a brief history of the internet

A Brief History of the Internet: From 1960s to 2020

Whatever subject you are learning, knowing a bit of its history will give you a context to fit new information. It ignites curiosity as well.

If you are like most people, there won’t be a day in your life without googling something or reading something online. The internet has literally reshaped the whole world in a short period.

But have you ever wondered how all these came into existence?

  • What was the state of the internet fifty years before?
  • Which was the world’s first-ever website?

So, in this post, we will discuss a brief history of the internet, including the people, events, and organizations involved in the invention.

Also, many people confuse the internet with the world wide web (WWW). But, they are not entirely the same. For example, you are currently reading this website, which is one of the millions of sites in the WWW. The internet is the underlying network structure that allows you to access a website in the WWW.

To give a simple analogy, if a car is a website, then WWW is the group of all vehicles, and the roads are the internet.

Early History: ARPANET & Packet Switching Technology

Although there were a few modes of communication like the Telegraph, the idea of communication using computers was not so prevalent until the 1960s.

In 1958, under President Eisenhower, the U.S. formed an Advanced Research Projects Agency to facilitate more research in science, which could meet military requirements as well.

During the early 1960s, Leonard Kleinrock, a computer science professor at the University of California, conducted studies in packet switching. It was crucial in the development of network technologies later on.

Not just Kleinrock, Paul Baran had also shared ideas about a packet-switched network, which could help secure important military information across different computers.

But the idea of a global wide-area network was still alien. That’s when J.C.R Licklider anticipated an Intergalactic Network, connecting computers worldwide. His thoughts were a seed for the modern internet we use today.

Later in 1962, he joined DARPA as the director of the IPTO section. Although he resigned from DARPA in 1964, his successor Bob Taylor got inspiration from these ideas and felt the need for efficient network technology.

At the same time in the U.K., another scientist Donald Davies also invented a form of packet switching and implemented it, which confirmed the ideas of Paul Baran and Kleinrock.

ARPANET Going Live

Back to Darpa, Bob Taylor invited Lawrence Roberts from MIT to make advancements in the network (ARPANET) they were planning to build. They came to know about the works of Paul Baran and Donald Davies, which led Roberts to implement packet switching in ARPANET.

Finally, ARPANET went live on October 29, 1969, marking a milestone in the history of the internet. The first connection was between UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles) and SRI (Stanford Research Institute).

Later, more universities connected to ARPANET, expanding the reach of the network.

However, ARPANET was not the only network developed during those times. National Physics Laboratory Network (NPL) in the U.K., CYCLADES, and Usenet were some other examples.

It was at NPL network where Donald Davies initially tested packet switching technology.

Formulation of TCP/IP & Worldwide Development of Networks

By the early 1970s, there were a couple of networks in the world, ARPANET being the major one among them.

However, they were using different protocols for communication between host computers. So, inter-network connections were still a challenge.

That’s when scientists felt the need for a standard network protocol, which led to the formulation of TCP/IP, the protocol we use to date for transferring data across the internet.

In 1974, Vint Cerf, along with Robert E Kahn and several other scientists, published the specifications for Transmission Control Protocol. Later, Internet Protocol (IP) was separated from it to make it cleaner, resulting in the TCP/IP suite.

In later years, several networks worldwide started replacing their existing protocol with TCP/IP, which opened the horizons for the expansion of the internet.

ARPANET officially migrated to TCP/IP on January 1, 1983, while networks in other countries like CERNnet also gradually moved towards it during the 1980s.

More Networks & Expansion

Another thing that accelerated the expansion of the internet was the development of more wide area networks like CSNET and NSFNET in the late 1980s.

This growth, along with the widespread acceptance of TCP/IP, led to inter-continental connections in later years.

In 1988, CWI in the Netherlands connected to NSFNET over TCP/IP, which marked the first international network connection, followed by CERN joining in 1989.

When Japan connected to NSFNET in 1989, the internet opened its way to Asia as well.

By this time, NSFNET grew to become a significant entity (backbone network). Also, ARPANET had completed its project scope, which led to its discontinuation in 1990.

The invention of the Web, ISPs and Public Access

Today, the word internet is almost synonymous with the Web, i.e., websites, web applications, mobile apps, and anything that runs on HTTP protocol.

But that was not the situation until the early 1990s. Email and FTP were the two significant applications over the internet back then.

Even before that, the public did not have much access, although the internet had spread its roots worldwide. Its primary use was confined to research and academic purposes.

That situation began to change when Tim Berners Lee of CERN invented the World Wide Web (WWW or the Web) in 1991. It gave away to view documents located at remote computers on the internet using web browsers. Think of this as a primitive form of websites we see today, which included links, texts, and images.

Tim Berners Lee also invented the first web browser and the HTTP protocol, which works over TCP/IP.

So, the first-ever web host in the world was Tim’s Next computer at CERN, which served the first web page in August 1991.

This invention started shaping the internet into its today’s form. Moreover, the National Science Foundation withdrew from the NSFNET in 1995, which opened all doors for public access to the internet.

Rise of ISPs, Browsers, and Search Engines

It was also a time when Internet Service Providers started emerging, which allowed the public to subscribe to the internet.

In addition to the development of the Web, new web browsers started to appear, like Mosaic and Netscape Navigator, followed by others like Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Chrome.

With more websites came the need for search engines, which led to the rise of Yahoo, AOL, Google, etc.

Recent History 2000s – 2020

Even at the beginning of the 21st century, only around 7% percent of the population has access to the internet, a report says.

From there on, the growth was explosive. According to Internet World Stats, around 59% of the world population use the internet as of 2019, which amounts to a whopping 1157% increase in usage within twenty years.

In my opinion, there are mainly three reasons for this:

  • Rise of social media networks and blogging websites
  • The exponential increase in internet speeds
  • The rise of mobile devices cellular data

Surge of Social Networks & Blogging Sites

While social media sites like Facebook gave people a way to connect and interact with each other, blogging platforms like Blogger and WordPress were an excellent medium for expressing knowledge and ideas – two compelling reasons for people to enter the internet sphere.

Here is a list of some of the early entrants, which made an impact on how people use the Web.

  • Facebook – Social networking (launched feb 4, 2004)
  • Twitter – Social networking / microblogging (launched jul 15, 2006)
  • Reddit – news & content aggregation (launched jun 23, 2005)
  • Blogspot – blogging platform (launched Aug 23, 1999)
  • WordPress – blogging platform (launched may 27, 2003)
  • YouTube – Video sharing platform (launched feb 14, 2005)

The list may not be complete. But you can see that most of these sites came around during the early and mid-2000s, and still, they are very much alive.

Increase in Internet Speeds

Not only the rise of websites and apps, but the internet speeds have also increased by leaps and bounds during the past two decades. This drastic change has enabled us to consume media-rich content without troubles.

There was a time when a 5-minute song would take minutes or even hours to download. Now you can stream high-quality videos without any lag.

According to Speedtest, the global average broadband internet speed is around 74Mbps as of January 2020, which is almost 300x faster than the early 2000s.

Rise of Mobile Devices & Affordable Cellular Data

While broadband internet connections became common in developed countries, it was still a luxury in most households in countries like India, even during 2010.

But now, more people have access to the internet, thanks to mobile data and 4g network. The majority of people in South Asian and African countries use the internet from their mobile devices. Mobile applications, social networks, and online games are a few compelling reasons for the common man to be a netizen.

Conclusion

So far, you have read about the birth of the internet, how it developed over the decades, and how far it penetrated among the world population in recent years.

One thing is clear. Its growth has been exponential, and its impact on our lifestyle is more widespread than what we expected earlier.

Despite all the good things the internet has given humanity, it has brought a conspicuous negative effect as well.

It is nothing but an internet addiction. Fortunately or unfortunately, the problem is not inherent with the technology, but how we use it. A few years before, we haven’t even heard of such a term.

Over the years, the internet has grown to become a constant source of entertainment, so that people turn to it whenever they get bored. This tendency has resulted in reduced attention spans and a lack of quality interpersonal connections, which in turn can affect creativity also.

However, we can solve this problem with a bit of caution. Studies and books show that learning to tolerate a bit of boredom is indeed good for our overall health.

Besides the side-effect, the internet has indeed helped in transforming the world into a global village.

If you are wondering what the future will be, there are many possibilities. Think about artificial intelligence. According to a Forbes article, the number of AI-based startups has increased by almost 14x since 2000.

So, we can assume that the internet is still in its infancy, and it may evolve into something great in the future.

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