Sunday, January 04, 2009

Book Review: On the Way to the Web: The Secret History of the Internet and Its Founders

Book Review: On the Way to the Web: The Secret History of the Internet and Its Founders
by Michael A. Banks.

On the way to the web review

I remember my first CompuServe experience back in the early 80s. We were living in Ohio and my uncle worked in Columbus for some computer company. He had his own computer, which was absolutely amazing to me. I was in middle school at the time and remember being allowed to use the TRS-80 in the administrative offices. The computers were cool and I was hooked. I could chat with girls who didn't take one look at me and walk away.

"On the Way to the Web" brought back a lot of memories about the early days of the Internet and on-line services. I'm not sure people who weren't involved in on-line computing during the 80s and 90s would have that same nostalgic smile. If hearing the words eWorld or AppleLink doesn't ring any bells then you probably wouldn't enjoy this book. Banks assumes you know these services and their place in online history, and more importantly, how their development was parallel to the development of the greater Internet. Having lived through this dramatic time in history I still found myself confused on the relationship between these services and the Internet.

The first few chapters are amazing, and effectively captured the headiness of those early days during the 1970s when TCP/IP was not preordained to be the preferred way of computers talking to each other. After commercial online services entered the scene, Banks focuses primarily on those services and their lineage. While online services were clearly important to get us where we are today, he tells the history in a dry and matter-of-fact manner without explaining what else was going on at the time. The level of detail he went into about how these services was over the top. The book is hard to follow because the author tells too many stories at once. I constantly had to refer to the appendix to review the timeline. I expected more about the people involved, rather than the competing companies and their online strategies.

Overall the book was an enjoyable trip down memory lane, but fails to explain how we got from the origins of the Internet to where we are today.

Pros: Nice historical overview of the Internet
Cons: Hard to follow

Two out of Five dogcows

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Article was republished by the Lawrence Apple User's Group 2.0 here as well as other groups listed on the right