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Frances Brazier

Mother between the Patriarchs of the Internet (1957)

After having reviewed the history of the digital age, author Walter Isaacson asks himself the following question: what lessons might be drawn from this tale? For him, the most important lesson is that “[innovation] comes from teams more often than from the lightbulb moments of lone geniuses”. Agreeing with him is Radia Perlman. Even though she invented one of the most crucial protocols of the Internet, she refuses to accept the honourable title of ‘Mother of the Internet’. On the contrary, she does not believe one individual deserves credit for developing the Internet. Rather, she claims, it is the collective accomplishment of a great number of people.

Interestingly, the Dutch annals of Internet history know a similar tale. That is the tale of Toronto-born computer scientist Frances Brazier, having been referred to as the ‘Mother between the Patriarchs of the Internet’. The reason for this nickname is her instrumental role in the 1989 establishment of the first Internet Service Provider (ISP) in both The Netherlands as in all of Europe. NLnet, as it was called, pioneered in providing individuals and organizations with services for accessing, using and participating on the Internet. Its success was immense: up to 1995, NLnet would remain responsible for a quater of all European Internet traffic.

Although Frances admittedly enjoys being a pioneer - and even prides herself for being so with respect to the administrative launch of NLnet - she does not claim full credit for its foundation. Equal to Radia, she believes the establishment of the Internet in both The Netherlands as in Europe was the result of teamwork. As of today, Frances remains committed to the idea that research calls for interdisciplinary collaboration: “I strongly believe in bringing together different fields of knowledge and in the synergy that this delivers”. ‘Cooperation leads to inspiration’, it seems. Frances herself can equally be described as interdisciplinary, having a background in both Mathematics as Cognitive Psychology.

Building bridges remains important for her current focus of research as well: Participatory Systems Research. Here, she works together with lawyers, policymakers and energy experts to design “socio- technical ecological systems that enable and support participation in today’s changing organizations and society”.

The abovementioned nickname given to Frances suggests that the field of Internet engineering was above all male-dominated. Frances confirms this herself, which is perhaps why she has become a prominent member of the National Network of Women Professors, striving for female role models. It must be noted, of course, that Frances is something of a role model herself: she has over 200 refereed academic papers, served on multiple programme committees and is a member of three editorial boards.

Frances Brazier


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