How Did the Internet Begin?
An idea whose time had come, the Internet started in 1969, with two computers talking to one another across telephone lines.
You might say it started much earlier, with the telegraph, the first digital telecommunications device. Next, the advent of the telephone drove the growth of wired networks.
When computers became increasingly important to research institutions, some visionaries began theorizing about them joining together to make a huge, universal library (J.C.R. Licklider,paper, “Man-Computer Symbiosis,”January, 1960).
How would two physically separate computing devices exchange data? M.I.T.’s Len Kleinrock answered the problem (“The history of the Internet,” Leonard Kleinrock, 2005) with “packet switching.” It is the mathematical method used to “chunk” computer data to be sent from one computer to the other, and to reassemble the chunks.
Packet switching would speed transmission, because each packet could flow through any telecommunications route available at that instant. It also increased reliability, as any fault, or overload in the network would be automatically bypassed. It remained to try to make it work.
The Department of Defense’s Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) wanted to create a network, taking advantage of the security afforded by packet switching. ARPA sponsored much of the early research, and the first attempt at tele-networking two or more computers. In October, 1969, the first link in the incipient “ARPAnet” was tried between computers at UCLA and Stanford University. Soon more links were added and separate networks, based on on the ARPAnet sprang up all over the world.
Computer scientist Vinton Cerf ‘s “Transmission Control Protocol” and “Internet Protocol (”TCP/IP.) allowed all of the world’s mini-networks to communicate with one another.
1989 is the time many consider to the be the actual birth of the World Wide Web. That is when Tim Berners-Lee opened the CERN research network to outside clients, by means of a prototype system he named “ENQUIRE” (info.cern.ch – Tim Berners-Lee’s proposal.)
With its functionality demonstrated, the WWW caught on with businesses, government agencies, and individual computer owners. Growing geometrically, the Internet came “to account for 97% of the telecommunicated information by 2007,” (Science, #332.)