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Book Review: The Internet – A Historical Encyclopedia

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The Internet: A Historical Encyclopedia, is an ambitious three-volume set published by ABC-CLIO. This encyclopedia is a “major expansion of the RUSA-award winning predecessor”, History of the Internet: a Chronology, 1843 to the Present, by Christos J.P. Moschovitis, Hilary Poole, Tami Schuyler, and Theresa M. Senft. The 312 page title was one of the ALA’s Reference and User Services Association’s 2000 Outstanding Reference Sources. Rather than increase the size of the previous single volume, the editors and authors chose to separate the issues, history, and biography components into their own volumes for the 2005 edition.

Volume I: Biographies, was written by Laura Lambert, and contains 41 entries on 44 personalities critical to the development of the internet. Those chosen for inclusion are not limited to pioneers associated with technological developments only: for example, Lambert includes biographies of science fiction writers William Gibson and Bruce Sterling, lawyer and professor Lawrence Lessig, and of course, Marshall McLuhan. Other entries include noted hackers John T. Draper (Cap’n Crunch) and Kevin Mitnick, Napster founder Shawn Fanning, and the usual suspects: Bill Gates, Linus Torvalds, Tim Berners-Lee, Marc Andreesen, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, Jeff Bezos, et al. Each entry is from 4-7 pages, and includes suggestions for further readings, works by the subject if available, books and articles about the subject, and related websites.

Volume II: Issues, was written by Chris Woodford, and has 35 entries on a wide range of topics, including: Activism and the Internet, Cookies, Cyberterrorism, Data Mining, Digital Libraries, E-books, Education and the Internet, Hackers, Internet Broadcasting, Online Communities, Open Source, P2P Networks, Spam, and Wireless Internet. At 283 pages, this is the largest of the three volumes, with entries between six and ten pages in length. For each entry, Woodford provides background, a brief history, trends, and controversies and responses. Sidebars include additional information. For example, the E-books entry includes sidebars on E-ink and SmartPaper, and E-book Horror Stories. Blogs did not warrant their own entry, but instead are included in the section, Journalism and the Internet. I was surprised that social software components such as instant messaging, social bookmarking and tagging, wikis, photo sharing, online interest groups, social networking, user forums, RSS, and even search engines such as Google and Yahoo, receive little coverage in this volume.

Volume III: Chronology, was written by Chris Moschovitis and five other authors, and covers the same time period as the earlier edition, 1843-present. The history is divided into eight chapters, ending in 2004. In the early 1800s, Charles Babbage worked on designs for his Difference Engine (also the title of a novel by Gibson and Sterling), and by 1840, proposed a design for his Analytical Engine. 1843 is chosen as the opening date for the Internet’s prehistory, the year that Sketch of the Analytical Engine by Charles Babbage appeared. Written by LF Menabrae, the report was translated by Ada Lovelace, who, according to the authors of this volume, quadrupled the manuscript’s length by adding her own analysis and commentary. Slightly dated Internet statistics and a bibliography of online resources to Internet history are also provided.

In each entry in the Biography and Issues volumes, further reading from within these two volumes is also suggested, if appropriate.

The Internet: A Historical Encyclopedia
is a great place to start when looking for biographical, social, and historical information about the Internet. At US$285, it is expensive, but worth the price if your library needs a current and detailed reference tool covering this topic. I like the organization of the encyclopedia: each volume is relatively small in size, and the concise, brief entries make it easy to sift through the set, find a topic or biography of interest, and start reading from there, rather than have to read each volume from beginning to end.

Of note, the ABC-CLIO site includes a preview of the E-book version of this title, which, as of this writing, seems to include the entire encyclopedia!

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