An internet thanksgiving

To all who make the internet great, a big thank you

This week, in the United States, people will be celebrated Thanksgiving, a time to eat turkey and look at the things we’re all thankful for. With this in mind, I’d like to thank the people who make one of the most revolutionary communication medium, the internet, work.

I’d like to thank pioneers like Bob Kahn and Vint Cerf who brought us TCP/IP and didn’t patent it, ensuring that anyone could use it. While they are not household names, they should be as everything that came after is thanks to those early moves. Today, your computer or your smartphone can connect to the internet because of a set of open technologies that made it possible to have different devices exchange data over a global telecommunication network.

I’d like to thank all the people who’ve laid down copper and fiber cable, allowing for the infrastructure of the internet to exist. While most computers gets their internet access over WiFi and mobile phones are not attached to any wires, there is generally a base station somewhere nearby that connects to cables either on poles or underground. Those cables then connect all over the place, forming the nearly invisible infrastructure of the internet. We often forget how massive an undertaking this has been: just think of all the wires required to connect your house, your neighbor’s house, your office or any other location to the vast server farms that serve internet content on a daily basis. This infrastructure sits there, silently, and it is thanks to the work of many blue collar workers that it exists, thanks to the hard work they put in digging trenches or putting up poles and throwing wires around them. Most people think of the internet as the kind of place where only white collar workers do the work but, before anyone can sit down to code a new internet app, those physical cables need to show up.

I’d like to thank all the networking engineer who look over the fiber optic and copper cable, toiling in the dark to ensure software packets travel at ever increasing speed towards my computer. While the cables exist, there is a vast network of individuals ensuring that traffic on those cables flows evenly and without any major issues. Those people figure out where traffic is stuck in bottlenecks and how to best reroute it so everyone gets access to the latest pictures of cats published online (or more significant pursuits.)

I’d like to thank all the system administrators who build the data centers and monitor their operations to ensure that servers are running smoothly. Whether an application is sitting in “the cloud” or stands alone on some dedicated server, there are people out there who’s responsibility is to ensure that hackers stay away, that software patches are updated, that configuration files are kept in line, that code is deployed properly (and code that doesn’t work is pulled back to return sites and apps to their previous working state), that new servers come online to deal with extra traffic, that old servers go offline when they’ve been upgraded, and so on. Once again, these are the kind of people no one thinks about until something goes wrong: when they do their job well, they are part of the invisible hands that keep things running smoothly.

I’d like to thank the software architects, who figure out where things are going to go wrong and provide a roadmap to their developers to ensure that those issues won’t affect users because they will have been dealt with before the user realizes the issue exists.

I’d like to thank the software developers, who bend bits to their will, turning out applications and sites that make us all more efficient, giving us more time to be entertained by other apps and sites. Whether they are using pre-existing frameworks or coding things from the ground up, they help turn new ideas into running code. Often lauded as hackers, they make it possible to remove inefficiencies from our world and, thanks to the internet’s global reach, make it possible for more people to pull themselves out of poverty.

I’d like to thank the product managers, who study the data and talk to customers in order to figure out the right color or right kind of button needed on an app. Their work lives in the myriad of details that go intro creating a product. Whenever you look at an app, stop and consider a particular icon or button: what went into making it the way it is? Why is it there? What decisions led to making this seemly insignificant piece of the screen better than what similar offerings have? For everyone of those questions, there’s a product manager out there who’s worked hard on figuring the best answer based on market data, customer input, discussion with developers, and study of related products.

I’d like to thank the user interface experts, for working with developers and product managers to give application a heart, to make the experience of using software a memorable one but all without overwhelming the user with something overly different. Their work is is in the evolution of design and the spit and polish that makes the difference between an average application and a great one.

I’d like to thank the founders,  the people who most would consider crazy for daring to go where no one else has gone before, for spending every waking minutes (and even some sleeping ones) thinking about how to perfect their offering to make it better for customers or end users, for looking at a challenge not as a mean to stop but as a stepping stone to something greater. They work hard every day to get people together to realize their vision. Companies are not formed in a vacuum and those founders are the people who help get the first group of people together and orchestrate the birth of new software.

I’d like to thank the users and customers, without whom a product is only a piece of code. Their queries, their support, their use of the product is what helps shape the direction of a set of loose ideas into what eventually becomes something used and beloved by many. Their satisfaction with the product or service offered is ultimately what makes or breaks a company and without them, companies couldn’t exist and founders would not be able to share their ideas with the world.

I’d like to thank the service providers like HR specialists, accountants and lawyers, who make sure that essential services to a company are running without anyone having to worry too much about it. Paperwork needs to be filed, employee benefits needs to be managed, accounting needs to be done, taxes need to be filed, incorporations and contracts need to be managed and all those services are provided by a large ecosystem of companies and individuals who make it possible for companies to exist.

I’d like to thank the angel investors and venture capitalists who provide support to startups in getting initial cash to make great ideas a reality, and then provide expertise in recruiting, management, sales, product development, and even engineering, to help turn ideas into companies. They are part of the glue that ties it all together.

I’d like to thank the activists who help maintain a balance of power on the internet, ensuring that equal access, a major tenet of what has made internet great, continues to exist. They may win some fights, they may lose some but ultimately it is thanks to their effort that a teenager can have as much power on the net as a multi-billion dollar corporation. The internet has leveled the playing field but it’s up to all of us to ensure that it remains that way.

But more important than all the other categories combined, I’d like to thank the families of all the kinds of people mentioned earlier. When a father has to leave the house before his significant other and kids are awake to make sure a system is repaired, when a mother has to stay in the office late to monitor a code release, when one half of a couple has to break off a date to deal with a work-related crisis, when the other half of a couple has to travel to a far-off place to make an idea happen, a family is impacted. But thanks to the kind of support that children, wives, husbands, boyfriends, girlfriends, and family members provide, our world runs, with new ideas flowering.

The internet works because of all those people and if you’re reading this, you fall into at least one of the categories I’ve highlighted above. The internet works because of us all and, most importantly, it works because of you.

So on this Thanksgiving, I’d like to thank you for all you’ve made possible and all that has yet to happen.

About the Author

Tristan Louis

Writing and working on the internet since 1993, I've launched 6 companies, of which 2 (internet.com and Earthweb) went public and two were sold (Net Quotient and MoveableMedia). My latest, Keepskor provides tools allowing anyone to develop mobile and connected TV games without writing a line of code. This is my personal site and all opinions here are mine.