- The Network Information Center and its Archives
The early history of the Internet involves much more than those first computers linked in 1969. The Network Information Center (NIC) at SRI played a key role in managing and distributing early information about net research and standards. Aside from providing information, it also helped set the tone for how business was conducted on the early Internet. The Arpanet technology was a whole new approach to using and networking computers, but it also introduced a new dynamic, collaborative way of doing business. The NIC was privileged to be a part of the beginning adventure and to collaborate with some of the best and brightest at the time.
What was the NIC?
The Network Information Center (NIC) was the information hub of the early Internet, then known as the Arpanet and later as the Defense Data Network (DDN). It was a kind of "prehistoric Google" located at Stanford Research Institute (now SRI International, or SRI for short) in Menlo Park, California. (SRI is a not-for-profit research institute involved in many areas of basic research and development including computer research.) In October 1969, SRI attached the second computer, called SRI-ARC, to the Arpanet. This computer was one end of the early, highly touted UCLA-SRI, Kline-Duvall Internet message exchange event that celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2009.1 This was also the computer on which the NIC first resided.
Today, Internet users are used to having information come directly to them via the Web using underlying hypertext links. They are virtually glued to their various interactive devices, such as desktop computers, laptops, cell phones, iPods, GPS devices, and the like, and they don't much know or care how the information gets to them—it just does. This was not always the case.
Back in 1970, when the Arpanet and the NIC began, email and the Web did not exist. There were virtually no online documents. People typed them on typewriters, or documents were typeset and printed at a print shop. Text editing and interacting directly with computers were only beginning to be done in laboratories, if at all. Computing was still largely a batch-processing, card-punching process. Scanning, online printing, email, file transfer, digital photography, online music, GPS systems, Web browsers, and virtually all the things we take for granted today did not exist or were only in the minds of developers.
What was ARC?
The Arpanet was originally funded by the DARPA,2,3 which was, and still is, the basic research arm of the Department of Defense (DoD). During the Arpanet's early planning stages, it was decided that an information center would be needed to keep all the developers, and eventually the users, informed. Douglas Engelbart at SRI ran a research group known as the Augmentation Research Center (ARC). Doug and his group had designed and built an interactive computing system called NLS4—a system truly unique for its time. It let users interact directly with a computer through a monitor using a keyboard and pointing device called a "mouse," for which Doug and SRI held the original patent.5 The NLS system had much of the functionality that we all take for granted today, including online text editing and document production, a journal system, mixed text and graphics, teleconferencing, email, texting, and hypertext links. Doug thought this system would be useful in creating and maintaining the Arpanet information center, so he volunteered to provide the NIC for the Arpanet.3
I worked in another area of SRI at the time and was trying to produce a large handbook of information using, as was the custom then, 3 × 5 handwritten index cards. The number of cards had gotten way out of hand, so I began looking around for some computing power to help. I found Doug's group upstairs in the engineering building, sitting around staring at what appeared to be television sets, but were actually Conrac monitors.
Bear in mind that as a business woman back then I wore high-heeled shoes, had back-combed hair, and was usually dressed in a business suit with a skirt. This mode of dress...