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9 unheralded technology innovations

John Brandon | Aug. 10, 2012
Some of the indispensable technology that you use every day was so ahead of its time that it now goes largely unnoticed. Here the innovations that forever changed email, Web development, database management and other "givens" in today's tech finally get their due.

Because some of these achievements are so widespread, they are also easy to overlook. Not anymore. We're giving nine of these unheralded technology innovations their due here. Information comes directly from the people responsible for these advancements.

1. Server-Side Scripting

It all started with a TV show in Boston. In 1994, Fred DuFresne was working on an interactive website for the local station WCVB-TV. DuFrense created a technique called server-side scripting, which was a stark departure from the common programming techniques of the day. Essentially, it "programs" a server to carry out commands such as showing you a video or a Flash animation.

Before server-side scripting, programmers had to write complex HTML commands. Today, it is used on everything from Facebook pages to foodie blogs. "With SSS, the level of training required to create dynamic pages was drastically reduced. No formal training in computer science was required to create a simple PHP page. There is no linking to object libraries, no compiling source code to object code," DuFresne says.

2. IP Cameras

You don't hear about IP cameras much, but there is probably one monitoring your parking lot right now. Interestingly, cameras that use the Internet to stream video are not as dominate as they should be. Axis Communications, the company that invented IP cameras back in 1997, says only 40 percent of the security cameras in use today are connected to the Web, but that is changing.

IP cameras can scale much faster-adding 32 cameras is essentially like plugging more computers into a hub-and the quality is arguably superior. They are more affordable, too, and provide additional features such as motion tracking.

3. Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions

The MIME email standard ushered in a new age of rich messaging, turning raw text email into something much more useable-email with attachments, images and HTML encoding. Computer scientist Nathaniel Borenstein-one of the co-founders of MIME, something he worked on in the mid-1980s and saw become an email standard in the 1990s-sent the first email attachment in March 1992. Although there is no way to know definitively, some experts say the MIME standard processes email about 1 trillion times per day.

4. OAuth

OAuth, the open standard for authorization, is like the missing link in evolutionary theory, bridging the gap between two known entities. The technology uses a token as a credential. Say you want to use data in Facebook. OAuth might be the authentication method used to connect one data set to another.

One of the important innovations with OAuth is that it is highly specific. You can, for example, use an OAuth token to create a secure connection between a Twitter feed and Klout, a service that ranks social media influence.


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