Much of the world as we know it would cease to exist if we suddenly lost access to the internet. Many businesses rely on online to function, and many media companies broadcast their material over the internet or offer free access to news stories and information that every democracy needs.
The internet has made communication so much easier and has increased both job mobility and overall productivity. We even use it for leisure, and more and more people claim to have an internet addiction.
With so many parts of our daily lives being somewhat determined by our decisions to spend time online and to interact with certain services on the web, it’s quite surprising that not many people you see in the street can tell you how the internet came to be what it is today.
While the development of the internet would never had been possible without the previous success of the telegraph network, quickly followed by radio and TV, it’s ARPANET that’s generally considered to be its predecessor. ARPA, or the Advanced Research Projects Agency, put together a network which connected major US universities and went online in December 1969. It aimed to create alternative communication channels throughout the country in case the conventional routes were taken down by a military attack. The first message to be sent via ARPANET was the word “login”, although the system allegedly crashed in the middle of the word on the letter “g”.
The next major development to follow and important milestone in the history of the internet was the email. Whilst it existed in a somewhat different format for a few years by now, it was Ray Tomlinson in 1971 who started steering it in the modern direction.
Tomlinson is responsible for creating the email address format we are familiar with today, placing the symbol @ between the username and the then-computer address of the recipient. The symbol now separates the username from the domain name.
Email quickly gathered momentum and started being used by the wider population. By 1976, it already acted as an important communication tool within politics.
It was used by presidential candidate Jimmy Carter to plan campaign events, and also by Queen Elizabeth II, who was the first state leader to send an email.
Towards the end of the seventies, the first online games started to pop up. MUD (MultiUser Dungeon) is believed to be the forefather of modern online multiplayer games such as World of Warcraft or Second Life. MUD was a text based role playing game with a solid grounding in fiction and online chat.
The following few years marked many developments that were to change the online landscape towards the modern Internet we love today. In fact, the term “internet” itself was first used in 1982. The modern emoticon was born around this time as well, and Scott Fahlman is widely credited to be its champion after using “:-)” at the end of a joke instead of the previous standard “-)”.
The year 1984 sees the birth of Domain Name System (DNS), which establishes the extensions that identify network addresses, such as .com, .edu and .org. The term cyberspace is also coined around this time, which goes to show that many elements of modern internet culture are actually much older than we think and have been in use for almost three decades.
One of the most important developments in the history of the Internet was the development of the World Wide Web by Tim Berners-Lee. He started working on it in 1989, although it would take almost four years until the general public started embracing this new method of accessing information over the Internet. It could be argued the the Web made the internet a lot more accessible to people, as the more user friendly and graphic web browsers made “web-surfing” easier and more interactive.
Companies and public figures started seeing the benefits of having an online presence, and the White House launched its first web page in 1994. Many business also started experimenting with online marketing and the word “spam” entered people’s vocabulary after unsolicited emails with commercial messages started landing in their inboxes. Spam will be celebrating its twentieth anniversary next year, and although email clients have developed much better filters and mechanisms for dealing with such emails, they still plague us on a regular basis and may do so for years to come.
Overall, the nineties saw an increased access to the internet. Many online companies started offering dial-up services to their customers, and more and more people were connecting every day. By 1996, there were approximately 45 million internet users and the figure was growing rapidly. A couple of years later, huge companies we know today such as Google began to grow.
Internet piracy became a concern after the development of Napster in 1998, which allowed users to share files between them without any need for payment. Napster was found to violate copyright laws in 2001 and was ordered to cease the swapping of music. After attempting to function on a subscription based service, the Napster team finally gave up and buried the project in 2002. The beginning of the noughties also saw the rise in computer viruses, as hackers saw a lot of opportunity to profit on the back of the rising numbers of internet users.
Finally, the last decade saw the birth of the social media phenomenon, with sites such as Facebook, Google Plus, LinkedIn and Twitter that keep developing to this day. Picture and video sharing online sites such as YouTube and Vimeo are now more popular than ever, with Instagram and Vine topping the charts as the most used apps after 2010. The internet has given everyone the opportunity to become a content creator, to share and to connect, and for that it will always have a place in our lives. It is no longer something we access from the bulky PC in the living room, but something we take with us wherever we go on our smartphones. The way companies and services adapt to the rise of mobile internet is the next big thing to follow.