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Regardless of whether you grew up with computers or were introduced to them in adulthood, it is difficult now to imagine a world in which the Internet does not exist. We rely on the Internet to manage our money, to search for jobs, to represent ourselves professionally, and to keep in contact with loved ones across the country or even across the world. We use the Internet to research, to learn, and to enable ourselves to complete projects we would not know how to do without looking up instructions. The Internet itself is barely fifty years old, and the World Wide Web less than thirty, but if either were to disappear, modern business would all but cease. How did such an influential system come into development so quickly? It all began with a simple idea from J. C. R. Licklider.
Licklider, a psychologist and computer scientist, put out the idea in 1960 of a network of computers connected together by "wide-band communication lines" through which they could share data and information storage. Licklider was hired as the head of computer research by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), and his small idea took off. By 1966, MIT researcher Lawrence G. Roberts had developed a plan for "ARPANET", a computer network designed to withstand power outages, even if a few of the computers were inactive. The first ARPANET link was made on October 29, 1969, between the University of California and the Stanford Research Institute. Only two letters were sent before the system crashed, but that was all the encouragement the computer researchers needed.
More universities and hosts were added to ARPANET as the system stabilized, and by 1981, there were over 200 hosts on the system. A number of other computer networks sprung up in the wake of ARPANET, including the Merit Network, CYCLADES, and the first international packet network, IPSS. However, with so many differing systems, something had to be developed to integrate them all into one. Robert Kahn of DARPA and Vinton Cerf of Stanford University worked together on a solution, and in 1977, the Internet protocol suite was used to seamlessly link three different networks. Using this new protocol for data transmission, the National Science Foundation created NSFNET in 1986, capable of handling 1.5 megabits per second, which replaced the now-outdated ARPANET.
The World Wide Web, or WWW, was created as a method to navigate the now extensive system of connected computers. Tim Berners-Lee, a contractor with the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), developed a rudimentary hypertext program called ENQUIRE. The program was designed to make information readily available to users, and to allow a user to explore relationships between different pages (i.e. clicking to get to a different section of a website). He proposed to expand the idea in 1989 and partnered with Robert Cailliau, and by 1990, Berners-Lee had developed the skeletal outline of the internet, including a Web browser and Web server. He posted a summary of the project online on August 6, 1991, but public interest failed to take off until the release of the Mosaic web browser in 1993. Up to that point, the Web was restricted to simple text pages. Mosaic allowed users to explore multimedia online, and any reported glitches received a prompt response. Berners-Lee founded the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) in 1994 to help further develop ease of use and accessibility of the web, and made it a standard that the Web should be available to the public for free and with no patent.
The aptly named dot-com boom of 1999 saw many people move their businesses online, such as newspapers, retailers, and entertainment offices. Since then, the Internet has only continued to grow. The Web we now use, coined "Web 2.0", uses RSS feeds and embedded multimedia content to reach out to users on a real-time basis. The Web has changed everything from business communications to social interaction, and it will continue to do so as it continues to grow and develop. The invention of the Internet was a large change for the world to adapt to, but thus far, the World Wide Web has been received with enthusiasm by users of all ages and from all locations across the globe, and it is a safe bet that there are many more fascinating innovations for it in our future.
The development of the Internet was and is a multi-faceted endeavor, with many different contributors and companies developing small segments that together added up into what the online world is today. For more extensive information on how the Internet became what it is, please feel free to explore the following links.
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