Overview of Internet History
Have you ever wondered what leads to the internet we know and love today? The internet has influenced so many aspects of technology in recent decades, but how many really know what started it all? In a world filled with social media, emailing, online shopping, and messengers, it can be hard to remember a time when none of this existed.
The following article is a brief overview of internet history, the entire history would take several books to cover in detail. However, it will cover key dates, projects, people, websites, and various information to create a roadmap of the first 40 years of the internet (1969 – 2009).
The first actual network using packet switching tech was Arpanet. UCLA and Stanford computers were able to link together for the first time on October 29th, 1969. Officially becoming the first host of what would one day become the internet.
It was reported the first message ever sent on Arpanet was suppose to be ‘Login’, but on the letter ‘g’, the network crashed.
Unix was another key milestone introduced during the 1960s. Unix was the first operating system that would have a major part in future operating systems, including Linux and the popular FreeBSD, that’s commonly used by web hosting services.
1970: Arpanet Network
After UCLA and Stanford’s test run, the Arpanet Network established a connection between MIT, Harvard, and BBN, which built the interface message processors used by computers to connect with the network.
Ray Tomlinson developed emails, also choosing the ‘@’ symbol as an identifier that separated the computer name and username. The @ symbol would later be replaced by a domain name.
1971: eBooks and Project Gutenberg
In addition to emails, 1971 introduced Project Gutenberg. This was a worldwide project focused on making public domain documents and books digitally available, for free. The goal was to make them available in various formats, and that was the birth of eBooks.
Michael Hart had come to realize that computers themselves would not be the most important aspect, but their ability to search, retrieve, and store information that, at the time, could only be found in libraries. Project Gutenberg was launched after Hart manually typed the Declaration of Independence to make it widely available to the public and would become the first eBook.
CYCLADES was a project similar to Arpanet, developed by France. Although it was shut down, the program established a key concept that the computer itself should be used for transferring data, instead of as a network.
1973: Email Popularity and First Trans-Atlantic Connection
By 1973, emails had gained major popularity, accounting for 75% of all activity on the Arpanet network. The University College of London connected to Arpanet, establishing the first trans-Atlantic connection.
1974: Start of TCP/IP
While TCP/IP itself would come nearly a decade later, a proposal of creating an ‘inter-network’ style network. This proposal focused on the network running off a transmission control protocol (later being called TCP/IP).
1975: Email Client
John Vittal developed the first modern email client, known as MSG. Vittal was a programmer from the University of Southern California, and the program’s largest advancement was the functions to ‘Forward’ and ‘Reply.’
1977: PC Modem
Another major breakthrough that would lead to the internet we know today was the PC modem. Dale Heatherington and Dennis Haynes developed the device, first selling it to computer hobbyists.
1978: BBS – Bulletin Board System
Still, a popular style for forums today, the Bulletin Board System was developed in Chigaco, during a blizzard.
1978: The Birth of Spam
Gary Thuerk became the first person to send the first spam emails. Known then simply as unsolicited commercial email messages, it would later be coined ‘Spam’ and become one of the more annoying parts of the internet.
Gary Thuerk’s sent emails to 600 Arpanet users residing in California.
1979: MUD – The First Type of Multiplayer Games
MultiUser Dungeons (MUDs) were developed in 1979, becoming the precursor of Second Life and World of Warcraft. MUDs allowed people to connect in a completely text-based virtual world. Users would create RPG scenarios, fiction, other interactive games, and chat.
Developed by a couple of graduate students, Usenet allowed people to communicate worldwide through an internet-based discussion system. Users would post messages to topic-based newsgroups for others to find.
Tim Berners-Lee wrote ENQUIRE, which was a hypertext program allowing scientists to track software, people, and projects with the use of hypertext, known today as a hyperlink. The program was launched by CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research).
1982: The Emoticon
There are some debates on who and when the first Emoticon was established, but the modern Emoticon we know today was created by Scott Fahlman. It was his idea to use the smiley face ( 😊 ) after a funny message. Whereas, Kevin MacKenzie’s proposal was simply -).
1983: The Switch to TCP/IP
Vinton Cerf developed the TCP/IP protocols. Arpanet computers were required to switch to the new TCP/IP that was required by January 1st, 1983, affecting hundreds of computers. The name server would also be developed later the same year.
1984: DNS – The Domain Name System
In 1984, the Domain Name System was developed. This would make internet-based addresses much easier for people to remember and find. Until this point, addresses required remembering numerical strings of numbers, known as IP addresses. The Domain Name Servers were also established, which converts the domain name into the IP address.
1985: Virtual Communities
Larry Brilliant and Steward Brand developed the Whole Earth ‘Lectronic Link (The WELL), becoming one of the first virtual communities. Still operating today, The WELL began as a group of writers and readers with the Whole Earth Review. It was an open community, referred to as “the most influential virtual community” by Wired Magazine.
1986: Protocol War
In 1986, the Open Systems Interconnection (OSI) was being pursued by European countries. Meanwhile, the U.S. was already operating the Internet/Arpanet protocol. This was titled the ‘Protocol Wars,’ eventually the Internet/Arpanet protocol would win.
1987: Growth of the Internet
Arpanet protocol only allowed for 1,000 hosts, while the TCP/IP switch allowed many more hosts. By 1987, the internet had around 30,000 hosts.
1988: Internet Relay Chat (IRC)
The Internet Relay Chat (IRC) was launched, which would lead to the instant messaging and real-time chat programs we have available today.
1988: First Malicious Internet Attack
Robert Tappan Morris would become known for writing and releasing the first major internet-based attack in the form of a worm, named ‘The Morris Worm.’ This attacked caused issues across a large portion of the internet.
Originally the AppleLink program, once the Apple company decided to leave the project, it was renamed to America Online. This would be the launch of AOL, which would continue to increase the popularity of the internet for average users. AOL, while not as popular today as in the 1990s, is still around.
1989: The WWW Proposal
Tim Berners-Lee wrote and proposed a World Wide Web. In March 1989, MacWorld published a piece about it and republished it in May 1990. The original purpose of writing it was to influence CERN that a worldwide hypertext system was in their best interest. It was not coined ‘WWW’ until the code was written in 1990, originally referred to as ‘Mesh.’
1990: WWW Protocols and Dial-Up ISP
The World was established, becoming the first dial-up internet service provider made commercially available.
Tim Berners-Lee would finish writing the WWW protocol after his proposal for the World Wide Web. In addition, the standards would be launched for URLs, HTTP, and HTML.
Arpanet would shut down.
1991: Many Major Steps
The First Web Page
The first web page was built, which was a major step in innovation to the internet. The purpose of the first web page was simply to explain the World Wide Web.
First Search Protocol
The first search protocol was launched that searched the contents of a file, and not just the file name. It was named Gopher.
What would become a popular feature of the internet was also developed in 1991, the webcam. The first webcam was used in the computer lab at Cambridge University. It was used for monitoring a coffee maker, not for a science experiment, but to prevent a wasted trip for coffee.
MP3 File Format
The MP3 file format would quickly become the standard format for compressing larger files. It would also be the standard file format for songs, CDs and other audio files.
1993: The First Graphical Web Browser – Mosaic
Mosaic was the first internet browser to be downloaded by a large number of users, but not the first browser released. Although, it is referred to as being the first browser to allow non-technical people to access the internet.
1993: The Government Hops On
The United Nations and the White House established the .org and .gov domain name extensions when going online.
1994: Release of Netscape Navigator
In 1994, Netscape Navigator was released and would become the first major competitor for Mosaic. Netscape would continue to increase in popularity, becoming one of the most used browsers of the era.
Although there were some commercial companies online before 1995, it is often referred to as the year the internet was commercialized because of some major developments.
First, Netscape developed the Secure Sockets Layer (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Secure_Sockets_LayerSSL) encryption that made online financial transactions more secure. Secondly, two companies were launched in 1995 that would become two major online companies.
Geocities were also launched in 1995, allowing non-technical people to easily create a website. It was officially shut down in 2009.
The first webmail was launched, HoTMaiL. Marketed as The World’s Free Web-Based Email service, the capital letters were a direct tribute to HTML (hypertext markup language).
The term ‘Weblogs’ was coined in 1997. Although blogs existed for several years in some form, this was the first year the term was used.
1998: First News Media Coverage, Google & File Sharing
The Drudge Report is referred to as being the first to post a breaking news story online. The story was about the Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky scandal, which Newsweek had already destroyed.
The Google search engine went live, forever changing how people would use the internet. Searching and finding information was revolutionized, and the company continues to be innovated.
The file-sharing program Naspter was launched. This opened the gateway for sharing files between users, especially audio and video files.
1999: SETI@home Project
By combining computing power from over 3 million computers globally, the SETI@home Project is one of the most interesting online projects in history. The processing power would be harnessed from computers around the world when the screensaver activated, which indicated it was idle. The project analyzes data for signs of extraterrestrial intelligence.
2000: Dotcom Collapse
Many investors encountered massive losses during the end of the dotcom bubble. Many companies never had a return on investment, and hundreds closed. Additionally, NASDAQ included many tech-based companies, which peaked at just over 5,000 and then had a 10% drop in just one day, hitting the low point in October 2002.
2001: Launch of Wikipedia
During the collapse of the dotcom era, Wikipedia launched. Wikipedia helped open the internet for collective web content generation.
2003: VoIP, MySpace, CAN-SPAM Act
Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) became mainstream with the release of Skype. It offered a very user-friendly interface design that allowed calling through the internet connection.
The MySpace platform was launched, at one point, becoming the largest and most used social media platform in the world. However, that title was eventually taken over by Facebook.
The CAN-SPAM Act was signed, which aimed to control non-solicited marketing and pornography.
2004: Web 2.0, Digg and Social Media
Originally coined by Darcy DiNucci in 1999, ‘Web 2.0’ reached popularity around 2004 as it referred to Rich Internet Applications and websites that are user-driven and highly interactive. Additionally, Tim O’Reilly and John Batelle’s first Web 2.0 conference referred to the idea of “the Web as a Platform,” as software applications designed for benefiting from internet connectivity and moving from desktop-based applications that lack interoperability and operating system complications.
Digg was launched as a social news website. Digg was the first of its kind, leading to other popular sites like Mixx, Reddit, and Yahoo! Buzz. Digg helped turn traditional content and promoting a web and news link-based platform, which users would review and vote on within the community.
Chris Sharpley is referred to as the first to use the term, which quickly became popular. Social media was described as web applications and websites designed to let users create, share, and connect with each other. This was an innovative concept that people found exciting. It allowed people to stay connected, share pictures, and feel closer together.
What we now know as the worlds leading social media platform, Facebook, was launched as ‘The Facebook.’ At the time of launch, it was simply a college project as a way for college students to find and connect with each other. In time, ‘the’ would be left behind, and the platform would expand and grow as Facebook. However, the original domain name ( http://thefacebook.com/ ) still exists and transfers users to modern-day Facebook.
The popular video hosting website YouTube was launched, forever changing how users of the internet would share content.
The latest social media site Twitter was launched, which was originally to be named Twittr after Flickr. The very first post was “just setting up my twttr,” which would later be coined a Tweet. Twitter had a unique approach to social media, rather than allowing messages of any length they limited each post to just 140 characters.
2007: Online TV Shows, iPhones, Mobile Internet
Hulu was launched as a joint venture between several top TV stations: Fox, NBC, and ABC. This allowed the companies to reach out to a new audience of online users that could watch their favorite TV shows from anywhere with an internet connection. It also paved the way for other digital movie platforms, such as Netflix.
Also launched in 2007 was the Apple iPhone, which opened the way for mobile web design and apps. This allowed mobile users to easily search and use the internet from anywhere.
2008: The First Internet Election
In 2008, the candidates for the Presidential election took their campaigns to new heights by taking advantage of the internet. Each candidate had a Twitter feed, Facebook page, or both. Hillary Clinton used YouTube to create a video campaign.
The internet was by far the most common method used between candidates for the 2008 election, putting it at the front of campaigning and politics, and would continue to have a major part in future elections.
Ron Paul set new records for fundraising campaigns, raising over $4.3 million in just one day with online donations, followed by a $4.4 million day a few weeks later.
2009: Changes to ICANN Policies
The ICANN policy changes in 2009 was one of the largest changes imposed in a while, reducing the United States control over ICANN, which is the official register in charge of domain names.