The Net marks its birthday, again

According to one Net pioneer, the Internet celebrated its "most logical" 20th birthday on New Year's Day--barely three months after its 33rd birthday.

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According to one Net pioneer, the Internet celebrated its "most logical" 20th birthday on New Year's Day--barely three months after its 33rd birthday.

A posting this week from Bob Braden on an influential mailing list states that the most logical origin of the Internet is Jan. 1, 1983, "when the ARPAnet officially switched from the NCP protocol to TCP/IP."

Braden, who posted the claim on a mailing list of the Internet Engineering Task Force, was a member of the research group that worked on the TCP protocol.

There are others who put the age of the Internet much earlier. On Sept. 24, 1999, a group of Internet luminaries gathered at a private estate in the San Francisco suburb of Atherton to mark the 30th anniversary of the Net.

Settling on an exact date is likely to prove contentious, and the Internet is not the only technical entity suffering from vintage vagueness. E-mail also lacks an exact date of birth.

Ray Tomlinson, the American engineer considered the "father of e-mail," can't quite recall when the first message was sent, what it said, or even who the recipient was.

Tomlinson had gotten around the difficulties with existing methods of exchanging data by creating remote personal mailboxes that could send and receive messages via a computer network. He also conceived the use of the now-famous "@" symbol to ensure a message was sent to a designated recipient.

And then there is the smiley. In September, a Microsoft researcher claimed to have dug up a record of the first smiley--that combination of characters used to denote a happy face. The rediscovery by Mike Jones who works in the Systems and Networking Research Group at Microsoft appeared to reveal that the emoticon was approaching its 20th birthday.

However, other claims have since dated the smiley earlier. The one that Jones found was posted in a bulletin board discussion at Carnegie Mellon University by Scott E. Fahlman on Sept. 19, 1982.

But according to computer applications consultant Charles Herbert, the smiley showed its face sometime earlier. In 1974, Herbert ran a company called Renaissance Computing, which had a contract with Intel to provide programming services to help develop a wafer lot control system, Herbert said. As part of the work, Renaissance Computing submitted yield analysis reports to Intel.

"If the yields were within acceptable ranges, Bob (Meyer, who died in 1994,) put a smiley face on the report. If not, there was a frown," said Herbert. "I believe that Bob Meyer may have used the smiley face first."

Others say the smiley is even older.

According to Brian Dear, who is writing a book on the PLATO system, which began life in 1960 as a solution to delivering individualized instruction to students in schools and universities across the United States, emoticons were regularly used on that system, although in a slightly different way.

"On the PLATO system, emoticons were much richer--made using multiple characters displayed on top of each other," Dear said. "It was possible to type, say, a single character, then press shift-space (which moved the cursor exactly one space backwards), then type another character. The second would display on top of the first. You could keep doing this for multiple characters and create many different faces, beer glasses, martini glasses, all kinds of things. And people peppered their e-mails and (PLATO's newsgroups) postings with them all the time."

Others have noted that emoticons were regularly used in teletype transmissions during the early 1960s.

ZDNet UK's Matt Loney reported from London.