Girlsday: internet@30

The author

Steven Pemberton, CWI, Amsterdam


Technology in 1988

A huge mobile phone being demonstrated on TV No Internet, web, google

No mobile phones

Technology in 1988

Market penetration of LCD TVs No WiFi, Bluetooth



No digital cameras

No MP3


No DVDs, just VCR tapes

No USB sticks

Life in 1988

Cash - post office or bank. In office hours!

Food - supermarkets closed at 18:00

Holidays and flights - travel agents


Trains - train timetable book


Landline Phones and phone boxes

Cinema - bars or newspapers

News and Weather - Radio, TV or newspapers


First digital things enter daily life

Early Toshiba laptopCD overtakes vinyl

Home PCs beginning to arrive.

First primitive laptops, with floppies: 1.4MB

First 2½ inch hard-disks: 10MBytes

Before the internet

Computers could still be connected.

At CWI: used internet protocols between computers

Externally: UUNet -- email via telephone lines

Sending emails

You would write the email, and mark it to be sent.

The computer would queue up mails to be sent.

Every hour, it would dial up nearby computers, and send and receive emails.

The nearby computers would then be responsible for further forwarding the message to its destination.

Therefore, to send an email you had to know the route it had to take from your computer to the destination.

Luckily there were 'well-known' hosts, that you could use when quoting your address.

Email addresses

Examples of people giving their email address:


Example of an actual address as typed:


Sending files

Email could only send text, so you couldn't send binary files like programs.

There were also length limits.

So to send a binary file, you had to:

  1. Encode the file into text.
  2. Split into chunks.
  3. Send each chunk in a separate email.

(Sometimes it was just easier to post a floppy disk.)

Receiving files

The receiver had to:

  1. Collect the sent mails.
  2. Ask for a resend of any that didn't arrive, or arrived broken.
  3. Join them together again.
  4. Decode them back to binary form.

As you can imagine, this was a lot of pain.

How internet works

In fact that is similar to how the internet works:


A network

It's called a network because it looks like a fishing net.

Example (incomplete) route

This is connecting to the Vatican; you can see the message hopping from Amsterdam, to Germany, Switzerland, and Italy.


Coming of internet

We knew it was planned

17 November 1988

The "first email" about the starting of the open internet

The first internet computer in NL


At the time a very fast computer: 1500 dhrystones.

My current mobile phone is more than 100M dhrystones!

The internet connection was 64kb/s

Exponential growth

A year later: 128kb/s.

And yet since then speeds have effectively doubled per year.

By 1997, when AMSIX was created, it was running at 2Mb/s.

(This is of course less than you have at home now.)

Speeds at AMSIX

These are values I could track down (usage, not capacity by the way, and only the measured usage at that)

Speeds at AMSIX


Amsix building Currently peaking at 6Tb/s (Tera is a million million)

At Home Too

My home bandwidth has similarly been doubling over the years.

Bandwidth on a log scale

Norwich 1957

The first municipal computer 1957The open internet in Europe is 30 years old.

When it started, public computing was only 30 years old itself.

Norwich 2019

A Raspberry Pi in Norwich This computer was the first to be given away free with a magazine. The 1957 computer ran non-stop for 10 years.

The Raspberry PI can do the same amount of computing in ... ?

Norwich 2019

A Raspberry Pi in Norwich This computer was the first to be given away free with a magazine. The 1957 computer ran non-stop for 10 years.

The Raspberry PI can do the same amount of computing in 5 minutes.

It is a million times faster, a million times cheaper, and two million times smaller...

Moore 1965

Moore's Original Graph

Moore's Law wasn't a prediction about how fast computers would get, but about how many transistors you would be able to get on a chip.

Moore's Law

42 years processors trend

As you can see, Moore's Law isn't over yet.

Exponential growth

Often people don't understand the true effects of exponential growth.

Let me demonstrate.


Take a piece of paper, divide it in two, and write this year's date in one half:


Divide the other half in two vertically; write the date 18 months ago in half:


Divide the remains in half, and write the date 18 months earlier:


Repeat until your pen is thicker than the space you have to divide in two:

This demonstrates that your current computer is more powerful than all other computers you have ever had put together.

Internet ≠ Web

The Internet is not the Web!

Email is not the web, Skype is not the web, Whatsapp is not the web, but they all use the internet.

The internet is like trainlines; the Web is just one of the many trains.

1990 The Web

The coming of the internet enabled the Web.

Tim Berners-Lee (and Robert Caillau) created the Web at CERN.

The Web is now replacing books and many other things.

Telephone directories, encyclopaedias, train timetables, other reference works are already gone. Others will follow.

Books (as an artefact) will become a niche market. All information will be internet-based.


A great thing about the design of the web is that it is decentralised.

A problem is that a number of companies are drawing more and more information centrally (Google, Facebook, Amazon).

Now home bandwidths are getting faster, I believe much of this can change: people will start storing their information at home, and not on company servers.

Will a decentralised web happen?


It is trivially easy to have a webserver at home: the connection speeds are now fast enough. Many home modems already support it.

There are already some examples, for instance Tim Berners-Lee's Solid, and Decode.

The internet of things

Makes it sound like it's a different internet.

Really: Things on the internet.

Enabled by all those super-small, super-cheap processors.


An IoT coffee mug


An IoT toothbrush


Not all IoT artefacts are stupid. These for instance allow you to control the temperature of rooms individually, and give each room its own schedule. It asks to turn off the heating when you leave.

An IoT radiator

The Future

The internet is still very young.

When books were first introduced by Gutenberg, It took 50 years before the idea caught hold that books didn't need to imitate manuscripts.

We are still feeling our way in society in how to use and deal with the internet.


How to keep the web open, free and distributed.

How to make the internet easier to use.

How to protect privacy and security, particularly with the internet of things.


All those passwords!

Your computer knows it is you (you've used a password or whatever to get in).

Solution: Use public key cryptography at a low level to log you in.

Public Key Cryptography

Two matched keys: you can lock with either key, but if you lock with one, only the other can open it.

So everyone has two keys, one public and one private.

Identity: If I lock a message with my private key, it can only be opened with my public key, and so you know it was really from me. (No more spam!)

Privacy: If you send me a message locked with my public key, you know that only I can open it to read it.

Secure messaging: if I send you a message locked with my private key, and your public key, then only you can read it, and you know it's really from me.

Public keys for passwords

You would still need to register with sites, but instead of picking a password, you exchange public keys (or rather your browser does).

Then when you click on "log in", the site says (to your browser): decrypt this random message for me.

You know it's really them asking, and when your browser decrypts the message, they know it's really you.

And you're in, without typing in a password.

Unfortunately, something like this was in the original design of the internet, but was too expensive to implement then. We are paying the price now for them not leaving hooks for this to happen.