Ira Fuchs and Greydon Freeman founded the Because It's Time Network (BITNET) on May 5, 1981. Used mainly in academia, BITNET quickly became one of the world's largest networks, eventually connecting more than 500 U.S. and 1,400 international universities and research institutions by allowing for the electronic transfer of messages and files. Although BITNET itself had become obsolete by the mid-1990s, its development was important to the growth and popularity of the Internet and, in particular, e-mail.
As director of the City University of New York's (CUNY) computing center, Fuchs recognized that liberal arts scholars would benefit from a messaging network similar to ARPAnet, a U.S. Department of Defense network that had been used by mathematics and physics researchers since its inception in 1969. Fuchs began discussing his idea with Freeman, one of the heads of technology development at Yale. Recognizing that most campuses already were equipped with the remote spooling communications system (RSCS) built into IBM computers, Fuchs and Freeman began researching ways to use RSCS to allow messages and files to pass back and forth between universities. The network structure they came up with—which simply required a mainframe system, a modem, and a phone line—was based on NJE, a communications protocol developed and used by IBM.
In March of 1981, Fuchs and Freeman established a group of computing center directors from several universities in the northeastern United States. The organization began operating as the managerial board for BITNET, which was formally launched when CUNY and Yale were connected less than two months later. More than 150 campuses were linked via BITNET over the next three years. BITNET networks soon emerged in Europe as the European Academic and Research Network, in Asia as Asia Net, and in Canada as NetNorth. Much of the international expansion was funded by IBM, as was the construction of a central office known as BITNET Network Information Center.
Several new supplemental technologies sprang up for BITNET, the most long-lasting of which was LISTSERV, developed by Eric Thomas in 1986. Mailing list software that served as both a list manager and a file server, LISTSERV allowed BITNET users to send email messages to a single list address with multiple recipients. Messages sent to a LISTSERV address were then automatically routed to everyone on the mailing list. Eventually, LISTSERV evolved into well-known commercial mailing list server software, sold by L-Soft International, that was compatible with other platforms like Unix.
The rising popularity of the Internet, along with the emergence of Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) technology as an Internet standard, prompted BITNET's managerial board to merge BITNET with CSnet, a struggling TCP/IP network, in 1991. The newly merged entity, known as the Corporation for Research and Educational Networking (CREN) created BITNET II, which relies on TCP/IP for message and file transfers. Although it is used by some academic institutions today, BITNET II never achieved the popularity of the original BITNET network, which was officially halted by CREN in 1996.
Center for Research and Educational Networking. "BITNET Overview." Washington: BITNET Network Information Center, 1992. Available from www.nethistory.dumbentia.com.
Fox, Barbara. "Making the Internet Work for Princeton." U.S. 1 Newspaper. November 27, 1996. Available from www.princeton.edu/fuchs.
Grier, David Alan, and Mary Campbell. "A Social History of Bitnet and Listserv, 1985-1991.&lrquo; In IEEE Annals of the History of Computing. Washington: Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, 2000. Available from www.computer.org/annals/articles.bitnet
Indiana University Knowledge Base. "What Was BITNET and What Happened to It?" Bloomington, IN: Indiana University, 1998. Available from www.kb.indiana.edu/data/aaso.
SEE ALSO: ARPAnet; Connectivity, Internet; Internet and WWW, History of the