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.


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