Sunday, January 10, 2010

"Intranet Focus" article mangles Internet history

Twice today I've run across this query on Twitter:
Just blogged on the first use of the term 'intranet'. Probably dates back to 1992, but who first used it? Do you know?
The compressed URL expands to which mangles the history of the Internet.  If you were a professor and your student turned in a work with this many glaring errors, you'd award an F.  The author, Martin White, promotes himself as quite the information industry expert, so this is a tad surprising.  A quick reading reveals obvious errors:
  • It's Marc Andreessen, not Andriessen. 
  • Andreessen worked at the National Center for Supercomputer Applications at the University of Illinois -- not the University of Michigan.  (Huge gaffe with funny backstories which I will share if asked.)
  • U-M did invent LDAP, and Netscape did adopt it for a product, though it's not clear what that has to do with anything.
  • Andreessen wasn't just a "on the team that had developed the Mosaic browser" -- he and Eric Bina collaborated on the project.  History (perhaps unfairly) seems to give the former more credit than the latter. This historical marker seems accurate -- perhaps the ordering is alphabetical.
  • The history of Netscape vs. IE is much more complex than described. Netscape never really successfully charged for their browser.  Microsoft didn't just offer Internet Explorer for free; they integrated it into Windows, and finally implemented halfway decent TCP/IP support.  This meant a brand new Windows computer could get you surfing the Web out of the box.  The alternative of installing Netscape was left for geeks.  In 1994, we had AOL Starter Disks -- getting on the Internet was not an easy thing.
  • Robert Kahn was Vinton Cerf's collaborator on TCP/IP.  "The Wrath of Khan" was the best Star Trek movie with the original cast.
  • Robert Metcalfe helped invent Ethernet.  Although a colleague of Cerf and Kahn when they were inventing what became the Internet, Metcalfe is not listed as an inventor of TCP.  He also founded 3Com Corporation, and once famously said that if he'd known that the San Francisco baseball team would have ever rename their field 3Com Park, he'd have called his company Candlestick.
Mr. Martin White's original query -- when was the term "intranet" first used, and by whom -- is perhaps interesting, at least to him.  But his hazy history of the Internet also fails to appreciate the very meaning of "Internet." Its creators were trying to solve the problem of how to build a "network of networks" -- how networks built on incompatible technology could talk to each other.  That's why we call it the Internet.  And they talked about "The Internet" as the global network of networks as well as "an internet" -- a self-contained network of networks -- gee, kinda like that "intranet" concept, right?

"Intranet" is a back-formation of "Internet", and, at least to me, not particularly important in history.

As for Mr. White's belief that use of the term "intranet" dates to 1993, that comports with my recollection, but so what?  The concept predates the term.  Corporate knowledge, or institutional memory, has been understood in some form for many years, probably centuries.  Mr. White might want to look up the term "CWIS" though I think not every bit of research is answered by a Google search.

And whatever conclusions Mr. White eventually ascribes to the wisdom of Twitterdom, I wouldn't trust his summation.  A guy who gets this many basic facts wrong is no source to believe.