These two small letters heralded the beginning of online communication
Letters have been sent from one person to another. They have been sent through the Internet. This has happened since 1969. The number of letters is uncountable.
They were sent on many platforms. Those included ARPANET message boards. It included AOL Instant Messenger. This platform is now gone. Lastly it includes Slack. This platform is now popular.
It might be hard to believe, but this communication revolution started with two letters.
It was late at night. It was October 29, 1969. The first message was sent over the Internet. The date is now celebrated as International Internet Day.
Two groups of researchers were working. They were in two separate facilities. They sat before simple computer terminals. They were on the phone. They were making yet another attempt at talking to each other. Their planned first transmission wasn’t anything too fancy. That's according Len Kleinrock. He headed the UCLA lab engaged in the research. That's what he told Guy Raz for NPR. But it turned out to be amazing anyways.
The UCLA researchers were trying to transmit the message “login.” They meant login command. They were sending it to the computer at Stanford. Charley Kline sent the initial transmission from UCLA. He said they’d tried this before. But they had no success. But this time, something happened.
“The first thing I typed was an L,” he told NPR. Stanford computer scientist Bill Duvall said over the phone that he’d received it. He typed the O. It also went through. Then came the G. “And then he had a bug and it crashed.”
They kept working. They successfully transmitted the whole word. That happened later that night. It came after some tinkering. Then they went home to get some sleep. They had no way of knowing what would ensue because of this development.
“We should have prepared a wonderful message,” Kleinrock told Raz. It would have placed them in the tradition of discoverers who had brief statements. These include “What hath God wrought.” It also includes “a giant leap for mankind.” Samuel Morse, Neil Armstrong and the others “were smart. They understood public relations. They had quotes ready for history.”
But they sent “lo.” It was an accidentally shortened first transmission. But it would have to do. It actually works quite well. Merriam-Webster defines the word. It says it is an exclamation. It is “used to call attention or to express wonder or surprise.” It has a history of use. It dates back as far as the 12th century.
It has predecessor. It is the Middle English “la.” It goes back even farther. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, “la” can be found in Beowulf. It is also in the Ormulum. Its more modern incarnation is found in the King James Bible. It is in the first scene of Hamlet. And it is in Tennessee Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire. These are just a few examples.
What the teams at UCLA and Stanford had pioneered was the ARPANET. It was the predecessor to the Internet. It has come to contain all of the above texts. It also has many, many more pedestrian statements. It could be found at 19 research institutions by the spring of 1971. That’s according to Leo Beranek. He was writing for the Massachusetts Historical Review. It only spread from there.