internet research on the internet

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The Internet is itself a suitable case for research, as Michael Kenward found when surfing sites on the Web given over to research on the Web into the Web

While no-one in their right mind would think of setting up a research project without searching the Internet to see what is already happening, I haven't seen much before now on the Internet as a research subject in itself. The origins of the World Wide Web at CERN, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, are familiar stuff. His work there turned Tim Berners-Lee into a folk hero. But CERN exists to smash atoms rather than to make life easier for the surfing generation. Naturally enough, there is a growing array of places where research into the Internet itself is the day job.

The operation that first started me thinking about the Internet as a research subject in its own right was PlanetLab, 'an open, globally distributed testbed for developing, deploying and accessing planetary-scale network services'. This brings together a number of companies, including HP and Intel, and a raft of academic organisations around the world. This one is really new, so not a lot to see on the website yet. With luck PlanetLab will use their research subject as a distribution medium. To begin with, anyone wanting to improve their knowledge of the subject can browse the 'Courseware' page, with 'links to course web pages for classes and seminars that have used PlanetLab'.

Many of the Internet research outfits seem to have their roots on the West Coast of the USA. Take ICIR, the ICSI Center for Internet Research, a part of the International Computer Science Institute. Once funded by the telecoms giant AT&T, ICIR is in the middle of the self- proclaimed capital of the 'tech' world, Berkeley, California.

One of ICIR roles is to 'pursue research on the Internet architecture and related networking issues'. In a world as rapidly moving as the Internet, they must have their work cut out, trying to come up with ideas before the world has passed them by. Anyone responsible for running an Internet operation of any sort might find it useful to check out the section on Bro, 'A System for Detecting Network Intruders in Real-Time'. You can even get your own copy of the source code.

The work on Bro also had contributions from the Network Research Group of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. This has its own website with even more software packages that you can download. These include applications for audio and video conferencing, and Whiteboard Tool, a 'remote conferencing application for shared drawing'.

One topic for research into the Internet is the flow of traffic. The NRG provides a home for the Internet Traffic Archive, which exists 'to support widespread access to traces of Internet network traffic'. The idea here, they tell us, is that: 'The traces can be used to study network dynamics, usage characteristics, and growth patterns, as well as providing the grist for trace-driven simulations.'

AT&T may have untied the strings to ICIR, but it has not abandoned research into the Internet. The Internetworking Research Department at AT&T Labs in Menlo Park, California, conducts research on Internet architecture and protocols. This has a page full of what look like heavyweight papers, not to mention details of local eateries. I had to resist the temptation to roam around this website, which has a section given over to patents on the lab's work. As seems usual in this business, there are software tools, including the intriguing MAWL, the Mother of All Web Languages - 'an application language for programming interactive services in the context of the World Wide Web'.

The good thing about this site is that it is well designed. Maybe Internet researchers know something that the rest of us don't. They seem to specialise in just about the most basic websites going.

Another site in this category is the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF). This is 'a large, open, international community of network designers, operators, vendors, and researchers concerned with the evolution of the Internet architecture and the smooth operation of the Internet'. This operation clearly believes in the Internet. It says that it does most of its work by email. It says the operation is open to anyone who is interested and, as the site puts it, there are 'no cards, no dues, no secret handshakes'.

If you are into joining organisations, you might want to check the website of the Internet Society, which boasts of having 'more than 150 organisation and 16,000 individual members in over 180 nations worldwide'. One section of this site has an extensive list of links to other sites that are dedicated to the history of the Internet. It may seem surprising that something as new as this can produce a couple of dozen leads. Also check the publications area, and ISOC's own magazine.

One ISOC link takes you to the World Wide Web consortium W3C and Berners-Lee's own take on the history. Well, it is more a set of personal musings taken from his recent email answers to questions than a history. (He suggests you buy his book for that.) Do read his explanation of why he is on the receiving end of so much spam. It is all down to sloppy reading of the headers on web pages that boast of their adherence to the W3C's standards.

It isn't clear if the IETF, which I have already mentioned, is related to the IRTF, which is the Internet Research Task Force. IRTF does acknowledge the support of the IETF and ISOC. It tells us that its mission is: 'To promote research of importance to the evolution of the future Internet by creating focused, long-term and small research groups working on topics related to Internet protocols, applications, architecture and technology.'

Yet another bare-bones site, it lists 13 of those research groups. I looked at the research group on anti-SPAM, a topic that seems to have finally woken up governments and those internet service providers who seem to think that it isn't their problem. This taught me about the way in which this tiresome business operates. Let's hope they get somewhere with this one. It is certainly nice to know that there is some serious research into the issue.