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Inventing the Internet [Paperback]

Janet Abbate
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
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Book Description

July 24 2000 Inside Technology

Since the late 1960s the Internet has grown from a single experimental network serving a dozen sites in the United States to a network of networks linking millions of computers worldwide. In Inventing the Internet, Janet Abbate recounts the key players and technologies that allowed the Internet to develop; but her main focus is always on the social and cultural factors that influenced the Internets design and use. The story she unfolds is an often twisting tale of collaboration and conflict among a remarkable variety of players, including government and military agencies, computer scientists in academia and industry, graduate students, telecommunications companies, standards organizations, and network users.The story starts with the early networking breakthroughs formulated in Cold War think tanks and realized in the Defense Department's creation of the ARPANET. It ends with the emergence of the Internet and its rapid and seemingly chaotic growth. Abbate looks at how academic and military influences and attitudes shaped both networks; how the usual lines between producer and user of a technology were crossed with interesting and unique results; and how later users invented their own very successful applications, such as electronic mail and the World Wide Web. She concludes that such applications continue the trend of decentralized, user-driven development that has characterized the Internet's entire history and that the key to the Internet's success has been a commitment to flexibility and diversity, both in technical design and in organizational culture.


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From Amazon

History is written by winners, but Bill Gates isn't talking yet. Those interested in how this weird, wonderful World Wide Web--and its infrastructure--came to be should turn to historian Janet Abbate's look at 40 years of innovation in Inventing the Internet.

Peeking behind the curtain to show the personalities and larger forces guiding the development of the Net, from its dawn as a robust military communications network designed to survive multiple attacks to today's commercial Web explosion, Abbate succeeds in demystifying this all-pervasive technology and its creators.

Abbate's survey covers everything from David Baran's work with the RAND corporation to the development of packet-switching theory to CERN's Tim Berners-Lee and his hypertext networking system. She also factors in the influences that caused the Net to evolve such as the Cold War, changing research priorities, and the hacker subculture that pushed existing technologies into new forms, each more and more like today's fast, global communications system.

The research is impeccable, the writing is lively, and the analysis is insightful. (See especially the discussion of the "surprise hit" of ARPANET, a minor function known as e-mail.) Abbate clearly knows her subject and her audience, and Inventing the Internet encapsulates a milestone of modern history. --Rob Lightner --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

The prehistory of the InternetAmeaning the period including Gopher and WAIS but before the World Wide WebAis often recounted among wonks but unknown to most others. Abbate, a history lecturer at the University of Maryland, traces the conversion of the ARPANET, a project of the Department of Defense's Advanced Research Projects Agency created to allow scientists to run computers remotely, to the World Wide Web, an application created by a Swiss CERN physicist in the early 1990s for transmitting sound and pictures along with text, with a number of stages along the way. From the opening discussion of "packet switching," a major innovation in information exchange, Abbate makes it clear that "technical standards can be used as social and political instruments," and that hardware and software architecture is as much a product of social formations as the other way around. ARPANET was created at the height of the Cold War so that military communications could be maintained in the event of nuclear exchange, but the scientists who created it, in true Kuhnian fashion, used a loose set of ideas about end user-driven computing to overturn conventional wisdom. The book, firmly academic, has the feel of an extremely well-written doctoral dissertation and is thus unable to avoid being freighted with the acronyms and the inherent complexity of its subject. While most readers won't care about CCITT standards or how TCP/IP works, they will find themselves at least curious about the people who created them. (Aug.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Insightful! July 9 2002
Format:Hardcover
Janet Abbate exhaustively researched her scholarly history of the Internet and presents it with the detail and tone you would expect from a historian, which she is. Therefore, don't come looking for a breezy, "gee whiz" approach. This is not a promotional pat on the back to the companies that helped popularize the Internet, nor does it glorify dot-coms or any of their fearless leaders. In fact, Abbate devotes the first 75% of her book to the precursor to the public Internet - the ARPANET system used by scientists, researchers and the U.S. military. We recommend this book to all readers who want to know how the Internet really came into existence and how it evolved from a private, secret, scientific resource into today's vast realm of public information, auctions, virtual bookstores, e-mail and even getAbstract.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A well argued and documented claim Nov. 10 2001
By Mark
Format:Paperback
One should read Inventing the Internet to explore the thesis of technological determinism shaping the evolution of the Internet. After reading the book, the reader can also judge the success of Abbate's integral thesis that social determinism also shaped the evolution of the Internet. Janet Abbate is a professor in the Department of History at the University of Maryland in College Park. She derived the book from her 1994 dissertation research undertaken at the University of Pennsylvania. The book was produced with six chapters, which she arranged in rough chronological order. Each chapter was then subdivided into topical sections. The book's details support Abbate's claim that the Internet was not born in a discrete originating event, but evolved over a twenty-year period through the convergence of technological advances and societal needs.
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Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Whereas Berners-Lee focuses on the inception of the Web in his Weaving The Web, Abbate explores the development and rise of the Internet itself. Against those who insist that technology itself is autonomously driven, Abbate argues that the Internet's identity as a communications system was determined through a series of social and political choices. Critically, the 'net wasn't a single isolated act of invention. Rather, the idea of the Internet is a story of its regular invention and reinvention. As we progress through the text it become apparent just how many social choices were made in the Internet's design and the path dependency that this has created. We see that what seemed to be relatively minor, or practical, decisions in the 1960s and 70s have had enormous impacts and act as the foundation for contemporary politics of Internet governance, surveillance possibilities, and property conflicts. The history of the Internet is rife with contributions from individuals and organizations, and is immersed in the conflicting politics of the academy, private businesses, private actors, and the nation state. When Abbate was writing the text ' in 2000 ' she concluded by arguing that the Internet's long-term survival would depend on its developers' capacities to draw on the legacies of adaptability and participatory design that were baked into the Internet. For those invested in contemporary political issues related to the Internet ' net neutrality, identity politics, security, privacy, governance ' this book is essential: it outlines what has gone before and why, and generally orients current conditions for political conflict over the Internet today.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A History of the Net April 9 2003
Format:Paperback
This is a terrific book about the history of the Internet and how it came to be. It is very detailed (from both technical and socio-cultural angles) and should be taken as a scholarly read. The importance of the Internet to our society should not be understated, and its significance only grows more every day. It is therefore crucial that users of the Internet (and other life-altering technologies) have a deep understanding about how the technology came into existence, and how it continues to be shaped. Inventing the Internet is the perfect book to help us achieve this understanding. If you use the Internet regularly, then this book is for you.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Intriguing, but not for the juvenile Feb. 21 2001
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
The reviewer from "Flagpole" is obviously a disgruntled former student of Ms. Abbate's. Perhaps he flunked a midterm or wrote a lousy paper. But that's his problem...
Anyway, the book is excellent. Looking forward to more insightful analysis on the history of technology in her upcoming books.
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By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
What makes some new technologies (like the net) widely adopted successes, and others (like the futuristic Paris subway system Bruno Latour describes in *Aramis*) flops? Abbate's answer is flexibility, and the ability to adapt to the unanticipated needs of new clients (which is actually pretty close to Latour's answer), and her fascinating history of the ARPAnet should be required reading for anyone involved in a project of similar ambition and scope.
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