Saturday, February 19, 2005

Katie Hafner drags up the Al Gore Internet canard

Katie Hafner literally wrote the book on the history of the Internet. I've admired her writing for years, especially her pieces in The New York Times. (She also wrote the article "For Some, the Blogging Never Stops" that featured Wigblog in The Times.) I was pleased to see her article in The Times about Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn getting the Turing award. Too much credit has gone to Marc Andreessen (TIME cover for writing a browser) and Tim Berners-Lee (knighthood for repurposing SGML). It's great to see that the folks who made the Internet as we know it get some more formal recognition. (See my interview with Vint Cerf in 1998.)

But this paragraph in Katie's article really disappointed me:

Nearly a billion people have come to rely on the Internet as they do on a light switch. Very few know how it works, to say nothing of how it got here. A 10-year-old might think Google, Microsoft or perhaps Al Gore invented the Internet.

Katie, Katie, Katie. You wrote the definitive history of the Internet. Why drag up the canard about Al Gore inventing the Internet, even in jest? Al Gore never said that he invented the Internet. I wrote the definitive article debunking that myth for First Monday. (See Al Gore and the Creation of the Internet.)

It's ludicrous to think that any 10 year old believes that Al Gore created the Internet. Gore made his oft-misquoted remark in an interview with Wolf Blitzer on March 9, 1999. It's 2005, Katie! A ten year old today was four years old in 1999, and, unless a really precocious politics wonk, not likely to be watching Blitzer's interview that carefully.

Since 1999, Gore's statement has only been quoted in ridicule; no 10 year old would miss the "humor." Cerf and Kahn have publicly testified: Al Gore was instrumental in getting funding for the NREN, which was the high-speed backbone in the 80s that allowed NCSA and others to demonstrate what the Net could do. Gore deserves credit for his prescience instead of Jay Leno monologue material in The New York Times.

No one person "invented the Internet" but on September 28, 2000 the two primary inventors of the Internet Protocol -- the very men Katie profiles in her otherwise laudable article, Cerf and Kahn -- released this statement praising Al Gore's role in Internet history:

Al Gore and the Internet
By Robert Kahn and Vinton Cerf

Al Gore was the first political leader to recognize the importance of the Internet and to promote and support its development.

No one person or even small group of persons exclusively "invented" the Internet. It is the result of many years of ongoing collaboration among people in government and the university community. But as the two people who designed the basic architecture and the core protocols that make the Internet work, we would like to acknowledge VP Gore's contributions as a Congressman, Senator and as Vice President. No other elected official, to our knowledge, has made a greater contribution over a longer period of time.

Last year the Vice President made a straightforward statement on his role. He said: "During my service in the United States Congress I took the initiative in creating the Internet." We don't think, as some people have argued, that Gore intended to claim he "invented" the Internet. Moreover, there is no question in our minds that while serving as Senator, Gore's initiatives had a significant and beneficial effect on the still-evolving Internet. The fact of the matter is that Gore was talking about and promoting the Internet long before most people were listening. We feel it is timely to offer our perspective.
The Vice President deserves credit for his early recognition of high speed computing and communication and for his long-term and consistent articulation of the potential value of the Internet to American citizens and industry and, indeed, to the rest of the world.


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