on 4 October 1957 (NASA, 2011). It is believed that this event raised concerns of a missile attack by the Soviet Union on America, in order to preserve America’s leading technology. 1958 saw the birth of DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency); DARPA’s fundamental mission was to create advanced technologies and revolutionary systems for the U.S. military (Van Atta, 2008). DARPA or ARPA (as it’s also known as) facilitated the development of a large scale computer network in order to speed up knowledge transfer; this was done by linking time shared computers into a national system (DARPA, 2011).
This network would become the ARPANET. It was only when the development of three other fundamental concepts were combined with ARPANET, that the foundation for modern day internet was created (Leiner et al, 2011): the Rand Corporation (U.S military network), National Physical Laboratory (NPL the commercial network in England) and Cyclades (the scientific network in France).
In 1969, shortly after the creation of the ARPANET System the first host-to-host message was sent from a UCLA computer to a Stanford Research Institute (SRI) computer; connecting the first two nodes (computers). A further two nodes were added; one at UC Santa Barbara and the other at University of Utah. Thus, connecting all four university computers using the original ARPANET system by the end of 1969 (Leiner et al, 2011).
The following years saw the ARPANET grid grow rapidly, by 1972 there were fifty universities across America using the system. In 1973 the first ARPANET connection was established outside of the United States; connecting NORSAR (Norway) and University College of London (England) to the ARPANET grid (Sharma, 2011).
Before the launch of ARPANET there were only two primitive models for distributing communication through either a centralised or a decentralised network. In a centralised network, all nodes are connected to a single centralised hub; all information sent from individual nodes are sent to the hub and then rerouted to its original destination. If the route between a node and the hub is damaged, the node is cut off, and if the hub is destroyed, all communication is lost. A decentralised network functions by using several centralised hubs which are joined together; however each node is still very much dependent on its hub (Sharma, 2011).
In 1964, Paul Baran introduced a third alternative - a Distributed Network- a communication network with no centralised hub. However, each node is connected to its neighbouring nodes in a lattice-like framework, which allows nodes to transfer information through a number of possible routes. In the case of a node or route being destroyed, another pathway would be available to pass information through. Baran’s notion was a communications network topology that was constructed around redundancy (Rand Corporation, 2011).
With the contributions of Donald Davies (British scientist from National Physical Laboratory) led to Baran’s idea of packet switching. Packet Switching is the term used to describe the method used for transmitting data through the network. Any message that exceeds the network’s maximum capacity is broken down into smaller units, called packets. The packets travel through any given pathway through the network to reach their destination, where they are reconstructed back into a coherent message (Barn, cited in Sharma’s lecture, 2011). Both Baran’s packet switching and distributed network systems were adopted for the 1969 ARPANET project (Rand Corporation, 2011).
By 1982, with integration and development, these four models (ARPANET, RAND, NPL and Cyclades networks) were standardised and Internet Protocols were established; Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) and Internet Protocol (IP). TPC/ IP verify the correct delivery and the transfer of packets. A number of other protocols (referred to as the Internet Protocol Suit) were developed; I have listed a few in the table below.
Well I think this blog has gone on far too long! So, to conclude it was only when we covered internet protocols that I understood the difference between the internet and the web. The web was in fact a protocol (Hypertext Transfer Protocol) like the SMTP protocol or the FTP protocol and not the Internet itself. The HTTP protocol is used to transmit and receive information via any other protocol; by using a unique URL (Universal Resource Locator) (Sharma, 2011). In the words of Tim Berners-Lee the Word Wide Web (www) is an abstract space full of information, on the web you find files and connections are made by HTTP links. Whereas the internet is more of a concrete abstract; you find computers and connections are made by cables (cited in Sharma’s lecture, 2011).
Before my first Making Web Cultures lecture I don’t think I even knew what the correct term for URL was (but I knew where to find it, though). I don’t think I ever stopped to think about where this magnificent technology derived from. But now that I’m conscious of the difference I will no longer use the word ‘web’ as a synonym for the ‘internet’, I am now fully aware that I am using web to write this blog.
Thought I’d finish up with a youtube video our lecturer showed us during class as I feel it makes the experience much more enjoyable than to just continuously read.
Barry M. Leiner, B. M., Cerf, V. G., Clark, D. D., Kahn, R.E., Kleinrock, L., Lynch, D. C., Postel, J., Roberts, L. G. and Wolff, S. (2011)Brief History of the Internet. Internet Society. [Online] Available at: http://www.internetsociety.org/internet/internet-51/history-internet/brief-history-internet#Origins [Accessed 15 December 2011].
Sharma, S (2011) The Internet- the Web [Lecture presented to MSc Social and Cultural Research and Media and Communications] 17 November.
Van Atta, R. (2008) Fifty years of innovation And Discovery [Online] Available at: http://www.darpa.mil/About/History/History.aspxDefense Advanced Research Projects Agency, USA. [Accessed 16 December 2011].