The Information Pioneers

Last week I attended the a reunion of the NSFnet crowd — lots of people whose names you probably don’t know (and a few whose names you’d recognize immediately, like Dave Farber), who 20 years ago developed the standards and the systems that led to the Internet we know today.

At dinner I was sitting between the past and the future: on one side of me was a man who said that the creation of NSFnet, when none of us knew what we were doing and everything was possible, was the best time of his life. On the other side was someone who said that everything we experienced in the mid-80s is happening again, but today the focus is not networks, it’s information.

Some of us (and I’m pleased to be among that group) are trying to figure out what it means to have so much information at our fingertips, and how to make it useful. One project I’m working on at TCG is to allow researchers to share autism data and tools; another one is to understand grants-management data and figure out how to streamline its collection and application. And of course I’m working to get The Journal of Electronic Publishing going again after a hiatus of three years.

These are all efforts to understand how to take advantage of the reams and reams (okay, that’s a dated metaphor; perhaps it should be “terabytes and terabytes”) of information that is <I>out there</I> and that can help us do our work and live better and more fully.

In 20 years I look forward to meeting many of my colleagues again over dinner at a great restaurant, and saying “that was the best time of our lives…”

Some links you might find interesting for the history of that time:

What happened in Internet technology in the 80’s:

A new project to document the history of the Internet: