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Short History of the Internet

Before the common people had the internet we had BBS's click here and read this first!

This is a map of the Internet by CAIDA at the University of California, San Diego. It is produced when a software program called Skitter tracks data across computer networks; colors represent countries, and the branches are file packets "hopping" from site to site.


1964, the RAND Corporation, proposal (the brainchild of RAND staffer Paul Baran) was made public. In the first place, the network would have no central authority. Furthermore, it would be designed from the beginning to operate while in tatters. The principles were simple. The network itself would be assumed to be unreliable at all times. It would be designed from the get-go to transcend its own unreliability. All the nodes in the network would be equal in status to all other nodes, each node with its own authority to originate, pass, and receive messages. The messages themselves would be divided into packets, each packet separately addressed. Each packet would begin at some specified source node, and end at some other specified destination node. Each packet would wind its way through the network on an individual basis. The particular route that the packet took would be unimportant. Only final results would count. Basically, the packet would be tossed like a hot potato from node to node to node, more or less in the direction of its destination, until it ended up in the proper place. If big pieces of the network had been blown away, that simply wouldn't matter; the packets would still stay airborne, lateralled wildly across the field by whatever nodes happened to survive.

1968, The National Physical Laboratory in Great Britain set up the first test network on these principles. Shortly afterward, the Pentagon's Advanced Research Projects Agency decided to fund a larger, more ambitious project in the USA. The nodes of the network were to be high-speed supercomputers of the time. These were rare and valuable machines which were in real need of good solid networking, for the sake of national research-and-development projects.

1969(fall), the first such node was installed in UCLA.
December 1969, there were four nodes on the network, which was named ARPANET, after its Pentagon sponsor. The four computers could transfer data on dedicated high-speed transmission lines. They could even be programmed remotely from the other nodes. Thanks to ARPANET, scientists and researchers could share one another's computer facilities by long-distance.

1971, there were fifteen nodes in ARPANET.
1972, thirty-seven nodes. By the second year of operation, however, ARPANET's users had warped the computer-sharing network into a dedicated, high-speed, federally subsidized electronic post-office. The main traffic on ARPANET was not long-distance computing. Instead, it was news and personal messages. Researchers were using ARPANET to collaborate on projects, to trade notes on work, and eventually, to gossip. People had their own personal user accounts on the ARPANET computers, and their own personal addresses for electronic mail. Not only were they using ARPANET for person-to-person communication, but they were very enthusiastic about this particular service. It wasn't long before the invention of the mailing-list, an ARPANET broadcasting technique in which an identical message could be sent automatically to large numbers of network subscribers. Interestingly, one of the first really big mailing-lists was "SF- LOVERS," for science fiction fans. Discussing science fiction on the network was not work-related and was frowned upon by many ARPANET computer administrators, but this didn't stop it from happening.

Throughout the '70s, ARPA's network grew. Its decentralized structure made expansion easy. Unlike standard corporate computer networks, the ARPA network could accommodate many different kinds of machine. The ARPA's original standard for communication was known as NCP, "Network Control Protocol," but as time passed and the technique advanced, NCP was superseded by a higher-level, more sophisticated standard known as TCP/IP.
TCP, or "Transmission Control Protocol," converts messages into streams of packets at the source, then reassembles them back into messages at the destination. IP, or "Internet Protocol," handles the addressing, seeing to it that packets are routed across multiple nodes and even across multiple networks with multiple standard. As early as 1977, TCP/IP was being used by other networks to link to ARPANET.
ARPANET itself remained fairly tightly controlled, at least until 1983, when its military segment broke off and became MILNET. But TCP/IP linked them all. And ARPANET itself, though it was growing, became a smaller and smaller neighborhood amid the vastly growing multitudes of other linked machines.

As the '70s and '80s advanced, many very different social groups found themselves in possession of powerful computers. It was fairly easy to link these computers to the growing network-of-networks. As the use of TCP/IP became more common, entire other networks fell into the digital age of the Internet. Since the software called TCP/IP was public-domain, and the basic technology was decentralized and rather anarchic by its very nature, it was difficult to stop people from barging in and linking up somewhere-or-other. In point of fact, nobody *wanted* to stop them from joining this branching complex of networks, which came to be known as the "Internet."

1984 the National Science Foundation got into the act, through its Office of Advanced Scientific Computing.
The new NSFNET set a pace for technical advancement, linking newer, faster supercomputers, through faster links, upgraded and expanded, again and again, in 1986, 1988, 1990. And other government agencies leapt in: NASA, the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Energy. Foreign computers, and a few American ones, chose to be denoted by their geographical locations. The others were grouped by the six basic Internet "domains": gov, mil, edu, com, org and net. Gov, Mil, and Edu denoted governmental, military and educational institutions, which were, of course, the pioneers, since ARPANET had begun as a high-tech research exercise in national security. Com, however, stood for "commercial" institutions.

1989, ARPANET itself formally expired, a victim of its own overwhelming success. Its users scarcely noticed, for ARPANET's functions not only continued but steadily improved. The use of TCP/IP standards for computer networking is now global.
Millions of people use this gigantic computer networks. The Internet is especially popular among scientists, and is probably the most important scientific instrument of the late twentieth century. The powerful, sophisticated access that it provides to specialized data and personal communication has sped up the pace of scientific research enormously.

1990s, The Internet's pace of growth is spectacular, almost ferocious. It is spreading faster than cellular phones, faster than fax machines.
1993, The Internet was growing at a rate of twenty percent a month. The number of "host" machines with direct connection to TCP/IP has been doubling every year since 1988.
The Internet is moving out of its original base in military and research institutions, into elementary and high schools, as well as into public libraries and the commercial sector. Why do people want to be "on the Internet?" One of the main reasons is simple freedom. The Internet is a rare example of a true, modern, functional anarchy. There is no "Internet Inc." There are no official censors, no bosses, no board of directors, no stockholders. In principle, any node can speak as a peer to any other node, as long as it obeys the rules of the TCP/IP protocols, which are strictly technical, not social or political.

The Internet is also a bargain. The Internet as a whole, unlike the phone system, doesn't charge for long-distance service. And unlike most commercial computer networks, it doesn't charge for access time, either. In fact the "Internet" itself, which doesn't even officially exist as an entity, never "charges" for anything. Each group of people accessing the Internet is responsible for their own machine and their own section of line. The Internet's "anarchy" may seem strange or even unnatural, but it makes a certain deep and basic sense.

The Internet belongs to everyone and no one. Still, its various interest groups all have a claim. Business people want the Internet put on a sounder financial footing. Government people want the Internet more fully regulated. Academics want it dedicated exclusively to scholarly research. Military people want it spy-proof and secure. And so on and so on. All these sources of conflict remain in a stumbling balance today, and the Internet, so far, remains in a thrivingly anarchical condition. Once upon a time, the NSFnet's high-speed, high-capacity lines were known as the "Internet Backbone," and their owners could rather lord it over the rest of the Internet; but today there are "backbones" in Canada, Japan, and Europe, and even privately owned commercial Internet backbones specially created for carrying business traffic. Today, even privately owned desktop computers can become Internet nodes. You can carry one under your arm. Soon, perhaps, on your wrist.

Any computer of sufficient power is a potential spore for the Internet, and today such computers sell for less than $2,000 and are in the hands of people all over the world. ARPA's network, designed to assure control of a ravaged society after a nuclear holocaust, has been superseded by its mutant child the Internet, which is thoroughly out of control, and spreading exponentially through the post-Cold War electronic global village.

The spread of the Internet in the 90s resembles the spread of personal computing in the 1970s, though it is even faster and perhaps more important. More important, perhaps, because it may give those personal computers a means of cheap, easy storage and access that is truly planetary in scale. The future of the Internet bids fair to be bigger and exponentially faster.
In 1998 a internet connection TCP/IP with a 56K modem cost $19.95 ($29.95 cdn) a month for unlimited time.
In 1999 cable connection is more and more popular and cost only $19.95 ($29.95 cdn) a month.
Click Tim for his story.
Tim Berners-Lee created the world wide web and http standard on a NeXT Cube computer.
CERN releases the first Web server in 1991.
For more on the Internet History visit Hobbes' Internet Timeline