5.2: A Brief History of the Internet
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In the Beginning: ARPANET
The story of the Internet and networking can be traced back to the late 1950s. The US was in the Cold War's depths with the USSR, and each nation closely watched the other to determine which would gain a military or intelligence advantage. In 1957, the Soviets surprised the US with the launch of Sputnik, propelling us into the space age. In response to Sputnik, the US Government created the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA), whose initial role was to ensure that the US was not surprised again. From ARPA, now called DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), the Internet first sprang. ARPA was the center of computing research in the 1960s, but there was just one problem: many computers could not talk to each other. In 1968, ARPA sent out a request for a communication technology proposal that would allow different computers located around the country to be integrated into one network. Twelve companies responded to the request, and a company named Bolt, Beranek, and Newman (BBN) won the contract and developed the first protocol for the network (Roberts, 1978). They began work right away and completed the job just one year later: in September 1969, the ARPANET was turned on. The first four nodes were at UCLA, Stanford, MIT, and the University of Utah.
The Internet and the World Wide Web
Over the next decade, the ARPANET grew and gained popularity. During this time, other networks also came into existence. Different organizations were connected to different networks. This led to a problem: the networks could not talk to each other. Each network used its own proprietary language or protocol (see sidebar for the definition of protocol) to send information back and forth. This problem was solved using the transmission control protocol/Internet protocol (TCP/IP). TCP/IP was designed to allow networks running on different protocols to have an intermediary protocol that would allow them to communicate. So as long as a network supporting TCP/IP, users could communicate with all other networks running TCP/IP. TCP/IP quickly became the standard protocol and allowed networks to communicate with each other. We first got the term Internet from this breakthrough, which means “an interconnected network of networks.”
As we moved into the 1980s, computers were added to the Internet at an increasing rate. These computers were primarily from government, academic, and research organizations. Much to the engineers' surprise, the early popularity of the Internet was driven by the use of electronic mail (see sidebar below). Using the Internet in these early days was not easy. To access information on another server, you had to know how to type in the commands necessary to access it and know the name of that device. That all changed in 1990 when Tim Berners-Lee introduced his World Wide Web project, which provided an easy way to navigate the Internet through the use of linked text (hypertext). The World Wide Web gained even more steam with the release of the Mosaic browser in 1993, which allowed graphics and text to be combined to present information and navigate the Internet. The Mosaic browser took off in popularity and was soon superseded by Netscape Navigator, the first commercial web browser, in 1994. The chart below shows the growth in internet users globally.
According to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU, 2020), over 53.6% or 4.1 billion people worldwide are using the internet, by the end of 2019.
The Internet has evolved from Web 1.0 to 2.0 (discussed in Chapter 1) to the many popular social media websites today.
Sidebar: “Killer” Apps for the Internet
When the personal computer was created, it was a great little toy for technology hobbyists and armchair programmers. As soon as the spreadsheet was invented, businesses took notice, and the rest is history. The spreadsheet was the killer app for the personal computer: people bought PCs to run spreadsheets.
The Internet was originally designed as a way for scientists and researchers to share information and computing power among themselves. However, as soon as electronic mail was invented, it began driving demand for the Internet.
We are seeing this again today with social networks, such as Facebook, Instagram. Many who weren’t convinced to have an online presence now feel left out without a social media account.
These killer apps and widespread adoption of the internet have driven explosive growth for information systems globally.
Many times, the terms “Internet” and “World Wide Web,” or even just “the web,” are used interchangeably. However, they are not the same thing at all!
The Internet is an interconnected network of networks. Many services run across the Internet: electronic mail, voice and video, file transfers, and, yes, the World Wide Web. The World Wide Web is simply one piece of the Internet. It is made up of web servers with HTML pages being viewed on devices with web browsers.
ITU estimate of global population using the internet. Retrieved September 6, 2020, from https://www.itu.int/en/ITU-D/Statistics/Pages/stat/default.aspx
Roberts, Lawrence G., The Evolution of Packet Switching, (1978, November). Retrieved on September 6, 2020, from www.ismlab.usf.edu/dcom/Ch10_Roberts_EvolutionPacketSwitching_IEEE_1978.pdf