A simple history of the Internet
July 3, 2014, by
Which came first, the personal computer or the Internet? If you say “personal computer,” guess again.
The Internet as we know it may not have taken shape until the 1990s, well after Bill Gates revealed his first PC. So who invented the Internet? The timeline of the Internet actually traces all the way back to the Vietnam War era: 1969, to be exact. In that year, a team of defense engineers at the University of Los Angeles-California (UCLA) sent the first-ever instant message via computer to another team thousands of miles away at Stanford University.
From their work station in 3420 Boelter Hall, on the UCLA campus, the defense engineers had just set up the first node of Arpanet, a system funded by the Department of Defense’s Advance Research Projects Agency (ARPA). ARPA’s vision was for a system that would connect large computers at the Department of Defense’s various facilities so that they could share software, information, and storage space. UCLA would be one of its four main hubs—the University of Utah, SRI International, and UC-Santa Barbara would be the others.
In its short history the Internet has rapidly evolved from this simple, four-hub, military-only data grid to a planet-wide, universally accessed and accessible informational universe that we know and love today. But let’s face it: In history of information technology, a lot can happen in 44 years. Let’s take a look at a simple history of the Internet and recap some of the milestones that got us from there to here with a short Internet history timeline:
1974. The word “Internet” first appeared in print—in a DARPA-published Request for Comments document on TCP/IP, a new set of communications and networking protocols for managing data transmissions on the new system. TCP/IP is still integral to the present-day Internet. In the meantime, Arpanet was growing fast as more universities, science centers, and army installations got connected.
1976. Queen Elizabeth of England became the first head of state to send an email. Jimmy Carter followed suit and used email several times while campaigning.
1983. The Domain Name System (DNS) was invented. Whereas site’s names had been obtuse sequences of letters and numbers, they would now be easy-to-remember names with endings such as .gov, .edu, or .mil.
1985. The National Science Foundation (NSF) funded construction of Arpanet’s biggest upgrade yet: the NSFNET, a command hub of five supercomputers to serve as highways for all data traffic. NSFNET could transmit data at 56 kilobits per second—slower than some present-day modems.
1990. Tim Berners-Lee invented HTML and a text browser, as well as a hypertext graphical user interface (GUI) browser. Then he established the first successful communication between a Hypertext Transfer Protocol client and a server via the Internet. These inventions, put together, were the makings of Web pages as we know them today. Lee also made up the term “World Wide Web.” The synonym Information Superhighway would follow in a few more years.
1991. The NSF allowed commercial enterprises to use the Internet for the first time.
1994. Jeff Bezos founded Amazon. A whole new world of e-commerce was born.
1995. The NSF ceased funding the Internet altogether, leaving it a completely self-sustaining industry. Also noteworthy, Sun Microsystems first released Java, still an immensely popular Internet programming language to this day.
1998. Google opened its first office.
2004-2005. Facebook was launched in December 2004. YouTube debuted the next year. The social-media revolution had begun.
2006. Google CEO Eric Schmidt introduced the term “cloud computing” at an industry conference. “The Cloud” would become another synonym for the Internet soon thereafter.
2007. Mobile and smartphones technologies going commercial and growing rapidly. Consumers would no longer need a personal computer to go online. The Internet would be reachable wherever they could find a wireless signal.
From Arpanet and Information Superhighway to becoming a globalization enabler and a major driver behind the outsourcing industry, the Internet has seen one transformation and expansion after another. Where it will head next is anyone’s guess. But you can be sure that great minds everywhere are hard at work on it.
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