Monday, May 03, 2010

History of Internet in Australia on Paper

The book "AARNet : 20 Years of the Internet in Australia : 1989-2009" by Glenda Korporaal was launched in November 2009, but only in the last week have I been able to access it. This is due to the irony that AARNet, a pioneer of online information access, chose to distribute its history on paper, in the form of a limited edition, hardback book.

The book is a well researched, well written and well presented 128 page, handsome hardback, with numerous historically interesting photographs. The book could do with an index and seems to draw more than a little of its inspiration from Roger Clarke's "Origins and Nature of the Internet in Australia".

The author does not shy away from discussing some of the controversies in AARnet's history. I recognised many familiar names and faces, many of who were fellow members of the "Internet Conspiracy" to get the Australian Government on the Internet in the 1990s.

It is a shame, and symptomatic of the problems which have held back AARnet, that few people will ever see this work. After making a bold move into a new technology AARnet tends loose it nerve and fails to follow up and make effective use of the what it has done. In this case they have commissioned a book, but ensured almost no one will ever read it, by not making it available using the technology they advocate.

The message AARnet is sending out to its clients in Australian universities and to its backers (the Australian Government), is that AARnet does not think the Internet is suitable for the distribution of important information: AARnet prefers paper delivery.

The copy of the book I read will sit on the shelves of the ANU Menzies Library, several floors away from the nearest student (who will be tapping away at a keyboard) and on the other side of the campus from the School of Computer Science.

AARnet could have provided the book online, as a valuable educational resource, in the form of a free web site and e-book. Australian students could have then learned about the role which Australian played in creating the Internet. Instead Australians will be educated using materials from other countries and not know Australia had a role in development of the Internet.

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