I can’t believe that I forgot the Internet’s 40th birthday. Throughout most of my professional career the Internet has been a steadfast ally; a friend that has helped me stay in touch and brought me new business. I have been writing and talking about Internet technology for 25 years now. Some of my first clients sold TCP/IP stacks for Windows, VMS, and Macintosh (no, the IP protocol wasn’t always bundled with the OS). I worked with early SMTP vendors, including the guys who created the MIME standard that lets us send files by e-mail, and the first SNMP stack vendors selling raw, Internet management goodness.
The march of alphabet soup has continued over the years, the Internet has become a bosom companion. Who knew that from the early ARPANET days, the Internet would grow from a network of loosely connected college computers to a global infrastructure supporting billions of users? One of the things that continues to amaze me about the Internet is that it is an autonomous entity. There is no central Internet authority. And while the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) remains the harbinger of evolving networking standards, the Internet infrastructure itself has become a self-healing mesh of data arteries that remains incredibly reliable, even though no one entity is really in charge.
The Internet’s actually birthday is somewhat in question. One group claims that it was born in 1961 when Dr. Leonard Kleinrock presented a paper on packet-switching at MIT. Most acknowledge the Internet was born in 1969 when data was transmitted by two California universities. Wherever you set the marker, the world has never been the same since.
And it is important to remember that the Internet is not the same as the World Wide Web. The Web has made the Internet more consumer-friendly and commercially accessible, but the Web is only 20 years old. Tim Berners Lee first proposed the concept of the Web to CERN management in March 1989. However, the Web is just another protocol that runs over the Internet, like e-mail of file transfer.
So with the growth of the Internet and the Web, our world has changed. And as a PR professional, our world has changed dramatically as well. I have been doing PR long enough to remember stuffing envelopes with press releases that were mailed to editors for publication. Today, of course, data is distributed via e-mail, blog posts, Twitter, and any number of other Internet-driven communications. Information access has become virtually instantaneous, which makes our jobs as publicists infinitely more challenging. We have to make our clients’ stories more compelling, more relevant, and more Web-friendly in order to have an impact. We need to engage in the Internet-driven conversation, rather than pitching stories in a one-way channel, pleading with editors to write about our clients.
The Internet has made the world much smaller, and given us instant access to an unprecedented amount of data. I believe that part of our responsibility as PR professionals is to use the power of this incredible technology for good, and to promote best practices, authenticity, and adopt new methodologies that promote truth and authenticity. And the 40th birthday of the Internet seems to be an appropriate moment to pause and consider what role we can play in shaping the future of the information revolution.