If you’re reading this, you’re a reasonably proficient internet user. Even if the internet hasn’t changed your life, it affects the products and services you use and the people around you. The internet is used for everything from marketing to video calls and its intended purpose of research. Few other things have made a comparable impact. So how did the world wide web come to change the world?
The first Arpanet test
To begin discussing the internet’s history, we’ll have to go back to the very start. Arpanet was the name of the first proper network to run on the brand-new packet-switching technology. On the 29th of October, 1969, two computers at UCLA and Stanford connected on this network for the first time. One is supposed to have sent the message “Login” to the other, though apparently, the link crashed by the letter “g”.
One other significant milestone during this year was the birth of an operating system called Unix. The design of this operating system had a big influence on later operating systems such as FreeBSD – the most popular web server operating system today – and Linux.
- Established Arpanet network
Finally, a more robust Arpanet network was created in a collaboration between MIT, Harvard and BBN in 1970. BBN is the company that formulated the first interface message processor computer used to connect to this network.
- Development of email
Ray Tomlinson, an American computer programmer, developed email in 1971. Ray used the “@” symbol to show which computer he wanted to send the message to. This scheme is still in use today as the domain name!
- Project Gutenberg
In 1971, Michael Hart manually typed the Declaration of Independence after realising that the future of computing was no longer just computing but retrieval of information, such as in a library. This is now seen as the first eBook. Today, Michael Hart still offers the Project Gutenberg website.
In 1972, France started its Arpanetesque project: Cyclades. The Cyclades project was eventually closed down. However, this project did introduce a key idea that is still in use today: the host computer should accept responsibility for data transmission rather than the network bearing the brunt.
Arpanet’s first trans-Atlantic connection
1973 brought us a little closer to the internet we know today. In 1973, Arpanet made its first trans-Atlantic connection with the University College of London. With Ray Tomlinson’s system up and running, email then made up 75% of all Arpanet activity.
The following year was another big step towards the internet. In 1974, the Network Working Group published a proposal to link several Arpa-like networks into an “inter-network”. This network would have no central control – but it would work around a transmission control protocol. This protocol later became TCP/IP.
Now that email was so popular technological advances were needed. This demand led to John Vittal developing a program called MSG in 1975. John Vittal’s program was the first email program to have “Reply” and “Forward” functions.
The first PC modem
A few years later, Dennis Hayes and Dale Heathering developed another big step towards linking the world. The pair introduced the first PC modem in 1977. This new device was first just sold to computer hobbyists.
The Bulletin Board System (BBS)
During a blizzard in Chicago in 1978, the first Bulletin Board System was brought to life. The BBS was an extremely popular precursor to the internet for many years. The system allowed people to create their own boards, much like a website or social media profile today.
Two graduate students founded an internet-based discussion system named Usenet a year later. This system allowed people to post public messages in newsgroup categories from all around the world.
CERN, then called The European Organisation for Nuclear Research, launched ENQUIRE software. Written by Tim Berners-Lee, the 1980 hypertext program allowed scientists at a particle physics lab to keep track of the people working there, software, and their projects. The program used hypertext, or hyperlinks, to link things together and organise them.
All Arpanet computers now use TCP/IP
On the 1st of January, 1983, all Arpanet computers were forced to switch over to Vinton Cerf’s TCP/IP protocol. Of course, by now, a few hundred computers were using this system by now!
DNS – Domain Name System
In 1984, the domain name system was up and running, as were the first domain name servers (DNS). The domain name system was a breakthrough in rolling out the internet to laypeople because it made addresses on the internet more human-friendly than typical numerical IP addresses. DNS servers enabled internet users to type a simple to-remember name, which was then automatically converted to that domain’s IP address.
- Protocol battles
Then, in 1986, differing protocols around the world began creating problems. The main two were Europe’s Open Systems Interconnection (OSI) and America’s Internet/Arpanet protocol. Arpanet eventually became the internationally accepted standard.
- A growing internet
A year later, there were almost 30,000 internet hosts! Again, TCP/IP made this possible – the earlier Arpanet protocol had been limited to 1,000 hosts.
- Internet relay chat
A program called Internet Relay Chat was also first deployed in 1988. This program set the foundation for our later instant messaging and other forms of real-time chat.
- The Morris worm
Though accidental, the first significant internet attack occurred in 1988. Robert Tappan Morris’ “worm” was intended to silently copy a single file to every computer it wormed its way onto. Instead, however, Robert’s program accidentally caused the file to copy itself endlessly.
AOL goes online
In 1989, Apple exited the AppleLink program forcing it to be renamed America Online. AOL was a simple system to access the internet and made the internet popular with the average person.
The World Wide Web Proposal!
1989 also brought Tim Berners-Lee’s proposal for the World Wide Web. This proposal was first published in the March issue of the MacWorld magazine but was also redistributed in May 1990. Tim wrote this to persuade CERN that a global hypertext system was in their best interest. He initially referred to this as “Mesh”, but the term “World Wide Web was soon coined.
- The first dial-up ISP
The first dial-up internet provider came into existence in 1990. They were known as The World. Arpanet went down in the same year.
- Completed World Wide Web protocols
By the end of 1990, Tim Berners-Lee had completed the code for the World Wide Web that he had suggested. He also went on to put into place the standards for HTTP, HTML and URLs.
As you can see, there were a lot of milestones leading up to the launch of the internet. In fact, it’s hard to tell what the beginning of the internet really was. But whether you were an early adopter of BBS systems, a dial-up aficionado or a casual broadband browser, one thing’s for sure – the internet has the power to transform our lives, if only we harness it for good. If you’d like internet that’s faster than dial-up, check out Compare Broadband and find the right deal for you.
Michelle McDaid is a writer from Northern Ireland. When she’s not writing about business and computing, she relaxes by playing with her two dogs – her Jack Russell Terrier named Patch, and a Bichon Frise named Kevin.