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Internet History Timeline: ARPANET to the World Wide Web

Credit for the initial concept that developed into the World Wide Web is typically given to Leonard Kleinrock. In 1961, he wrote about ARPANET, the predecessor of the Internet, in a paper entitled “Information Flow in Large Communication Nets.” Kleinrock, along with other innnovators such as J.C.R. Licklider, the first director of the Information Processing Technology Office (IPTO), provided the backbone for the ubiquitous stream of emails, media, Facebook postings and tweets that are now shared online every day. Here, then, is a brief history of the Internet:

internet map
Partial map of the Internet based on the Jan. 15, 2005, data found on opte.org. Each line is drawn between two nodes, representing two IP addresses. The length of the lines are indicative of the delay between those two nodes.
Credit: Creative Commons | The Opte Project

The precursor to the Internet was jumpstarted in the early days of computing history, in 1969 with the U.S. Defense Department's Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET). ARPA-funded researchers developed many of the protocols used for Internet communication today. This timeline offers a brief history of the Internet’s evolution:

1934: Belgian information expert named Paul Otlet imagined a “Radiated Library” that would use technology of the day — the telephone and radio — to create something very much like the Internet.

1965: Two computers at MIT Lincoln Lab communicate with one another using packet-switching technology.

1968: Beranek and Newman, Inc. (BBN) unveils the final version of the Interface Message Processor (IMP) specifications. BBN wins ARPANET contract.

internet connections
A visualization of Internet connections in the United States. The lines represent connections between routers in major urban areas throughout the country.
Credit: NSF

1969: On Oct. 29, UCLA’s Network Measurement Center, Stanford Research Institute (SRI), University of California-Santa Barbara and University of Utah install nodes. The first message is “LO,” which was an attempt by student Charles Kline to “LOGIN” to the SRI computer from the university. However, the message was unable to be completed because the SRI system crashed.

1972: BBN’s Ray Tomlinson introduces network email. The Internetworking Working Group (INWG) forms to address need for establishing standard protocols.

1973: Global networking becomes a reality as the University College of London (England) and Royal Radar Establishment (Norway) connect to ARPANET. The term Internet is born.

1974: The first Internet Service Provider (ISP) is born with the introduction of a commercial version of ARPANET, known as Telenet.

1974: Vinton Cerf and Bob Kahn (the duo said by many to be the Fathers of the Internet) publish "A Protocol for Packet Network Interconnection," which details the design of TCP.

1976: Queen Elizabeth II hits the “send button” on her first email.

1979: USENET forms to host news and discussion groups.

1981: The National Science Foundation (NSF) provided a grant to establish the Computer Science Network (CSNET) to provide networking services to university computer scientists.

1982: Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) and Internet Protocol (IP), as the protocol suite, commonly known as TCP/IP, emerge as the protocol for ARPANET. This results in the fledgling definition of the Internet as connected TCP/IP internets. TCP/IP remains the standard protocol for the Internet.

1983: The Domain Name System (DNS) establishes the familiar .edu, .gov, .com, .mil, .org, .net, and .int system for naming websites. This is easier to remember than the previous designation for websites, such as 123.456.789.10.

1984: William Gibson, author of "Neuromancer," is the first to use the term "cyberspace."

1985: Symbolics.com, the website for Symbolics Computer Corp. in Massachusetts, becomes the first registered domain.

1986: The National Science Foundation’s NSFNET goes online to connected supercomputer centers at 56,000 bits per second — the speed of a typical dial-up computer modem. Over time the network speeds up and regional research and education networks, supported in part by NSF, are connected to the NSFNET backbone — effectively expanding the Internet throughout the United States. The NSFNET was essentially a network of networks that connected academic users along with the ARPANET.

1987: The number of hosts on the Internet exceeds 20,000. Cisco ships its first router.

1989: World.std.com becomes the first commercial provider of dial-up access to the Internet.

1990: Tim Berners-Lee, a scientist at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, develops HyperText Markup Language (HTML). This technology continues to have a large impact on how we navigate and view the Internet today.

1991: CERN introduces the World Wide Web to the public.

1992: The first audio and video are distributed over the Internet. The phrase “surfing the Internet” is popularized.

1993: The number of websites reaches 600 and the White House and United Nations go online. Marc Andreesen develops the Mosaic Web browser at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana. The number of computers connected to NSFNET grows from 2,000 in 1985 to more than 2 million in 1993. The National Science Foundation leads an effort to outline a new Internet architecture that would support the burgeoning commercial use of the network.

1994: Netscape Communications is born. Microsoft creates a Web browser for Windows 95.

1995: Compuserve, America Online and Prodigy begin to provide Internet access. Amazon.com, Craigslist and eBay go live. The original NSFNET backbone is decommissioned as the Internet’s transformation to a commercial enterprise is largely completed.

1996: The browser war, primarily between the two major players Microsoft and Netscape, heats up. CNET buys tv.com for $15,000.

1997: PC makers can remove or hide Microsoft’s Internet software on new versions of Windows 95, thanks to a settlement with the Justice Department. Netscape announces that its browser will be free.

1998: The Google search engine is born, changing the way users engage with the Internet.

1999: AOL buys Netscape. Peer-to-peer file sharing becomes a reality as Napster arrives on the Internet, much to the displeasure of the music industry.

2000: The dot-com bubble bursts. Web sites such as Yahoo! and eBay are hit by a large-scale denial of service attack, highlighting the vulnerability of the Internet. AOL merges with Time Warner.

A newly expanded global Internet, to focus solely on science and education, now includes half of the world's countries. The high-speed fiber-optic network connects users at speeds of 10 Gbps.
Credit: GLORIAD.

2001: A federal judge shuts down Napster, ruling that it must find a way to stop users from sharing copyrighted material before it can go back online.

2003. The SQL Slammer worm spread worldwide in just 10 minutes. Myspace, Skype and the Safari Web browser debut.

2004: Facebook goes online and the era of social networking begins. Mozilla unveils the Mozilla Firefox browser.

2005: YouTube.com launches.

2006: AOL changes its business model, offering most services for free and relying on advertising to generate revenue. The Internet Governance Forum meets for the first time.

2009: The Internet marks its 40th anniversary.

2010: Facebook reaches 400 million active users.

2011: Twitter and Facebook play a large role in the Middle East revolts.

— Kim Ann Zimmermann, LiveScience Contributor

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