As you might expect for a technology so expansive and ever-changing, it is impossible to credit the invention of the Internet to a single person. The Internet was the work of dozens of pioneering scientists, programmers and engineers who each developed new features and technologies that eventually merged to become the “information superhighway” we know today.
Long before the technology existed to actually build the Internet, many scientists had already anticipated the existence of worldwide networks of information. Nikola Tesla toyed with the idea of a “world wireless system” in the early 1900s, and visionary thinkers like Paul Otlet and Vannevar Bush conceived of mechanized, searchable storage systems of books and media in the 1930s and 1940s. Still, the first practical schematics for the Internet would not arrive until the early 1960s, when MIT’s J.C.R. Licklider popularized the idea of an “Intergalactic Network” of computers. Shortly thereafter, computer scientists developed the concept of “packet switching,” a method for effectively transmitting electronic data that would later become one of the major building blocks of the Internet.
1960 – 1983
The first workable prototype of the Internet came in the late 1960s with the creation of ARPANET, or the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network. Originally funded by the U.S. Department of Defense, ARPANET used packet switching to allow multiple computers to communicate on a single network. The technology continued to grow in the 1970s after scientists Robert Kahn and Vinton Cerf developed Transmission Control Protocol and Internet Protocol, or TCP/IP, a communications model that set standards for how data could be transmitted between multiple networks. ARPANET adopted TCP/IP on January 1, 1983, and from there researchers began to assemble the “network of networks” that became the modern Internet.
In October 1972, Kahn organized a large, very successful demonstration of the ARPANET at the International Computer Communication Conference (ICCC). This was the first public demonstration of this new network technology to the public. It was also in 1972 that the initial “hot” application, electronic mail, was introduced. In March Ray Tomlinson at BBN wrote the basic email message send and read software, motivated by the need of the ARPANET developers for an easy coordination mechanism. In July, Roberts expanded its utility by writing the first email utility program to list, selectively read, file, forward, and respond to messages. From there email took off as the largest network application for over a decade. This was a harbinger of the kind of activity we see on the World Wide Web today, namely, the enormous growth of all kinds of “people-to-people” traffic.
The idea of open-architecture networking was first introduced by Kahn shortly after having arrived at DARPA in 1972. This work was originally part of the packet radio program, but subsequently became a separate program in its own right. At the time, the program was called “Internetting”. Key to making the packet radio system work was a reliable end-end protocol that could maintain effective communication in the face of jamming and other radio interference, or withstand intermittent blackout such as caused by being in a tunnel or blocked by the local terrain. Kahn first contemplated developing a protocol local only to the packet radio network, since that would avoid having to deal with the multitude of different operating systems, and continuing to use NCP.
However, NCP did not have the ability to address networks (and machines) further downstream than a destination IMP on the ARPANET and thus some change to NCP would also be required. (The assumption was that the ARPANET was not changeable in this regard). NCP relied on ARPANET to provide end-to-end reliability. If any packets were lost, the protocol (and presumably any applications it supported) would come to a grinding halt. In this model NCP had no end-end host error control, since the ARPANET was to be the only network in existence and it would be so reliable that no error control would be required on the part of the hosts. Thus, Kahn decided to develop a new version of the protocol which could meet the needs of an open-architecture network environment. This protocol would eventually be called the Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP). While NCP tended to act like a device driver, the new protocol would be more like a communications protocol.
Four ground rules were critical to Kahn’s early thinking:
- Each distinct network would have to stand on its own and no internal changes could be required to any such network to connect it to the Internet.
- Communications would be on a best effort basis. If a packet didn’t make it to the final destination, it would shortly be retransmitted from the source.
- Black boxes would be used to connect the networks; these would later be called gateways and routers. There would be no information retained by the gateways about the individual flows of packets passing through them, thereby keeping them simple and avoiding complicated adaptation and recovery from various failure modes.
- There would be no global control at the operations level.
- World Wide Web begins as a CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research) project called ENQUIRE, initiated by British scientist Tim Berners-Lee. Other names considered for the project include “The Information Mesh” and “The Mine of Information.”
- AOL launches its Instant Messenger chat service and begins welcoming users with the iconic greeting “You’ve got mail!”
- The NeXT Computer used by Tim Berners-Lee at CERN.
- 42% of American adults have used a computer.
- World’s first website and server go live at CERN, running on Tim Berners-Lee’s NeXT computer, which bears the message “This machine is a server. DO NOT POWER DOWN!”
- Tim Berners-Lee develops the first Web browser WorldWideWeb.
- Archie, the first tool to search the internet is developed by McGill University student Alan Emtage.
- Researchers rig up a live shot of a coffee pot so they could tell from their computer screens when a fresh pot had been brewed. Later connected to the World Wide Web, it becomes the first webcam.
- The term “surfing the internet” is coined and popularized.
- Tim Berners-Lee posts the first photo, of the band “Les Horribles Cernettes,” on the Web.
- The line-mode browser launches. It is the first readily accessible browser for the World Wide Web.
- CERN places its World Wide Web technology in the public domain, donating it to the world.
- The National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) releases Mosaic 1.0, the first web browser to become popular with the general public. “The web as we know it begins to flourish,” Wired later writes.
- The New York Times writes about the Web browser Mosaic and the World Wide Web for the first time. “Think of it as a map to the buried treasures of the Information Age.”
- Marc Andreessen proposes the IMG HTML tag to allow the display of images on the Web.
- 11 million American households are “equipped to ride the information superhighway.”
- One of the first known Web purchases takes place: a pepperoni pizza with mushrooms and extra cheese from Pizza Hut.
- President Bill Clinton’s White House comes online.
- Yahoo! is created by Stanford University graduate students Jerry Yang and David Filo. They originally named the site “Jerry and David’s Guide to the World Wide Web.”
- The first banner ad for hotwired.com appears, with the text “Have you ever clicked your mouse right HERE? —> YOU WILL.”
- Two lawyers post the first massive, commercial spam message with the subject “Green Card Lottery -Final One?”
- 18 million American homes are now online, but only 3% of online users have ever signed on to the World Wide Web.
- com opens for business, billing itself as the “Earth’s Biggest Bookstore.”
- Craig Newmark starts craigslist, originally an email list of San Francisco events.
- com, the first online dating site, launches.
- Entrepreneur Pierre Omidyar launches eBay, originally named “AuctionWeb.” He lists the first item for sale: a broken laser pointer. A collector purchases it for $14.83.
- Chris Lamprecht becomes the first person to be banned from the internet by judicial decree. “I told the judge computers were my life,” Lamprecht later recalled.
- Netscape IPO starts the gold rush mentality for Web startups.
- Microsoft releases Windows 95 and the first version of Internet Explorer.
- Web hosting service GeoCities launches.
- 77% of online users send or receive e-mail at least once every few weeks, up from 65% in 1995.
- Nokia releases the Nokia 9000 Communicator, the first cellphone with internet capabilities.
- HoTMaiL launches as one of the world’s first Webmail services, its name a reference to the HTML internet language used to build webpages.
- The Dancing Baby, a 3D animation, becomes one of the first viral videos.
- Millions “visit Mars – on the internet” – the Jet Propulsion Lab allows people to watch the Sojourner rover landing and exploration of Mars. The broadcast generates about 40 million to 45 million hits each day.
- Netflix launches as a company that sends DVDs to homes via mail.
- Go Daddy launches as Jomax Technologies.
- com registers as a domain.
- Jorn Barger becomes the first person to use the term “Weblog” to describe the list of links on his website.
- 20% of Americans get news from the internet at least once a week, up from 4% in 1995.
- AOL launches AOL 4.0 and inundates American homes with CD-ROM mailers. AOL membership jumps from 8 million to 16 million members.
- The Internet Corporations for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) takes over responsibility for the coordination of the global internet’s systems of unique identifiers.
- Oxford Dictionary adds “spam” and “digerati.”
- Pew Research Center tests online polling with mixed results.
- 41% of adults are using the internet and the weather is the most popular online news attraction.
- MP3 downloading service Napster launches, overloading high-speed networks in college dormitories. Many colleges ban the service and it is later shut down for enabling the illegal sharing of music files.
- Yahoo! acquires GeoCities for $3.6 billion.
- 43% of internet users say they would miss going online “a lot,” up from 32% in 1995.
- 78% of internet users who download music don’t think it’s stealing to save music files to their computer hard drives.
- 40 million Americans – or 48% of internet users – have purchased a product online.
- 32% of internet users (over 30 million people) sent e-greeting cards to loved ones and friends.
- The NASDAQ spiked in the late 90s and then fell sharply.
- The NASDAQ hits a record high of 5,048, before plunging by 78% during the dot com bust. A 2001 survey finds 71% of Americans who had heard about the dot com troubles believe a major cause of the dot-com woes is that investors were eager to make a lot of money and took at lot of risks.
- AOL acquires Time Warner for $165 billion. New York Times says “it could be the internet companies that do the buying and the old media that sell out.”
- Only 3% of internet users say they got most of their information about the 9/11 attacks and the aftermath from the internet.
- The average internet user spends 83 minutes online.
- Jimmy Wales launches Wikipedia. Users write over 20,000 encyclopedia entries in the first year.
- 55 million people now go online from work and 44% of those who have internet access at work say their use of the internet helps them do their jobs.
- Screenshot by Wired
- Screenshot by Wired
- Social networking site Friendster.com launches, but is quickly overtaken by Facebook.
- Microsoft launches Xbox Live, its online multiplayer gaming service.”Critics scoffed at the idea, noting how uncommon broadband connections were at the time.”
- Apple launches the iTunes Music Store with 200,000 songs at 99¢ each. The store sells one million songs in its first week.
- Skype, a voice-over-IP calling and instant messaging service, launches and quickly becomes a verb, as in “Skype me.”
- Professional networking site LinkedIn launches.
- com is founded and quickly adopted by musicians seeking to share music and build their fan bases.
- President George W. Bush signs the CAN-SPAM Act into law, establishing the first national standards for the sending of commercial email.
- WordPress blog publishing system created.
- 11% of American internet users follow the returns on election night online. One-in-ten internet users sign up for political email newsletters and news alerts during the campaign.
- Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg launches thefacebook.com. 1,200 Harvard students sign up within the first 24 hours. Facebook goes on to become the world’s biggest social networking site, with over a billion users worldwide.
- Google starts trading on the NASDAQ at $85 a share.
- Social news website Digg launches. Digg users vote to “digg up” links that they like and “bury” down those they don’t.
- Mozilla releases Firefox 1.0.
- Massively multiplayer online role-playing game(MMORPG) World of Warcraft launches.
- 8% of adult American internet users say they participate in sports fantasy leagues online.
- 9% of internet users (13 million Americans) went online to donate money to the victims of Gulf Coast hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
- About one-in-six online adults – 25 million people – have sold something online.
- Broadband connections surpass dial-up connections.
- Community news site Reddit is founded. It is bought by Conde Nast a year later for $20 million.
- Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. buys MySpace for $580 million and sells it in 2011 for $35 million.
- YouTube is founded on Valentine’s Day. The first video, an explanation of what’s cool about elephants, is uploaded by co-founder Jawed Karim on April 23. Google acquires the company a year later.
- The late Senator Ted Stevens describes the internet as “a series of tubes,” during a 2006 speech on net neutrality. His quote is mocked by Boing Boing and the Daily Show and inspires YouTube remixes.
- Google acquires YouTube for $1.65 billion. YouTube founders Chad and Steve announce the Google acquisition in a video recorded in a parking lot: “The king of search and the king of video have gotten together.”
- Twitter launches. Founder Jack Dorsey sends the first tweet: “just setting up my twttr”
- 36% of American online adults consult Wikipedia.
- 32% of Americans have at least heard about Hillary and Bill Clinton’s video parody of the final episode of “The Sopranos” and 19% have actually seen it.
- 36% of Americans say they would have a hard time giving up their Blackberry or other wireless email device, up from 6% in 2002.
- Apple releases its first iPhone, priced at $499 for 4GB and $599 for 8G.
- Estonia becomes the world’s first country to use internet voting in a parliamentary election.
- Three-quarters (74%) of internet users – or 55% of the entire U.S. adult population — say they went online during the presidential election to take part in or get news and information about the campaign.
- 19% of cellphone owners say they have gone online with their phones.
- Google releases the Chrome Web browser.
- HTML5 is introduced.
- Deal-of-the-day website Groupon launches.
- Apple launches its App Store with 552 applications.
- Microsoft offers to buy Yahoo! for $44.6 billion, but the two companies cannot agree on a purchase price.
- World of Warcraft hits 11.5 million subscribers worldwide. Guinness Book of World Records names it the most popular MMORPG.
- 69% of Americans turn to the internet to cope with and understand the recession.
- Microsoft’s Bing search engine launches.
- Twitter raises $98 million from investors, valuing the company at a whopping $1 billion.
- The Web is transfixed by the tale of a six-year-old boy flying over Colorado in a weather balloon. The story later proves to be a hoax.
- Kanye West’s VMA outburst sparks an internet meme.
- Viral videos like David After Dentist, Susan Boyle, Baby Dancing to Beyonce, and the JK Wedding Entrance Dance launch ordinary people into newfound Web stardom.
- 35% of adults have cell phones with apps, but only two-thirds actually use them.
- Social photo-sharing sites Pinterest and Instagram launch.
- Wikileaks collaborates with major media organizations to release U.S. diplomatic cables.
- Ex-Facebook employees launch user-based question and answer site Quora.
- 15% of social media-using teens say they have been the target of online meanness.
- 68% of all Americans say the internet has had a major impact on the ability of groups to communicate with members.
- LinkedIn reaches 100 million users and debuts on NYSE.
- Microsoft buys Skype for $8.5 billion.
- Google+ launches.
- Young Egyptians use the hashtags #Egypt and #Jan25 on Twitter to spread the word about the Egyptian Revolution. The government responds by shutting down the internet.
- Rebecca Black’s “Friday” becomes a YouTube sensation.
- 66% of internet users use Facebook and 12% use Instagram.
- Among the 13% of US adults who made a financial contribution to a presidential candidate, 50% donated online or via email.
- Facebook reaches 1 billion monthly active users, making it the dominant social network worldwide. Some analysts start calling it “Facebookistan.” The company buys Instagram for $1 billion and debuts on NASDAQ at $38 a share.
- South Korean music star PSY’s “Gangnam Style” video surpasses Justin Bieber’s “Baby” as the most viewed video ever, with over 800 million views.
- Ecommerce sales top $1 trillion worldwide.
- The Internet Society founds the Internet Hall of Fame to “celebrate people who bring the internet to life.”
- A majority (56%) of Americans now own a smartphone of some kind.
- 51% of U.S. adults bank online.
- Former CIA employee and NSA contractor Edward Snowden turns over thousands of classified documents to media organizations, exposing a top-secret government data surveillance program.
- Apple says app store downloads top 40 billion, with 20 billion in 2012 alone.
- Twitter files for its long-awaited IPO. Shares soar 73% above their IPO price of $26 a share on the first day of trading.
- 45% of internet users ages 18-29 in serious relationships say the internet has had an impact on their relationship.
- Facebook buys messaging app Whatsapp for $19 billion.