Not so long ago, I would head to my friend’s house after school to play Oregon Trail on her desktop computer. Back in those days, you couldn’t just download apps and games from the Internet, because there was no Internet. There were no smartphones, and handheld tablet devices hadn’t even crossed our minds. We loaded our games onto the computer from multiple floppy disks.

Fast-forward to today. I am surrounded by four computing devices at any given time, all of which are capable of accessing the world at lightning speeds. It’s easy to get excited about these technologies, but what I find most fascinating is what goes on “behind-the-scenes.”

Recently, while studying network reference models, I learned about four different standards bodies that govern the way we experience the Internet, allowing what happens on our devices to be a seamless, magical experience.

A journey down the network highway
Our first stop is the International Telecom Union (ITU), with headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. This organization was established in 1865 and created what are known as letter standards. Some examples are ADSL (Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line), which enables a faster connection over copper telephone lines, and MPEG4, which allows us to enjoy audio and video content.

The next stop is at the Institute for Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE). This group was founded in 1884 by a few electronics professionals in New York. They created the numbering system that governs how we access the modern internet. Some familiar protocols are 802.3 (Ethernet) and 802.11 (wifi). Simply put, my neighborhood coffee shop without 802.11 would be like enjoying my coffee without cream and sugar. Thanks IEEE!

We continue our journey to our next destination, which is the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF). This stop takes us to the west coast in California where RFC (Request for Comment) was created. These standards govern how we reach the content via the World Wide Web. Some familiar protocols developed are RFC 2616, or HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol), and RFC 1034/1035 which is better known as DNS (Domain Name System).

Our last stop on this network field trip is at W3C, or the World Wide Web Consortium. This organization was founded in 1994 (right about the time I stopped playing Oregon Trail) by Tim Berners-Lee at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. W3C created familiar protocols such as HTML5 (the fifth iteration of Hypertext Markup Language), which allows us to experience multimedia content like never before, and CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) which let us manage and enjoy web pages in a more beautiful way.

Now that you’re in acronym overload, I hope you have a better understanding of how our modern Internet became what it is today. I guess I’ll use those floppy disks for drink coasters while I download the latest app to my tablet.