Teaching a new dog old tricks

What the history of the Internet can teach the Internet of Things

Alasdair Allan
15 min readFeb 2, 2018


Transcript of the talk I gave at The Things Network Conference in February 2018.

As a group developers tend to think far more about the future, than the past. Well, unless that is, we’re obsessing about retro video games. But every once in a while it’s worth it to take a step back and look at history, and then decide whether we want to repeat our mistakes, and also triumphs, just one more time. Or whether we should be doing something different this time around.

Because we’ve been here before. Because while the Internet of Things is very much in its infancy the other Internet, the digital one, while perhaps not having yet reached its middle years has, at least, started to outgrow its adolescence.

The IMP log with the very first message sent on the Internet. (Image credit: Andrew Adams)

The first message ever sent over the ARPANET—the network that’s widely regarded as the most direct predecessor to the modern Internet—was by student programmer Charley Kline from a computer at UCLA at 10:30 pm on October 29th, 1969, when he attempted to login to a second machine, located at the Stanford Research Institute in Menlo Park, California. He managed to get as far as the “o” of login before the system crashed. The first actually successful connection was made about an hour later.

These machines were connected by two Interface Message Processors — or IMP — machines. The IMP was the first generation of gateways, known today as routers, however despite being almost synonymous with the Internet as we know it today, the connection between the two machines wasn’t a TCP connection. The TCP standard didn’t yet exist.

The birth of the other Internet — the digital one — was tied up with a vicious standards war. Something that’ll sounds horribly familiar to those of us now involved with the Internet of Things.

However the fallout from this standards war—fought over the course of twenty years following the first message between those two original computers on the…