History of Web Based Communities
Before we address the various types of web Based Communities, it would be wise to first consider the history of the internet, as well as its intended application. In “The Vision of Interactive Computing and the Future” (Hauben, 1995), Michael Hauben states that, “understanding the history of the current global computer networks is a crucial step towards building the network of the future. There is a vision that guided the origin and development of the Internet, Usenet and other associated physical and logical networks. What is that vision?” While it is true that current applications may have exceeded the original vision, the blueprints of the internet were drawn by a few visionaries in the late 1960’s.
The successful launch of the Russian satellite Sputnik in 1957 gave momentum to the Cold War left the U.S. at an apparent technological disadvantage. In response to the perceived imbalance of power, President Eisenhower issued directive 5105.15 which established the Advanced Research Project Agency (ARPA). Staffed with some of the most brilliant minds of the time, the agency became a hotbed of research for technology and defense whose initial project was the successful launch of an American satellite. On January 31, 1958, Explorer 1 was launched. Carrying a small scientific payload, this satellite achieved stable Earth orbit and became the vehicle by which the magnetic radiation belts around the Earth were discovered. ARPA, in a coordinated effort with other agencies and contractors, had proved its worth. Nuclear insecurities resulting from the Cold War remained however and the goals of ARPA continued to evolve. In the early sixties, ARPA turned its focus on developing a network of computers that could survive a nuclear attack. This was to insure a continuation of communication for the purpose of command and control functionality. J.C.R. Licklider was chosen in 1962 to head ARPA’s research in computer technology. Considered a visionary, Licklider saw an advantage in making the government’s use of computers more interactive, simultaneously linking them from separate locations. Licklider felt that achieving this goal could be expedited if ARPA’s contracts were moved from the private sector (military), to "the best academic computer centers" (ARPA draft, III-7). This laid the foundation to what would latter become known as ARPANET. At this time, the dominant computing mode was batch card processing, the results of which could take over a day. Licklider felt that this type of processing would lack the responsiveness or functionality to serve in an interactive environment and immediately sought to develop advanced processing techniques. His office was renamed “The Information Processing Techniques Office” (IPTO). According to the ARPANET Completion Report, Licklider nicknamed the computer specialist that he had gathered for this project as the “Intergalactic Network” (ARPA draft, III-7).
Licklider envisioned that computer networks could serve as vehicles of communication linking individuals from multiple locations, effectively creating networked communities. Though Licklider left ARPA before the physical aspects of a computer network had been created, he successfully passed this vision on to Robert Taylor who became his successor at the IPTO. Speaking of Licklider, Taylor remarked, "Lick was among the first to perceive the spirit of community created among the users of the first time-sharing systems. In pointing out the community phenomena created, in part, by the sharing of resources in one timesharing system, Lick made it easy to think about interconnecting the communities, the interconnection of interactive, on-line communities of people," (ARPA draft, III-21). Prior to this time, computers were simply machines that processed numbers, the function of which was known as an “arithmetic engine”. The ARPANET project found itself at odds with the very industry whose interest it was to support. "The computer industry, in the main, still thinks of the computer as an arithmetic engine. Their heritage is reflected even in current designs of their communication systems.' They have an economic and psychological commitment to the arithmetic engine model, and it can die only slowly..." (ARPA draft, III-24). In opposition to the arithmetic engine computer model, the ARPA draft further stated that, "The ARPA theme is that the promise offered by the computer as a communication medium between people, dwarfs into relative insignificance the historical beginnings of the computer as an arithmetic engine" (ARPA draft, III-24).
The first nodes of the ARPANET which consisted of computers at four universities were brought online in 1969. These were the Stanford Research Institute, the University of Utah, and two campuses of the University of California. On October-29, 1969, Charley Klein of UCLA attempted to connect to the computer at the Stanford Research Institute. He typed the letter “L”. Researchers at SRI confirmed that the letter “L” had appeared on their screen. Klein then followed with the letter “O” which also was confirmed at SRI. As Klein typed the letter “G” however, the system crashed. This humble beginning, though not a complete success, demonstrated with only the transmission of two letters that a network of linked computers was indeed possible. Improvements in communication protocol, routers to direct traffic and additional computer sites quickly followed and the Internet was born. Licklider’s dream of networked communities became a reality as email list and discussion groups formed between researchers in multiple locations.