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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

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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
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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Insightful! July 9 2002
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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For how long have you been aware of the web? Five years? Six? Didn't it seem as though we woke up one morning and there it was? Not so, as you will find out when you read this fascinating account of the way in which Internet technology took on a life of its own and morphed into the gigantic marketplace/library/chatroom that we think of today.
For example, did you know that the techniques used in the Internet were born out of Cold War paranoia? Or that email was an afterthought to the original system that unexpectedly became the most popular application of the network? Or that in the early 1980s, the military agency running the Internet was so afraid of hackers breaking into the system ("unauthorized penetrations," as one army major put it) that they split the network in two, one for the military and one for the civilians? Read the book for the details on these and other intriguing techno-tidbits.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A History of the Net April 9 2003
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 Will high-tech history repeat itself? Feb. 8 2000
By A Customer
If we don't know where we've been, how will we know where we're going? It's somehow reassuring to learn that a technology which seems to be so new and to change at lightning speed actually has a history spanning several decades. This book is intelligently written; it's not for the reader who is looking merely for fluff and sound bites. I've recommend it to many friends in a variety of fields since internet technology, and the decisions that have been made about it, affect us all in one way or another.
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By A Customer
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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