Collaboration

Geek Trivia: Name, Net, and match

What was the original name proposed for the decentralized computing network we now call the Internet -- a sci-fi inspired title first coined by computing pioneer J.C.R. Licklider more than 40 years ago?

Before the World Wide Web, there was the plain, text-intense, awkwardly browsed Internet. Before the Internet, there was the quasi-military network of packet-switched university mainframes called the ARPAnet. And before the ARPAnet, there was an idea.

And that idea was an awful lot like a KVM switch.

In a New York Times interview, ARPAnet pioneer Bob Taylor describes one of the foundational motivations for developing ARPAnet as this:

"We had in my office three terminals to three different programs that ARPA [The U.S. Defense Department's Advanced Research Project Agency] was supporting. ... For each of these three terminals, I had three different sets of user commands. So if I was talking online with someone at SDC and I wanted to talk to someone I knew at Berkeley or MIT about this, I had to get up from the SDC terminal, go over and log into the other terminal and get in touch with them. I said, oh, man, it's obvious what to do: If you have these three terminals, there ought to be one terminal that goes anywhere you want to go where you have interactive computing. That idea is the ARPAnet." [Emphasis mine.]

For those of you who don't know Bob Taylor, you almost certainly know his work. While at NASA, he helped direct funding to Douglas Engelbart's research, which gave us the computer mouse. Years later, Taylor worked at Xerox's Palo Alto Research Complex (PARC), where he developed a rather infamous device known as the Alto -- the world's first personal computer with Ethernet and a graphic user interface.

In between his NASA and PARC gigs, Taylor worked with another computer pioneer named J.C.R. Licklider. Together, this pair authored one of the seminal academic papers in the history of modern technology: "The Computer as a Communication Device." In it the pair describes "a labile network of networks" of computers that "foster a working sense of community among their users." Licklider and Taylor weren't just talking about a decentralized network; they were conceiving online communities, e-mail, video conferences, Skype, wikis, and so much of the supposedly cutting-edge modern Internet we love today. And this paper was written in 1968.

About the only thing Taylor and Licklider didn't foresee in their paper was the word Internet. In fact, they didn't really name the network at all. Licklider had already done that, five years earlier, giving this computer communications web a sci-fi inspired name that hints at why we call it the Internet today.

WHAT WAS THE ORIGINAL NAME FOR THE PROPOSED COMPUTING NETWORK WE NOW CALL THE INTERNET?

Get the answer.

About

Jay Garmon has a vast and terrifying knowledge of all things obscure, obtuse, and irrelevant. One day, he hopes to write science fiction, but for now he'll settle for something stranger -- amusing and abusing IT pros. Read his full profile. You can a...

15 comments
JohnOfStony
JohnOfStony

This article reminds me of a job I took on in 1980 - the design of the firmware (i.e. operating system) for a multi-function terminal that could be switched to communicate with a variety of mainframe computers. Its basic functionality was similar to that of a DEC VT100 - the standard terminal at the time - but there were many systems that didn't use the DEC protocols, and we planned to sell these terminals to companies which possessed more than one type of system, thus enabling them to buy one type of terminal that could be used on any of their systems. The company I worked for was Pericom Data Systems in Milton Keynes, England, and it was the most enjoyable period of employment in my life (my current job being a close second). Development was done on a Motorola Exorciser system (we used the Motorola 6800 series processors) which used 8 inch floppy discs with (I believe) a 160 kilobyte capacity. The firmware had to fit into 16 kilobytes of EPROM, and saving a few bytes here and there enabled more functionality to be squeezed in. The programmers of today don't know they're born! ;)

peter.monk
peter.monk

I had thought that "internet" as a name was a shortening of the generic term "internetwork", which is a network of networks. Anyone..?

moe_rogerson
moe_rogerson

So, where does Al Gore fit into all this...?

robert
robert

You dramatically shortchange Doug Engelbart when you state that his primary contribution was the invention of the mouse. That's the smallest tip of the iceberg. Engelbart's lab can be credited with pioneering work in video conferencing, shared screen computing, screen-based text editing, document sharing, multiple windows, email, online publishing, trackback links, hypertext, spreadsheets, version control and graphics. But these were just means to the end he envisioned of augmenting the cognitive capacity of teams of humans by using technology. For a terrific graphical overview of Engelbart's accomplishments, see: http://www.visualinsight.net/_engelbart/Engelbart_Mural.jpg

seanferd
seanferd

You'll break the illusion....

bruce
bruce

He came before all of these people. Don't you remember? He invented the internet.

ascott
ascott

I thought Englebart was a singer in the 60s

billtahoe
billtahoe

He didn't contribute technologically, but he did help provide funding, so Ha Ha, have your joke and eat it too!

seanferd
seanferd

was the first thing I thought of. With a slice of lemon wrapped around a large gold brick.

Wally Bahny
Wally Bahny

No, that'd be Engelbert Humperdinck (sp?), but close... :-)

RipVan
RipVan

...and without it, we would not have been able to print money. Good point!