By any measure, the Internet is an extraordinary technological achievement. In 1994, 3 million people were connected to the Internet. By 1997 it had more than 100 million users worldwide.
The Internet, a network connecting many computer networks through the use of a common addressing system and communications protocol, TCP/IP (Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol), came into being in the 1960s. At first it was seen as a means of secure and survivable communication in cases of national emergency. Sponsored by the Department of Defense’s ARPA (Advanced Research Project Agency), a small network, ARPANET, developed to promote the sharing of super-computers in the United States.
ARPANET began by connecting four universities. By 1971 it networked twenty-three ARPA-funded computer centers together. Electronic mail (e-mail) quickly became the most popular application. At the end of the 1970s two graduate students at Duke University, Tom Truscott and Jim Ellis, and one at the University of North Carolina, Steve Bellovin, created the USENET newsgroups, which allowed people all over the world to join discussion groups that talked about the Internet and other subjects.
Growth was rapid in the late 1970s and early 1980s, driven by the popularity of e-mail. In 1982 the term “Internet” was used for the first time. In the 1980s, using the common language of TCP/IP, the loose collection of networks that made up ARPANET came together as the Internet. At the same time, the introduction and rapid acceptance of the personal computer (pc) made it possible for many individuals and corporations to join the Internet. In 1990 ARPANET was decommissioned. What existed now was a vast network of networks called the Internet. There were 300,000 hosts, where only a few years before, in 1987, there had only been 10,000. The year before, researchers at CERN High-Energy Physics Laboratory in Geneva, Switzerland, used hypertext, a new computer language, to create what became the World Wide Web,a combination of words, pictures, and sounds available through the Internet. In 1993 Mosaic, the first graphics-based Web browser, became available. Marc Andreesen, who developed Mosaic, formed Netscape Communications Corporation the following year. By the late 1990s the World Wide Web had emerged as the major application of the Internet. It is now estimated that more than 320 million Web pages exist, with the number expected to grow 1,000 percent in the next few years. E-commerce, pioneered by Amazon.com and eBay, doubled sales in 1998 over 1997 to $7.3 billion. At the end of the century, it is clear that in the space of a few years the Internet and the World Wide Web have begun to change the way people live, learn, work, and shop in many parts of the world.
Suggestions for Term Papers
1. Investigate the early defense-oriented history of the Internet in the 1960s (see Suggested Sources) and write a paper on the technical problems that had to be solved before the Internet could become a reality.
2. E-mail was in many ways a spin-off from the main purposes of the ARPA-funded research. Do a research project on the early days of e-mail, including the development of “netiquette.” If possible, conduct interviews with early users of e-mail.
3. The USENET newsgroups were seen as a poor man’s ARPANET. Explore the origins of USENET and talk with people about how it is used today.
4. As a group project, do a presentation on how the Internet works and explain the different features we conveniently group together as the Internet. 5. Design a Web page to introduce the Internet to people with no experience on the Web.
6. Do a research paper on e-commerce that explores among other topics the need for sophisticated encryption software.
In addition to the boldfaced items, look under the entries for “The Invention of the Computer, 1944–1946” (#39), “First ‘Test-Tube’ Baby Born, 1978” (#79), and “Dolly the Sheep Cloned, 1997” (#96). Search under Vannevar Bush (the “Memex”), J.C.R. Licklider, Larry Roberts, Vinton Cerf, Internet Assigned Number Authority, Java, Linux, and cyberspace.
Berners-Lee, Tim, with Mark Fischetti. Weaving the Web: The Original Design and Ultimate Destiny of the World Wide Web by Its Inventor. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1999. Part autobiography, part prophecy, a fascinating book by a major figure in the explosive growth of the Internet in the 1990s.
Bush, Vannevar. “As We May Think.” Atlantic Monthly, 176 (July 1945): 101–108. Bush presents his ideas about the “Memex,” a personal information machine that was the forerunner of today’s personal computer and the Internet.
Licklider, J.C.R. Libraries of the Future. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1965. A pioneering effort to visualize a different way of storing and making available information.
Abbate, Janet. Inventing the Internet. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1999. Probably the best single book available on the origins and growth of the Internet.
Campbell-Kelly, Martin, and William Aspray. Computer: A History of the Information Machine. New York: Basic Books, 1996. Places the Internet in the context of computer development. An excellent brief introduction.
Hafner, Katie, and Matthew Lyon. Where Wizards Stay Up Late: The Origins of the Internet. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1998. The great man approach. Well-written and carefully researched. Hauben, Michael, and Ronda Hauben. Netizens: On the History and Impact of Usenet and the Internet. Los Alamitos, Calif.: IEEE Computer Society Press, 1997. History from the bottom up of those people who figured out new uses for the Internet and made it the phenomenon it is.
Hudson, David. Rewired: A Brief and Opinionated Net History. Indianapolis: Macmillan Technical Publishing, 1997. A good introduction. The author works in the industry but is skeptical of some of the more grandiose claims about it.
Nerds 2.0.1: A Brief History of the Internet. 3 hours., 1998. Distributed by PBS Home Video. An excellent documentary. Some prior familiarity with the topic is useful, however, in viewing it. PBS also has a Nerds 2.0.1 Web site: http://www.pbs.org/opb/nerds2.0.1.
Norberg, Arthur L., and Judy E. O’Neill. Transforming Computer Technology: Information Processing for the Pentagon, 1962–1986. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996. An institutional approach to the history of the Internet.
Rosenzweig, Roy. “Wizards, Bureaucrats, Warriors, and Hackers: Writing the History of the Internet” (review essay), American Historical Review, 103 (December 1998): 1530–1552. Rosenzweig does a superb job of sorting out the history of the Internet, showing that it may be approached through biography, through institutional studies, and through studies combining politics and culture. Excellent bibliography.
World Wide Web
“All about the Internet.” http://www.isoc.org/internet-history/#Origins. At times a little technical, this nevertheless is a useful overview of the Internet’s history. Many of the authors played prominent roles in that history. Many interesting links.
“Nerds 2.0.1.” http://www.pbs.org/opb/nerds2.0.1. Based on the Nerds 2.0.1: A Brief History of the Internet documentary, this Web site offers a wide range of introductory material including a timeline, a glossary of terms, and brief identification of many major figures connected with the Internet.
“PBS Life on the Internet Timeline.” http://www.pbs.org/internet/timeline/index.htm. A useful site with links to other interesting sites on the history of the Internet.