I love the story of the first message to cross the internet:
Forty years ago today, a team led by Leonard Kleinrock typed the “Lo” of “Login” into a Stanford computer, which promptly crashed before the command could be entered. But because Kleinrock’s team was sending this message from a UCLA machine, he had just taken part in one of the great milestones in communication history.
In light of some of our recent discussions about public sector innovation, I also think that it’s important to realise that the internet was a public sector project. Here’s how Bob Taylor got it launched:
What he needed, thought Taylor, was a way to use just one terminal and one log-in for all three of the computers to which he had access. In other words, he needed a way for them to talk to one another. A computer network. And not just one that linked computers of the same type, as had already been done experimentally, but of different designs. Once he had that, the computer scientists around the country working on ARPA-funded projects could have it, too. They’d then be able to share computer resources and double, triple, even quadruple their computing power. With a computer network through which any computer could communicate with any other computer on the network, research could make much more efficient use of the then-still-very-expensive computer resources—they could all get more time on more computers.
Taylor described his brainstorm later as “kind of an ‘aha’ idea.” Right then and there, he headed over to the Pentagon’s E-Ring, to the office of Charlie Herzfeld, ARPA’s then-director, and pitched the idea to him. Herzfeld listened, asked a few questions, and then, as Taylor described it later, “He pretty much instantly made budget changes within his agency and took a million dollars away from one of his other offices and gave it to me to get started.” Back at his own office in the D-Ring, Taylor looked at his watch and let out a breath. “Jesus Christ,” he said to himself. “That took only 20 minutes.”
If public institutions can come up with an innovation as big as the internet, then there’s not much excuse for not being able to get smaller projects off the ground, right?