April 7, 2009, 8:52 am

The Power of Humble Documents

By Henry Woodbury

In 1968 a handful of computer scientists began trying to figure out what to do with the rudimentary network they had designed for the government. Graduate student Stephen Crocker volunteered to write up the notes on protocol. Thus were born the “Request for Comments” that became ” the formal method of publishing Internet protocol standards.”

Crocker describes how an open process invited participation and the sharing of ideas:

…we relied on a process we called “rough consensus and running code.” Everyone was welcome to propose ideas, and if enough people liked it and used it, the design became a standard. 

Arguably, this not only made the Internet possible, but laid the foundation for the open source movement and other cooperative software and computing ventures.

For more details on that rudimentary network, one can read Michael Hauben’s “History of ARPANET: Behind the Net – the untold history of the ARPANET — or — The ‘Open’ History of the ARPANET/Internet”.

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