[MUST READ] The Fascinating History of the Internet

Category: Reference

The history of computers and the story of how the Internet came about are fascinating subjects to me. After doing some reading and research on early computers and Internet history, I'm offering up my commentary and some excellent links that you can explore to learn more at your leisure. I think you'll find it interesting, read on...

A Brief Internet History Lesson

When I was a middle school student in the 1970s, I would read every book on computers that I could find. Stories about the ENIAC and UNIVAC mainframes fascinated me. In high school, I learned BASIC and FORTRAN while banging away on a Teletype connected to a mainframe computer 45 miles away. It wasn't until I entered college in 1980 that I learned about the Internet. When I started at IBM Poughkeepsie a few years later, I worked in the facility where the System 370 mainframes were developed. I'm still learning about computers and this amazing network of networks.

Here's a little history of the Internet, along with a brief summary of how it is managed today. ARPANET, the precursor to the Internet, was developed in the late 1960s and early 1970s. It was a cooperative effort of the U.S. Department of Defense, several universities, and private corporations. On October 29, 1969, the first message was sent over the Internet. At the 50th Anniversary of the Internet event, some of those Internet pioneers gathered to share memories of that day, and the work that went on before and after. Some of those videos are worth watching, especially #4, #5 and #9.

By the early 1980s, a set of standards for connecting diverse networks around the world was developed, and became known as the Internet. In 1992, The Internet Society was formed as a non-profit organization to provide leadership for the development and use of the Internet. The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), which operates under the auspices of the Internet Society, develops and promotes Internet standards and protocols. In 1998, The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) was formed to coordinate the management of Internet Domain Name System (DNS), pursuant to an agreement with the IETF.

Internet History

But without computers, the Internet might have ended up as an unsightly series of pneumatic tubes spanning the globe. So let's give credit where it's due, and start at the beginning. The History Of Computing Project offers a timeline of the major events in the history of computers, biographies of computer pioneers, and even a history of video games. I was intrigued to read about early computing devices developed in the 1620s!

Hobbes' Internet Timeline gives a brief history of Internet milestones from 1957 tp 2017. Kind of geeky, but still lots of interesting stats.

Had enough history? You might also enjoy my article How Does The Internet Work? (Bob Explains...) Did you know that in some cases, sneakers or tractor trailers are used to transport large volumes of data? Check it out!

"Where Wizards Stay Up Late: The Origins Of The Internet" tells the story of the origins of the Internet, based on interviews with the people who made it happen. Perhaps you've never heard of Leonard Kleinrock, Bob Taylor, Vint Cerf or J.R. Licklider, but after reading this book you'll want to thank them. It's actually a riveting account that you won't want to put down until you've finished reading it!

The Internet Society's History Of The Internet page offers a long list of articles about the history of the Internet, the Web and Usenet. Of particular interest are the ISOC's Brief History of the Internet.

And it's worth reinforcing the point that the Internet, the World Wide Web, and Usenet are distinct entities. The Web was invented in 1989 by Tim Berners-Lee, a British scientist working at CERN, a nuclear research lab. It's a software construct built on the Internet, which facilitates access to pages which may contain documents, images, video, audio and hypertext links to other information. Berners-Lee also created the first web server and web browser, which were announced to the world in 1991. Usenet was conceived in 1980, and served as the bulletin board system or chat rooms of the Internet for about 25 years, before Internet forums and social media were popularized.

The Internet Archive has been taking "snapshots" of the Internet since 1996 and stashing them away for posterity. If you want to see what Yahoo.com looked like on October 17 1996, or the first iteration of Google, it's in there. Hundreds of billions of pages have been stored in the Internet Archive's database. Using the Wayback Machine is a wonderful walk down memory lane if you've been online for a few years.

Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "[MUST READ] The Fascinating History of the Internet"

Posted by:

Teresa Matchette
15 Nov 2021

Don’t forget The Internet Tourbus, that informative newsletter so important to new users. Patrick Crispin and some other fellow alternated authorship. I remember learning about a new search engine called Google that was just a blank page with header and a box.

Posted by:

Mark Neville
15 Nov 2021

I also worked for IBM starting when we had to go down the hall to a terminal room to use a communicating magcard selectric to access the mainframe at 110 baud. I remember visiting IBM Boulder and walking from the hotel to a ‘computer store’, because they didn’t have one where I lived. At home after getting a C64, I remember getting to usenet through dialup to telnet to a system called Portal. My daughter who was born in 75, grew up with there always being a computer in the house. Today, I spend a lot of my time connecting through the internet to interact with friends in the virtual world of Second Life.

Posted by:

Dave Smart
15 Nov 2021

Courera.org has an interesting course available Internet History, Technology and Security.

Posted by:

15 Nov 2021

Interesting, as I am not a "techie". Back in December 1990, my company merged with a similar company. We were pencil and paper. They were using computers. We were given two two hour classes, on how to use a computer. Then we were on our own. A few of the "kids", had been to college, and had some knowledge of computers, so they helped us old guys out, and that's how we learned to work on a computer. Now my grandkids help me out, when I have a problem. They always seem to start with telling me that the solution is "Simple".

Posted by:

Steve Kohn
15 Nov 2021

Somewhere in my home library -- ah, here it is -- sit three DVDs of a PBS series, "A Brief History of the Internet," by Robert Cringely.

https://www.amazon.com/Nerds-2-0-1-Brief-History-Internet/dp/6305128235/ shows a VHS version for sale. I must have made my DVDs from tapes I'd recorded.

Cringely was a great host. It's been 20 years since I've watched his series, but recall fondly how much I enjoyed it.

Posted by:

Herb Klug
15 Nov 2021

Bob - I really like the variety of your posts. One day you can discuss the benefits of backing up a hard drive, and the next you discuss the origins of the Internet. And on another day you give us teasers of technology-related news in your Geeky Updates. And although I don't remember specifically, you've probably discussed the benefits of good posture when spending long hours at a keyboard. Bob, you keep your posts interesting both in the way you write and the constant variety of subjects. My sincere wish to you is to "Live long and prosper" my friend.

Posted by:

Philip Reeves
15 Nov 2021

Hi. I wanted to tell you about an analog computing device that was made centuries before the 1620's. You may already know about it. Anyway, check out this website. Maybe your readers might be interested. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antikythera_mechanism

Posted by:

Sarah L
15 Nov 2021

I worked at a US national lab run by a university in the 1970s and 1980s. We used a network called Bitnet. We were connected to other national labs and to many universities. We could send messages, and send a data set to a colleague in a university. I never understood where Bitnet fit in the history you describe.

Posted by:

Sarah L
15 Nov 2021

I worked at a US national lab run by a university in the 1970s and 1980s. We used a network called Bitnet. We were connected to other national labs and to many universities. We could send messages, and send a data set to a colleague in a university. I never understood where Bitnet fit in the history you describe.

Posted by:

Curtis V. Golightly
16 Nov 2021

I enjoyed this article. It reminded me that when I first started work, we had a IBM 370/148 main frame.

Posted by:

16 Nov 2021

I worked on Air Force Q7 computers in early 60's. Big as a house. Drum storage cyclinders as large as a 50 gallon drum. Vacumn tube based.
Later, in mid 80's developed TCP/IP hardware interface boxes to connect Stratus computers (Googl it) to networks for Merrill Lynch NYC
Most recently, deploying network clients to individual cell blocks via networks for "canteen" services management for prisoners.

Posted by:

16 Nov 2021

You did not mention the role of the University of Illinois in the development of "Mosaic" the first visual interface with the web. From Wikipedia:
"NCSA Mosaic was one of the first web browsers. It was instrumental in popularizing the World Wide Web and the general Internet by integrating multimedia such as text and graphics."

As far as equipment, NCSA Mosaic was one of the first web browsers.

Not on subject, but some hardware has been mentioned, so:

In the mid-1960's I was working for the combined PR depart of IIT and their research arm. I remember photographing IBM 360s' at IIT (Illinois Institute of Technology) on Chicago's near southside. They were as big as a waist-high refrigerator and had a huge removable multi-platter hard drive with a handle that must have been approximately 18 inches in diameter. There were a lot of them whirring away in a special climate-controlled room with an elevated floor where all the connecting cables were.

Posted by:

Polly Bennett
30 Nov 2021

My introduction with technology started when I needed to buy a new typewriter for a university course I started.
I bought a computer. Did not know any one who owned a computer. A big learning curve. and a great fun time with computers since.
I am 90 and still enjoy teaching seniors how to use technology.

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