UPDATED 19:12 EST / APRIL 07 2009

Bring Back Old School R&D – We Need More Invention Less Talk

Stephen D. Crocker writes for the NY Times a great story that needs to be read by all young entrepreneurs and university officials.  40 years ago I was just a young toddler running around when the Internet was concieved.

My Angle:  this story can shed some light on the innovations that can occur on basic R&D.  What may have seen to be a small research projec turned out to change the world.  As I look around Silicon Valley,  I ask myself … where are these kinds of projects today?  Invention is about discovery but invention needs a starting point a catalyst.  In the era of failed venture models and a bazillion dollars of stimulus money, where’s the good old school R&D?

When the R.F.C.’s were born, there wasn’t a World Wide Web. Even by the end of 1969, there was just a rudimentary network linking four computers at four research centers: the University of California, Los Angeles; the Stanford Research Institute; the University of California, Santa Barbara; and the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. The government financed the network and the hundred or fewer computer scientists who used it. It was such a small community that we all got to know one another.

It probably helped that in those days we avoided patents and other restrictions; without any financial incentive to control the protocols, it was much easier to reach agreement.This was the ultimate in openness in technical design and that culture of open processes was essential in enabling the Internet to grow and evolve as spectacularly as it has. In fact, we probably wouldn’t have the Web without it.

When CERN physicists wanted to publish a lot of information in a way that people could easily get to it and add to it, they simply built and tested their ideas. Because of the groundwork we’d laid in the R.F.C.’s, they did not have to ask permission, or make any changes to the core operations of the Internet. Others soon copied them — hundreds of thousands of computer users, then hundreds of millions, creating and sharing content and technology. That’s the Web.Put another way, we always tried to design each new protocol to be both useful in its own right and a building block available to others. We did not think of protocols as finished products, and we deliberately exposed the internal architecture to make it easy for others to gain a foothold. This was the antithesis of the attitude of the old telephone networks, which actively discouraged any additions or uses they had not sanctioned.

GREAT STORY – Worth reading to remind us all what is possible by researching and testing.


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