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10 inventors of Internet technologies you may not have heard of

Since it was Father’s Day here in Sweden yesterday – yes we know it varies around the world – we thought we’d pay homage to some of the people behind the Internet as we know it today.

Some of the obvious choices would include Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn for TCP/IP, Vannevar Bush for much of the conceptual thinking behind the Internet, Ted Nelson for coining the word hypertext, Tim Berners-Lee for the World Wide Web, Marc Andreeseen for co-authoring Mosaic, and many others.

But why go for the obvious? We thought it would be fun to give some credit to a few lesser-known contributors to some technology or product that is a part of Internet history. These are guys who have made important contributions that affect us all but that may not have received the same accolades as others. So even though this didn’t exactly turn out to be a Father’s Day post, let’s take a look.

GIF: Steve Wilhite


Picture by David Ope

Graphics Interchange Format or GIF was the standard picture format for the Internet for a long time. Who doesn’t remember the walking lights and dancing bananas that we could enjoy on web pages all over? The graphics format was created by Steve Wilhite in 1987 while he was working at Compuserve. Although GIF has largely been replaced by JPG and PNG, there are those that suggest there may be a resurgence for GIF.

RSS: Dave Winer


Picture by Magerleagues.

There’s quite a bit of confusion about this one so we’re sticking our necks out a bit. Some sources say that RSS or Real Simple Syndication has its origins in RDF and that the first version of RSS was created by Dan Libby and Ramanathan V. Guha at Netscape in 1999. However, we feel there is no one person who has done more to popularize RSS than Dave Winer so that’s why we pick him.

Ping: Mike Muuss


Mike Muuss working with BRL-CAD on a PDP-11/70. Picture courtesy of Wikipedia.

The simple little tool ping was created by Mike Muuss in 1983, apparently containing only 1,000 lines of code. It has since made its way into almost every operating system available today and is a valuable tool for network administrators around the world.

Internet Explorer 1.0: Thomas Reardon


Picture courtesy of Wikipedia

As with many other Microsoft products Internet Explorer did not originate inside the company. Version 1.0 of the web browser was a reworked version of Spyglass Mosaic, which Microsoft had licensed from Spyglass in 1994. Thomas Reardon at Microsoft took the Spyglass code and developed it into Internet Explorer 1.0, released in 1995. Although Internet Explorer has been slipping in the statistics lately, it is still used on for over 40% of worldwide browsing from computers, according to Statcounter.

The @ sign: Ray Tomlinson


Image courtesy of Computer History Museum.

In 1971 Ray Tomlinson needed a character to separate the host from the user in an email address and looked down on his keyboard. He found the @ sign and called his choice “obvious.” Today the at sign has spread way beyond email and can be found in social media, chat, discussion forums, and more.

Smiley: Scott Fahlman

We should perhaps call it smiley emoticon instead but simply smiley has such a strong grip in our culture that we’ll stick to it. Scott Fahlman posted to a message board at Carnegie Mellon University on September 19, 1982, suggesting that “:-)” could be used to denote a joke and “:-(” used for something that is not a joke. Things took off from there and now we use these character sequences in most forms of text-based digital communication.

Smartmodem: Dale Heatherington


Picture courtesy of Wikipedia

You have probably heard what they sound like, with that high-pitched squealing noise while it connects; you may even remember having to wait for a bit while two modems negotiated speed. For many users a dial-up smartmodem was the way to get connected to the Internet for a long time. Even though most of us live in a world of broadband – wireless or wired – there are still users who need dial-up. Credit for the first smartmodem, released in 1981 and operating at 1 bit per second goes to Dale Heatherington working at Hayes Microcomputer Products.

BIND: Terry, Painter, Riggle and Zhou

BIND (Berkeley Internet Name Domain) is probably one of the most important pieces of software you didn’t know you use on a daily basis. It runs on the majority of the world’s Domain Name Servers. In the most recent survey by The Measurement Factory from October 2010, BIND ran on 34.2% of the almost 800,000 hosts that replied during the test. BIND was developed by Douglas Terry, Mark Painter, David Riggle and Songnian Zhou at the University of California, Berkeley in the early part of the 1980s.

PHP: Rasmus Lerdorf


Picture by Luc Legacy

PHP is currently ranked in fifth place in the TIOBE Programming Community Index but regardless of rank there’s no denying that it’s an incredibly popular scripting language, powering a very large portion of today’s websites. Lerdorf was the original creator of PHP in 1995 and also also authored the second version.

Intel 4004: Faggin, Hoff, Mazor and Shima


Mazor, Hoff and Shima (from left to right). Image courtesy of Computer History Museum.

It’s not directly related to the Internet the Intel 4004 has arguably had an immense impact on the development of the net. As the world’s first single chip microprocessor, we can today find direct and indirect descendents of the 4004 in computers, smartphones and tablets everywhere.

The chip was designed by Federico Faggin, Ted Hoff and Stanley Mazor of Intel, and Masatoshi Shima of Busicom. The 4004 was introduced in 1971 and held 2,300 transistors. In comparison, Intel is talking about introducing Ivy Bridge, its next generation processors, in 2012, with 1.4 billion processors transistors.

Our appreciation

So there you go, some of the brightest minds that have been working on cool and exciting Internet technologies over the last 40 years or so. These guys have perhaps not been given the frequent headlines like some of their colleagues but we hope we’ve been able to tell you something you didn’t already know about some of the things you use every day.



No Comments

Thanks for an excellent list! I would have only liked to see a space for Bob Bemer, inventor of ASCII, and the escape & backslash characters. He was also the first programmer to raise a good, big stink in the early 1970′s about the then-upcoming Y2K-coding problems, thirty years in advance.

I think it’s great you’re exposing people to some of the key figures in the history of internet technologies but why are you associating it with Father’s Day? How is innovating within the realm technology inherently a masculine quality? Grace Hopper, Ada Lovelace, Betty Holberton and Adele Goldberg all come to mind as making significant contributions to computing.

“There’s quite a bit of confusion about this one so we’re sticking our necks out a bit. Some sources say that RSS or Real Simple Syndication has its origins in RDF and that the first version of RSS was created by Dan Libby and Ramanathan V. Guha at Netscape in 1999.”

There is no confusion on this. RSS was invented by Dan Libby and Ramanathan. Period. Dave Winer gave up on his similar version, and went with theirs. I’m not sure why you’ve decided to ignore the very clear truth. Dave Winer certainly is RSS greatest proponent. This does not make him the inventor.

Hi Steve! Excellent choices, we’ll add them to our notes for a possible future post :-)

Hi Jon! Of course we’re not leaving out the ladies. We’re saving all of them for Mother’s Day :-)

“Mike Muuss working with BRL-CAD on a PDP-11/70″

Working? Looks to me like they are playing some kind of vector graphics tank game. :)

“you have no idea how things change when they move around the internet. Its no wonder the original inventor of RSS is confused sometimes”

This isn’t true at all. The history of RSS isn’t shrouded in mystery. You simply don’t know your history Winer himself has admitted that he dropped his version and went with Netscapes. Winer is certainly the greatest proponent of RSS, but he is not the inventor, period. If Royal Pingdom wants to be taken seriously, they should probably try publish the truth.

Hi Matthew! Thank you for your interest in this topic. We do mention Libby and Guha as well as say that we think Winer has done more to popularize RSS than anyone else. Perhaps we could have been clearer with regards to the wording and the article’s title. Do you have any personal story about the creation of RSS that you’d like to share with us?

Donald Bitzer! Donald Bitzer! Donald Bitzer! :-)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Donald_Bitzer
http://www.platohistory.org/
Pre-1975 bitmapped graphics, audio and photographic quality images, instant messaging, near zero latency multiplayer network gaming, distance learning, groupware, newsgroups, online newspapers, animated email, network delivery of music, client/server computing, touch screen interfaces, flat-panel displays, and multimedia that were delivered across a worldwide educational network with satellite and cable communications using CDC mainframes.

Great article! Little typo – “In comparison, Intel is talking about introducing Ivy Bridge, its next generation processors, in 2012, with 1.4 billion processors.”, it should be “1.4 billion transistors”.

Thank you Cristi! We corrected it :-)

10 inventors of Internet technologies you may not have heard of?

7 or 8 at least ;-)

Great Article – Thanks!

You forgot Al Gore he invented the internet :-)

I am unclear what they are refering to as a smart modem. We had dialup service to computers back in the mid 70′s, i know because i help put them in. It was 300 baud lines using Prentice Modems at the Lawrence Hall of Science that connected to local schools.

@RC Roeder – I believe a “Smart Modem” means that it can dial the telephone number without the need of a separate device.

@Dan McVeagh – Al Gore has be credited by many to have coined the term “Information Superhighway.” It has been shown that TIME Magazine is the rightful owner of that distinction.

:D

How about Bob Metcalf, the inventor of Ethernet? Layering IP on Ethernet was one of the most important milestones in defining web communications!

Great article! Little typo – “In comparison, Intel is talking about introducing Ivy Bridge, its next generation processors, in 2012, with 1.4 billion processors.”, it should be “1.4 billion transistors

I am unclear what they are refering to as a smart modem. We had dialup service to computers back in the mid 70′s, i know because i help put them in. It was 300 baud lines using Prentice Modems at the Lawrence Hall of Science that connected to local schools.

I just love the internet! Thank you very much for this webpage!

Nathaniel Lewis

May 22nd, 2013 at 10:55 am


@chat http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Modem#The_Smartmodem_and_the_rise_of_BBSes.  And I know Dale!  he spends his days building combat robots now - http://wa4dsy.com/

Clarence A. (Skip) Ellis
Mark Dean