Building the Internet

(Courtesy of Thomas Hawk/Flickr)

Many great minds met to invent the Internet and connect the world.

In the early 1960s, researchers at different universities funded by the U.S. Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) laid the groundwork for the network of networks.

“They were kind of rebellious anti-authoritarian types — they wanted power to the people,” said Walter Isaacson, who published The Innovators, a history of the digital age. “They called it ‘computing power to the people’. And so they created a system in which every node on the Internet has the ability to store, to forward, to originate information. … This decentralized system made … it hard for the government or corporations to control the Internet,” he told National Public Radio.

Here are some milestones on the journey to create the Internet:

1960–1962: Leonard Kleinrock at the University of California–Los Angeles (UCLA) plans the “ARPANET,” the predecessor and foundation of the Internet. And J.C.R. Licklider of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) comes up with the concept of a “galactic network” of computers that could talk to one another.

1965: U.S. and British scientists invent a way of sending information from one computer to another called “packet switching,” and two computers at MIT’s Lincoln Lab communicate using the packet-switching technology.

1969: UCLA, Stanford Research Institute (SRI), University of California–Santa Barbara and University of Utah install connection points in the ARPANET. After one unsuccessful attempt, Kleinrock sends the very first message, “LOGIN,” to the SRI computer. “We didn’t even have a camera or a tape recorder or a written record of that event,” Kleinrock recalled 40 years later. “I mean, who noticed? Nobody did.”

In 2007, Leonard Kleinrock demonstrated how the first Internet communication was made almost 40 years earlier. (© AP Images)

1972: Ray Tomlinson of BBN Technologies, a U.S. high-tech company, introduces network email.

1972: The first International Conference on Computer Communication takes place in Washington, and computer scientist Robert Kahn demonstrates the ARPANET to the public by connecting 20 computers.

1973: An international network is born when University College of London (England) and Royal Radar Establishment (Norway) are connected to the ARPANET.

1973–1974: Vinton Cerf and Kahn, both of ARPA, develop Transmission Control Protocol, which enables two computers to exchange streams of data. Later, they add an additional protocol, known as Internet Protocol, or IP.

“People often ask, ‘How could you possibly have imagined what’s happening today?’ Cerf told Wired magazine in 2012. “And of course, you know, we didn’t. But it’s also not honest to roll that answer off as saying we didn’t have any idea what we had done, or what the opportunity was.”

Nowadays, Vinton Cerf works as Google’s chief Internet evangelist, spreading the word about the benefits of the Web around the world. (© AP Images)

1974: BBN launches Telenet, the first commercial version of the ARPANET.

1983: The Domain Name System (DNS) establishes a system for naming websites. The new domain names (e.g., .edu, .gov, .com, .mil, .org, .net) are easier to remember than the previous numeric designations (e.g., 123.456.789.10.).

1989: Tim Berners-Lee, a researcher at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, invents software that links topics on the screen to related information and graphics. His invention provides a foundation for the World Wide Web, which is introduced two years later.

At the time, “there was another system called Gopher,” recalled Berners-Lee. ”It started earlier and had more users,“ he told Der Spiegel in 2014. “The University of Minnesota, which had created the Gopher system, said that in the future they would possibly charge a royalty for commercial uses. Gopher traffic immediately dropped off and people moved to the World Wide Web.”

Tim Berners-Lee: “All the people who have been part of the Word Wide Web can be very proud of what has been achieved.” (© AP Images)

1993: A group of students and researchers at the University of Illinois releases the first Web browser, Mosaic. Later, it becomes Netscape, the first widely used commercial Web browser.

“Mosaic was a side project that one of my colleagues and I started in our spare time,” said Netscape co-inventor and founder Marc Andreessen. “We basically said to ourselves … ‘You’ve got this whole new world where you’re going to have a lot of graphical PCs on the Internet. Somebody should build a program that lets you access any of these Internet services from a single graphical program.’”

Does anybody still remember this? It was only 20 years ago or so. (© AP Images)

Based on timelines published by livescience.com, investintech.com and internethalloffame.org. All quotes that are not attributed are from “How the Web Was Won,” an article published in the June 30 issue of Vanity Fair magazine.