The use of .com, .edu, .org, etc., is so commonplace you might not have contemplated its origin story. But someone had to make sense of what became the internet—and that someone is Elizabeth “Jake” Feinler, who managed the internet’s host domain names registry, the Network Information Center (NIC) at the Stanford Research Institute (SRI), from 1972 until 1989.

Born in 1931, Feinler grew up in West Virginia, where her younger sister coined her lifelong nickname “Jake.” She graduated from West Liberty University in 1954 with a degree in chemistry. In 1960, she began working at SRI as an information scientist. Her work on what later became the internet began in 1972 when she joined Douglas Engelbart’s Augmentation Research Center at SRI.

Stanford was home to one of the original nodes of the ARPANET—a U.S. Defense Department project that initially connected SRI with the University of California–Los Angeles. By the time Feinler joined the project, ARPANET had grown to 15 nodes and 23 host terminals.

Under Feinler’s leadership, the NIC group developed the first WHOIS server. To make sense of the burgeoning internet, NIC began categorizing top-level domains as .com, .edu, .gov, .mil, .org, and .net. Feinler’s group also developed “PCSam,” an early version of email that allowed users to retrieve and download messages from servers.

Domain names continue to grow

Feinler left SRI in 1989, going on to work at NASA and write and edit several publications. Two years after she left, the NIC’s responsibility for domain names became a commercial enterprise.

In 2012, Feinler was inducted into the Internet Hall of Fame for her work. In her acceptance speech, she referenced the NIC as the “prehistoric Google of its day.” The internet was a “barrel of monkeys,” she said, and it was more fun to fall into than she could have ever imagined. In retirement, she has been an active volunteer for the Computer History Museum, donating and archiving records from SRI.

Photo: rawf8 / Shutterstock

Kate Johanns

Posted by Kate Johanns

Kate Johanns is a communications professional and freelance writer with more than 13 years of experience in publishing and marketing.

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