HOW THE INTERNET CAME FIRST TO SHIRLEYS BAY Thom Whalen recently organized and moderated a session entitled "Next Big Things That Weren’t" at an international conference. The papers in the session showed how our failures pave the way for our successes; one example used was the role that Telidon played for the Internet at Communications Research Centre Canada (CRC), where Whalen works, and across Canada.
"Telidon may have come before its time", says Whalen, "but like today's Internet, it promised to provide users with access to large amounts of multimedia information through computer networks. CRC's experience with Telidon prepared us to recognize and utilize the value of the Internet as soon as it emerged."
The precursor to the Internet was a system called DARPANET, DARPA standing for Defence Advanced Research Projects Administration. National Defence funded this project as early as 1969. DARPANET grew steadily, being used by National Defence, CRC and associated organizations, until the late 1980s when most universities were connected.
Thom Whalen works in CRC's Networked Media Laboratory. Since joining Shirleys Bay in 1979, his job has involved exploring the relationship between people and computers. It was during the late 1980s that his group recognized that the Internet was beginning to reach critical mass.
Whalen says, "One of the services we investigated first was USENET; we recognized that it allowed people to find strangers located anywhere in the world, who shared their interests.
This function was not previously possible. This was not just a new way to do old things, but new way to do new That is the definition cultural revolution!"
When Gopher, a text-based version of today's World Web, came along in 1991, recognized immediately potential for publishing documents.
Whalen explained, "We set up our Gopher server and obtained numerous documents from DSS that we could publish on line. One of these documents was the Charlottetown Accord. We were amazed to hear appreciative from overseas Canadians who had no other way to access these. We knew then that the Internet something that would go beyond technical community and penetrate into the general market.
After achieving what we believe the first official large-scale publication of documents on the Internet by any government, we decided to approach the CBC with the idea of publishing audio the Internet. By that time, the World Wide Web was just emerging. Rather than use Gopher again, we created a Web site for the CBC.
At that time, there were only 650 Web sites in the world and we were one of them. We are fairly sure our's was either the first or second Canadian Government web site and cetainly the first radio broadcaster with downloadable audio files.
Today, the Networked Media Laboratory is studying topics that include natural language recognition virtual reality business meetings and online teaching portfolios. As always, they are searching out methods for doing new things in new ways.