How the Web Was Won: An Oral History of the Interweb

The July issue of Vanity Fair contains a fascinating oral history of the Internet and the web. It tells how the former came to be, how it begat the latter, how the web boom played out, and it takes us all the way to today. While I could carp about a few voices missing from the cavalcade of people interviewed who were there at the time, you’re better off just reading the whole damn thing. It’s a glorious oral fugue.

Bob Kahn: They said, We want a network. This would be like a bid for a rocket to the moon—you know, handle a thousand pounds of payload, launch from a vertical liftoff in Florida, bring back something safely.

Larry Roberts: There were two competing bids that were particularly close, BBN and Raytheon. And I chose between them based on the team structure and the people. I just felt that the BBN team was less structured. There wouldn’t be as many middle managers and so on.

Bob Kahn: Larry Roberts was an engineer. In fact, Larry probably could have built the Arpanet himself, would be my guess, except there would have been nobody at arpa to run the program who was capable. When Larry contracted with us at BBN to do it, you know, in some sense he kept his fingers in the pie right through that whole period.

On an eight-month deadline, the BBN team delivered their prototype I.M.P. to U.C.L.A. on August 30, 1969.

Leonard Kleinrock: September 2, 1969, is when the first I.M.P. was connected to the first host, and that happened at U.C.L.A. We didn’t even have a camera or a tape recorder or a written record of that event. I mean, who noticed? Nobody did. Nineteen sixty-nine was quite a year. Man on the moon. Woodstock. Mets won the World Series. Charles Manson starts killing these people here in Los Angeles. And the Internet was born. Well, the first four everybody knew about. Nobody knew about the Internet.

Read the whole thing. To get so many of the main voices in one long piece makes this unmissable stuff.