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A simple history of the Internet

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.  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:

  • 1958: The United States government creates the Advanced Research Projects Agency, which is later responsible for ARPANet and the Internet.
  • 1961: Leonard Kleinrock writes “Information Flow In Large Communication Nets,” a Ph.D thesis for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. This thesis is the first step toward establishing packet-switching theory, which is the basis of the future Internet.
  • 1962: The earliest form of electronic mail comes into existence, provided by the Automatic Digital Network, or AUTODIN.
  • 1964: Paul Baran compiles a series of reports titled “On Distributed Communications: Introduction to Distributed Communications Networks” for the United States Air Force Project RAND. This theory proposed distributed networks that would send data in pieces across many routes rather than one. This was intended to make networks resistant to damage in the form of lost nodes.
  • 1967: Dr. Lawrence Roberts writes the paper “Multiple Computer Networks and Intercomputer Communications,” which helps define ARPANet. Meanwhile, Wesley Clark coins the term “Interface Message Processors” (IMP), which refers to packet-switching devices that later evolve into modern network routers.
  • 1969: ARPANet is formed out of the need for redundancy in communications to defend against nuclear attack. It provides a means to connect different networks to each other, primarily those owned by military and educational institutions.
  • 1971: The first network computer virus, Creeper, infects ARPANet. Written by a BBN programmer named Robert Thomas, it was intended as an experiment in self-replicating software.
  • 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.
  • 1981: The Computer Science Network, or CSNET, is created by University of Wisconsin-Madison computer science professor Lawrence Landweber. CSNET succeeds in connecting many universities as well as international computer science networks to each other as well as bringing nationwide attention to the benefits of networking. It also makes the TCP/IP protocol mainstream within the networking community
  • 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.
  • 1986: The National Science Foundation Network, or NSFNET, goes online. This enabled multiple university supercomputer centers to connect, and it later evolved into a major route for data moving through the Internet, an Internet backbone.
  • 1989: Tim Berners-Lee invents the World Wide Web using the Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) and the Hypertext Markup Language (HTML). It becomes the primary medium of global Internet-based communications years later.
  • 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.
  • 1993: W3Catalog becomes the first World Wide Web search engine. It indexes the Web, enabling users to find Web pages.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 2008. Google Index reaches 1 trillion URLs. Google launched Chrome. Spotify launched. Apple launched App Store. Dozens of space images are transmitted to and from a Nasa science spacecraft located more than 32 million km from Earth.
  • 2009. Mobile data traffic exceeded voice traffic every single month. Globally, mobile data exceeded an exabyte (a billion gigabytes) for the first time. Foursquare launched – users start “check in” at locations all over the world. Kichstarter is founded in April: crowdfunding becomes popular with start-ups.
  • 2010. The number of registered domains reaches 200 million. Apple launches iPad, many other producers followed. 4G wireless networks launches in US. Instagram and Pinterest launched. Astronaut T.J. Creamer uploads the first tweet from space.
  • 2011. The number of Internet users reaches 2 billion. Google+ launched. Microsoft buys Skype.  The Stop Online Piracy Act is introduced in the US.
  • 2012. Worldwide internet users breaks 2.4 billion. Nasa’s Curiosity Rover checks in on Mars using FourSquare.
  • 2013 – 2015. More data was produced than throughout all human history. Apple releases Apple Watch, other producers followed – smart watches industry was created. Google releases Google Glasses. Microsoft announces the mercy killing of Internet Explorer. Mobile Internet surpasses desktop. Almost a half of the world’s populations become Internet users. Superfast Gigablast Internet (100 times faster then DSL) is introduced to residential customers.
  • 2016. Donald Trump victory on the US presidential elections clamed to be premised on huge digital campaign investment. 40% of global internet users, or more than 1 billion people, buy products or goods online. Live Streaming goes popular.