Connected: An Internet Encyclopedia
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Project Description

Political Statement

One of the key components in the Internet's success has been the public availability of its design documents. Many proprietary networking systems, such as SNA and IPX, have guarded their packet formats and details of protocol operation as trade secrets. Even ``open'' standard organizations, such as IEEE and ISO, sell their standard documents as a primary source of revenue. In contrast, Internet design documents, the ``Request for Comments'' (RFCs), have always be available for anyone to download and study. I believe that this policy, making it easy for the public to study the Internet and learn about it, has greatly contributed to the success of this exciting technology. A key requirement of the project is the continuation of this open policy.

The Problem

Most people that want to learn about the Internet start with either a book or a course. Many "Internet for Idiots" books exist, which aim to provide the reader with simple instructions for operating Internet tools, without extensive technical discussions. Likewise, there's plenty of end-user training available, covering roughly the same audience. While most people will be content with these offerings, some will want a more detailed understanding of Internet operation. This later minority is my audience.

A brief review of the more technical material is in order. There are several excellent technical texts which explain overall Internet operation (Comer), or detail particular components (Rose). Unfortunately, few of these books are priced under $50, and building a library requires either blank checks or serious commitment. Likewise, more advanced courses are offered, but most of these come attached to some company's certification program. That means they are pricy and more attention is given to product configuration than fundamental concepts. Finally, a plethora of online documents range from "Internet for Idiots" to the exact protocol specifications found in the Request For Comments (RFCs).

The RFCs specify to bit-level precision almost every protocol that runs over the Internet. RFCs are tersely written, long (many in excess of 100 pages), formatted for line printers, and feature tables and graphics made out of text characters.

Table P-1
Typical RFC Typical Web Document
large small
no hyperlinks many hyperlinks to related info
few graphics GIF graphics
printer-oriented Interaction-oriented
Contrasting characteristics of RFCs and Web Documents

This isn't too surprising, since the RFC structure was developed two decades ago, during Internet's formative years. At the time, there was no Web, no Netscape, no PCs. Unfortunately, these shortcomings of the 1970s are still apparent. While the RFCs that explain how the Internet works remain publicly available, they are some of the most difficult documents to access on-line. They take a long time to download (because of their size), lack a progressive range of complexity, are difficult to search topically, lack good graphics, lack good hypertext links.

The Solution

My intent is to build a free, on-line reference that explains in detail how the Internet operates. The "TCP/IP Encyclopedia" will be Web-based, featuring topic-oriented pages that will break the technical muddle into small, easy to understand pieces. The presentation will be graphical and hyper linked.


The encyclopedia must:


The encyclopedia will be constructed in stages, roughly as follows:
  1. Tool selection and construction
  2. Hypertext versions of the Internet RFCs
  3. The topical core
  4. Programmed instruction course, with exercises
  5. Everything else
These are the key components of Connected: The encyclopedia will make use of the following practices:

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Connected: An Internet Encyclopedia
Project Description