History of the Internet

a computer network graphic

In the late 1950's the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) was founded in the United States with the primary focus of developing information technologies that could survive a nuclear attack. ( Networking the Nerds )In 1967 ARPA university and private sector contractors met with representatives of the Department of Defense to discuss possible protocols for sharing information via computers. In 1969, two years before the calculator was introduced to consumers ( History of the Internet and WWW ) and the year after National Public Radio was established, the precursor of the Internet, ARPANET, was born. It connected four sites at the University of California at Los Angeles, the University of California at Santa Barbara, Stanford Research Institute, and the University of Utah. Throughout the 1970's researchers concentrated on developing protocols for controlling networks, moving messages across a system of networks, and allowing for remote access to the networks. There were computers connected at about two dozen sites when the first email was sent in 1972, but the number of sites and messages soon mushroomed. By 1975 there were 63 sites. In 1980, 200 host computers were connecting 20,000 people at university, military, and government locations. Twelve years later the number of hosts had grown to more than a million internationally ( PBS Timeline ), and in January of 1999 there were more than 43 million. ( Hobbes' Internet Timeline v4.1 )

If the 1970's were a time of research, the 1980's were a time of development. The TCP/IP protocol was introduced in 1983, and at the University of Wisconsin the name server was developed. The next year domain name server (DNS) was established. In 1986, the National Science Foundation developed a system to connect the growing number of hosts. Regional networks were connected to a backbone network, which became known as the NSFNET. As the "Internet" continued to grow and prosper, ARPANET came to an end in 1989 ( PBS Timeline ) just before HTML protocol was introduced in 1990. HTML allowed graphics to be sent along with text to create hypertext pages customized to the sender's preference. ( Networking the Nerds ) Everything was now in place for explosive growth.

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Commercial Development

In 1963 during the early days of computers and six years before ARPANET, students at MIT developed the first computer game called Space War. It would be twenty years before the TCP/IP protocol stimulated the growth of various networks and nearly thirty years (1991) before the United States government opened the Internet to private enterprise ( PBS Timeline ), but this game foreshadowed the commercialization of the Internet. In the 1970's and 80's people who were online put out information about furniture and cars they wanted to sell. Debates raged about whether this was an appropriate use of the new research tool, the Internet, but when the Commercial Internet Exchange (CIX) was formed in 1991 the genie would not go back in the bottle.

Commercial contractors have been involved in the development of ARPANET from its inception. As Tang and Teflon began as curiosities of the space program and later became common consumer products, so too have email, web research, and home shopping on the Web. It has only been ten years since the first relay between a commercial entity (MCI Mail) and the Internet was made. Since that time technologies have emerged that have fueled the growth of private enterprise on the Web. In 1992 Paul Linder and Mark McCahill at the University of Minnesota released Gopher, a tool that allowed researchers to retrieve specific data from myriad locations. The next year Mosaic, a web browser, was developed at the University of Illinois by Netscape founder Marc Andreesen, the World Wide Web became a public domain, and the Pentium processor was introduced by Intel to speed up the whole process. ( From ARAPNET to World Wide Web ) As the technology advanced, the Internet became easier to use and the World Wide Web sites became more intricate and inviting. In 1994 shopping malls arrived on the Net. You could order pizza from Pizza Hut online or bank at First Virtual Bank, the first cyberbank. Of course, the advancements came with a downside. Vladimir Levin of Russia became the first publicly known Internet bank robber when he used the Internet to illegally transfer funds to his account. ( Hobbes' Internet Timeline v4.1 )

1995 saw the introduction of several emerging technologies such as JAVA and JAVAscript, Virtual Environments, and RealAudio which further enhanced the kind of product information which could be made available to consumers. Commercial users now outnumbered research and academic users by a two to one margin, and Bill Gates decided to redefine Microsoft as an Internet company. ( History of the Internet ) Today one can shop online for books, food and wine, travel, and real estate. Other business activities include buying stocks and bonds, banking, and retirement planning. Online shopping accounted for over $9 billion in 1997 and is expected to be $30 billion by the year 2000. In light of this growth, the U.S. Commerce Department will begin studying the impact of online shopping on total retail activity. ( Commerce Department to Measure Online Sales ) Consumer spending via the Internet draws much interest, but business to business activity is also booming. The consulting group Piper Jaffray estimates that by the year 2001 Internet based business to business transactions will total US $201.6 billion. Forrester Research estimates that by 2002 online business to business transactions will total US $327 billion, ( Internet Statistics ), while other projections indicate that by 2003, consumers will spend $108 billion, while businesses will spend $1.3 trillion. ( Spotlight: Corporate E-commerce Kicks Into Gear )

For further information on the history of the Internet, an extensive list of links may be found at the Internet Society Web site ).

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Annotated WWW Resources for History


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