How the Web was Built: A Brief Timeline

internetThere are a lot of people, from Al Gore to Professor Leonard Kleinrock, have been credited for “inventing the Internet.” The truth is that, not unlike Rome, the Internet wasn’t built in a day. The technologies that formed the backbone of the Internet’s communication system came in leaps and spurts, mostly from deep within the public sector. Read more to take a look at How the Web was Built: A Brief Timeline.

The Late 1960s: ARPA Lays the Foundation for TCP/IP


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The US government’s Advanced Research Projects Agency, or ARPA (which would later become DARPA), creates the packet-switching protocol that will become the foundation for the Transmission Control Protocol and the Internet Protocol (together commonly called TCP/IP) that we all still use today. The first packet-switched message is sent from Professor Leonard Kleinrock’s laboratory at UCLA to a laboratory at the Stanford Research Institute. Within a year, the ARPANet connects 4 of the largest universities in America — by 1974, it was growing quickly as per the picture above.

The 1970s: Queen Elizabeth Sends an Email


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The first electronic mail is sent in 1972 by Ray Tomlinson, the person responsible for the use of the “at sign” (@) to separate the sender’s name from the network name in an email address. A year layer, TCP/IP is formalized, though it will take another decade to become the standard for communication over the Internet. File Transfer Protocol (FTP) is created at the same time to allow users to remotely manipulate the files on a computer.  In 1976, Queen Elizabeth becomes the first world leader to send an email.

The 1980s: DNS Established and the Web is Born


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In 1982, the first recorded use of the word ‘Internet’ makes it into lexicographers’ hands. Two years later, the Domain Name Service (DNS) system is established. The first three extensions are .com (for commercial), .org (for noncommercial organizations), and .edu (for the universities that came up with the entire system.) The word “cyberspace” also is coined by writer William Gibson.

In 1988, the first major virus — the Morris “Internet Worm”— shuts down about 10% of the world’s Internet servers. A year later, The World debuts at the first ever provider of commercial dial-up Internet access for consumers. Around the same time, Tim Berners-Lee of CERN invents hypertext linking and graphical linking between sites on the Internet, and the World Wide Web is born.

The 1990s: Spam, Popularization of the Web, and the Dot-com Bubble


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The first effort to create an index of Internet FTP sites, called Archie, is created by Peter Deutsch of McGill University in Montreal. Shortly thereafter, the first point-and-click navigation system for Internet browsing, called Gopher after the school mascot of the University of Minnesota, is invented.

In 1994, the White House launches the first website with the .gov suffix. During this time, the first major commercial websites are also launched, and the word “Spam” becomes synonymous with something other than lunch meat. By 1996, about 45 million people worldwide are using the World Wide Web, with 30 million in America, and the Internet is definitely becomes a force that will change the world forever.

The Dot-com bubble also happens during this time; it is a huge speculative bubble that grows uncontrollably beginning in 1997 and eventually bursts in 2000, leaving a trail of shattered Internet start-ups in its wake.

The 2000s — Present: The Rise of Web 2.0 and Emergence of the Mobile Web


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In all truth, so many different events happen during this decade, it’s almost impossible to cover them within the scope of this article. But the new millennium begins with the Y2K scare, where it is feared a computer clock glitch would precipitate a worldwide meltdown. This period also sees a strong fallout from the aforementioned Dot-com Bubble; however, a procession of successful Internet-based companies emerges from this period, including heavyweights like Amazon and eBay.

Search engines and browsers evolve during this time too, with a slate of programs including Alta Vista, Lycos, Netscape Navigator, and many, many more. Google emerges during this decade; first with its search engine (and later with its Chrome browser) to completely change the game. Perhaps more so than any web browser before it, Google’s algorithm is designed to combat spam and filter out the most relevant results for users.

Apple also re-emerges as a major player early in this decade, and its iPhone and iPad soon become game-changers in terms of how we interact with the Web. Google (and later Microsoft) soon follow suit with its own mobile operating system, Android. Together with the emergence of wireless internet, the proliferation of mobile devices has been the latest evolution of the Internet.

So at what point in this whole process do you consider the Internet as having been ‘invented’? It’s hard to tell — and it’s not over yet. With ongoing developments like service and the explosion of the mobile market, who knows where the Internet will end up?