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September 25, 2013 | 0 comments

In July 1983 in Oslo, a dozen computer scientists sat discussing how to interconnect the isolated academic and research networks then operating in the U.S. and Europe. Francois Flückiger was there representing CERN, the European Nuclear Research Agency. Larry Landweber of America’s CSNet (who had organized the meeting), Peter Kirstein of University College London, and representatives of the American university-centered BITNet and of several small European networks, were pondering a novel idea: Could there possibly be a way for all their networks to interconnect?

Flückiger, recalling that meeting at its scenic location, later wrote: “Talking and looking out from the idyllic Hotel Holmenkollen over the Fiord of Oslo, we carried on our discussions long into the evening, late, very late, in the Norwegian summer, waiting for a night that did not come.”

The reason those discussions went on so long was: Yes, the attendees were tremendously excited about the idea of creating a universal network, and they believed they could make it happen. But they also were deeply divided over the choice of technologies such a network would use. That divide, one of the thorniest issues the researchers...

September 25, 2013 | 0 comments

Humor can be a powerful force, sometimes capable even of swaying high-stakes debates. No one can provide better proof of that than Francois Flückiger.

Flückiger, who was inducted into the Internet Hall of Fame in August 2013 for his leadership in establishing the Internet in Europe, faced major opposition from government agencies, telecoms and other powerful European interests who wanted to maintain the profitable status quo of the early 1980s. Unfortunately, that involved continuing to use Open Systems Interconnection (OSI) protocols rather than TCP/IP for networking. Unlike the free and open TCP/IP model, the OSI protocols were complicated, inefficient and designed to perpetuate the telephone model of per-call charging.

Luckily, Flückiger had a secret weapon at his disposal: cartoons.

He had begun drawing cartoons as a teenager. Now, at gatherings of engineers and computer scientists throughout the continent and beyond, he put his talent to good use. His humorous drawings pointedly showed the errors -- and the ultimate futility -- of trying to hold back adoption of IP. The cartoons were eagerly collected by attendees, who passed them on to their peers and demanded more.

In this case, a picture really is worth a thousand words. Here, then, are reproductions of five of Flückiger’s influential cartoons, with captions...

September 10, 2013 | 0 comments

2012 Internet Hall of Fame inductee Brewster Kahle, the founder of the Internet Archive, recently commissioned California sculptor Nuala Creed to create a terra cotta sculpture of Aaron Swartz, who was posthumously inducted into the 2013 Internet Hall of Fame in August.

Kahle had the sculpture created to honor Swartz, who helped Kahle establish the archive’s Open Library project, which digitizes books from all over the world and makes them available for free. Swartz, who shared Kahle’s passion for providing universal access to knowledge using the Internet, wrote the backbone of the Open Library and launched its first website.

The sculpture was installed in July among about 80 other “terra cotta archivists” at the archive’s headquarters inSan Francisco. Internet Archive employees of three years or more have their likeness sculpted in terra cotta and displayed there, as a permanent record of their devotion to the ideals of openness of information on the Internet. The mission of the Internet Archive is to digitize and offer universal access to all knowledge ever produced by human cultures. (As of October 2012, its digital collection topped 10 petabytes.)

The sculpture of Aaron has him holding an open...

September 10, 2013 | 0 comments

“Aaron is one of us.”

That’s how Internet Archive founder Brewster Kahle feels about his fellow Internet Hall of Fame inductee, Aaron Swartz.

Note: Not, “was” one of us, but “is” one of us. Even though Aaron had been gone for half a year at the time Kahle spoke these words.

When Aaron Swartz died in January 2013 at the age of 26, his ideals and his achievements had already put him in the company of Internet luminaries twice his age. For these achievements, he was inducted posthumously into the Internet Hall of Fame on Aug. 3 in Berlin.

“His age didn’t matter,” Kahle said. “On the Internet, you’re judged by your contributions.” And these contributions were many. 

Though Swartz is perhaps best known for his role as a co-owner of Reddit (his wiki application, Infogami, provided the framework for Reddit’s early success), it’s the public advocacy and open-source initiatives Swartz undertook that were the most important, according to his father, Robert Swartz.

“It’s hard to...

September 9, 2013 | 0 comments

Internet Hall of Fame Advisory Board member Katie Hafner has been writing about technology since 1983. A frequent contributor to the New York Times, she has covered technology issues for national general-interest, technology and business magazines as well. She is the author of six books, including Where Wizards Stay Up Late: The Origins of the Internet (with Matthew Lyon). Her most recent book, “Mother Daughter Me,” is winning high praise for its insightful, funny and brave look at a year she spent trying to live with her aging mother and her teenaged daughter. We caught up with her recently to talk books.

 Q. The adult book “I Capture the Castle” and the children’s book “Horton Hears a Who” are both mentioned glowingly in “Mother Daughter Me.” What are some of your other favorite books? 

A. I love Ann Patchett's “The Patron Saint of Liars.” What's most interesting is that it was her first novel, and I think it's her best – by a long shot. “Bel Canto” got a lot more attention, but “Liars” is a sublime piece of writing.

Q. What are you reading now? What titles are on your night-table?

A. Here are a few: “Dear Life,” by Alice Munro (love love love her); “Where I was From,” by Joan Didion; “NW,” by Zadie Smith; “Ramblers: Loyola Chicago 1963 – The Team that Changed the Color of College...