June 10th, 2019 by GSC Customer Care

How the internet grew to connect the globe in only 50 years.

The internet has revolutionized the way we work, the way we play, even the way we shop. It might be hard to imagine a world without email, Netflix, or Amazon, but the internet — which makes all those things possible — is less than 50 years old.

What follows is a brief history of how the internet started in a lab and grew to connect almost one third of the world’s population.

1969-1979: The First Network is Born 
On September 2, 1969, two computers at the University of California, Los Angeles, exchanged messages in the first test of a military network. Dubbed ARPAnet (after the U.S. agency that funded it), the project was originally intended as a way for scientists in different locations to collaborate and share computer resources. However, it quickly became clear that it would have much broader applications.

Key milestones during this period:

  • 1969: ARPAnet goes online, connecting four U.S. university campuses. The precursor to the internet is born.
  • 1971: A computer scientist in Massachusetts sends the first email over ARPAnet. The use of the “@” symbol in the address to distinguish the user’s name from the computer’s name lays the foundation for email between different networks.
  • 1974: The specification for the Transmission Control Program (TCP) protocol governing the way network data is transported is published. The term “internet” is coined for the first time.

In 1976, Queen Elizabeth II sent the first ever royal email while visiting a scientific research center in the UK.

1980-1989: The Internet Spreads
In the 1980s, scientists and researchers from across the globe began collaborating to develop the technology to make the internet widely available. Several organizations were founded to establish technical standards and to help spread awareness of network technology around the world. During this period, internet connectivity spread outside the U.S. to include countries in Europe, Asia, and Africa. With so many researchers working on different aspects of this emerging technology, the real power and potential of the internet began to take shape.

Key milestones during this period:

  • 1983: The Domain Name System (DNS) is invented, allowing the internet to expand beyond its university origins to a much broader community.
  • 1986: The first meeting of the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) was held — a global community of network designers, researchers, and vendors who would guide the development of internet standards.
  • 1989: A scientist at CERN creates the World Wide Web and the language that computers use to share and present information.

1990-1999: The Information Superhighway Arrives
The 1990s saw the growth of the internet on a massive scale. Access to the internet continued to spread around the world, including to places in Latin America and mainland China. In 1995, less than 1 percent of the world’s population had an internet connection, but by 1999 that number had jumped to 4.1 percent — or 248 million users worldwide. The U.S. Senate sponsored a bill that saw $600 million allocated to funding for research and the National Information Infrastructure, also known as the Information Superhighway. Most importantly, the World Wide Web became available to the public for the first time.

Key milestones during this period:

  • 1993: The first browser (Mosaic) is launched, helping to popularize the World Wide Web among the general public.
  • 1995: Internet Service Providers (ISPs) like CompuServe and America Online begin selling internet access to the public. Amazon.com opens for business, billing itself as the “Earth’s Biggest Bookstore.”
  • 1998: Google is founded by two Ph.D. students from Stanford University. The Google search engine comes out that year.

2000-Present: The Age of Social Media 
With the dawn of the 21st century, the internet had truly arrived. Although many technology companies struggled in the early 2000s (a result of the dot.com boom of the late 1990s that turned into a bust), growth in internet usage continued. As user adoption increased, the ways in which people shared information expanded in many directions. Websites like YouTube allowed people to upload and share their own videos with everyone. Social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram brought people together in ways they could not have imagined even five years earlier.

Key milestones during this period:

  • 2001: Jimmy Wales launches Wikipedia. Users contribute over 20,000 entries in the first year.
  • 2003: Apple launches iTunes, a digital platform for audio and video files.
  • 2012: Facebook reaches 1 billion monthly active users, making it the dominant social network worldwide. If the past five decades are any indication, the internet will continue to grow and change the way we live our daily lives.

In 1993, there were 600 websites on the internet. The White House and the United Nations both launched their websites that year.

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