[Air-l] A definition of the internet

Ted M Coopman coopman at u.washington.edu
Tue Oct 17 10:59:49 PDT 2006


Boy, lots of good sources and concepts coming out in this thread. Thanks to everyone.

I agree that it depends on what purpose you are defining it for, as well as what audience. Although I think it might be useful to discuss a functional definition for general purposes, such as undergrad instruction.

For my students, I differentiate between the internet and the web. The internet is the technical/physical infrastructure (regardless of protocols) that supports the web. For myself, I see the entire global communication infrastructure, once it goes completely digital, to effectively "be" the internet. The web is the information (in whatever form) that resides or transits the internet (email, webpages, streaming media, whatever). I believe that I picked this up from Kirsten Foot.

This makes sense to me in its relation to the difference between the electromagnetic spectrum and the equipment that utilizes it (transmitters/ receivers) and broadcast radio or TV (content).

Broadly, I think this general discussion hits on a particular social science problem with the internet and/or the web, which is how to bound what you are studying?


Ted M. Coopman
Department of Communication
University of Washington

On Tue, 17 Oct 2006, Ralf Bendrath wrote:

> Kevin Guidry wrote:
>> TCP/IP as the
>> underlying protocol of the majority of the Internet is a historical
>> accident.  Other protocols that provided the same functionality could
>> just as easily been used.
> Well, there were massive efforts underway around the same time in the ITU
> and related venues to establish X.400 as the major standard for
> interconnecting different networks. It would have been a different
> Inter-Network for sure. The domain layer and the transport layer were
> identical, so your email address was also used for routing. It would have
> been technically impossible to use the TLD "tv" outside Tuvalu. And the
> network topology with gateways at the national borders resembled the
> multilateral political model of the ITU/UN culture.
> In the end, the Internet (as we know it) won over the tightly-controlled
> X.400 network. Which is not an accident, but happened for various reasons,
> the major one being that X.400 was tightly controlled, I guess.
>> my LAN at home is still essentially the same despite moving from
>> Ethernet over Cat5 to 802.11g over the air.
> I bet it is not the same. It probably has changed the routines of using
> it, as well as security and other considerations, like sharing it with the
> neighbors.
>> we are replacing one of the core
>> protocols used on the Internet with another protocol but it's still
>> going to be the Internet.
> Or it is not, depending on where you look. The Internet we know is already
> not there anymore (if it ever has been) in China, Saudi-Arabia, and even
> some places in Germany, where Nazi websites are filtered by the ISPs. And
> look at the Net Neutrality debate in the US. If you mean "any data network
> that allows me to connect to others around the world", then we will always
> have some "Internet", and we had it before with earlier services. But then
> X.400 also was an "Internet". But it will have different features.
> I think the debate is becoming a bit tiring. It is up to us how we define
> the "Internet", depending on our research purposes. We can also call it
> "Bill" if we want. More important is how the definition helps us doing
> research ojn specific aspects of the beast.
> Instead of having this "no, my definition is more right than yours" go on
> forever, it would be more helpful to list the different research strands
> and theories and try to come up with definitions of "the Internet" from
> the different perspectives. That would be much more fruitful to my
> understanding.
> From a political science point of view, I would say: The debate over net
> neutrality shows very nicely that part of the political struggle over what
> kind of network we want is defining the "Internet".
> Best, Ralf

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