Seeing we made it to the twentieth anniversary this August 6th 2011 since the web became a publicly available service on the Internet, it would be interesting to take a walk back in time, through the web of history archives, and reminisce on how far we have come today from the humble beginnings of the Internet and World Wide Web with these 10 significant milestones.
Birth of the Internet and the World Wide Web
The start of the Internet as we know it did not start in a single day. It came about as a series of events right from 1945 with the publishing of an article in Atlantic Monthly about a photo-electrical-mechanical device called a Memex by Vannevar Bush that was later read by Douglas Engelbart, who in turn invented the mouse, the GUI and the first hypertext system tested in 1968.
The word Hypertext is first coined by Ted Nelson. In 1969 the Advanced Research Projects Agency commissions ARPANET for research on networking and the first nodes are connected which extended to become the start of the Internet as we know it today. These nodes connected the University of California, Los Angeles and the Standford Research Institute and later spread to other universities.
With the growth of the Internet came the need for a common communication protocol. Work on this common protocol began in 1973 with Robert E. Khan leading this work with Vinton Cerf as a key member of the team. During the documentation of this work in 1974, the term Internet which is short for Internetworking was first used. The result of this research led to the TCP/IP v4 specification in 1978 of which we still use today.
In 1980 based on the Hypertext concept Tim Berners-Lee came up with an idea to share information among researchers. But it was not until 1989 that Tim started working on incorporating Hyptertext into the Internet. This became the birth of the World Wide Web.
Even though email transmissions can be traced back to even before the Internet era, they were not regarded as the foundation for email as we know it today as a global standardized communication specification.
Modern email lends its credits to Ray Tomlinson who in 1971 created an email program to send messages across a distributed network and successfully does so between two computers placed side by side.
In 1972 Tomlinson expands the program to the general ARPANET users, using the “@” sign as part of the address to separate the user from the name of the machine. ARPANET widely adopts this protocol which later evolves to the standardized email we use today.
Graphical Web Browsers
In January 1993, the Mosaic web browser ushered in the era of graphical web browsers, being the first global web browser. Prior to Mosaic, Lynx as a text only browser was quite popular, even though there existed a graphical web browser called NeXT. Other browsers included Midas, Erwise, Viola, and Samba
Where other web browsers had failed to gain popularity, Mosaic made headway with its support for integrated multimedia and active development and flexibility in implementing user requests. Mosaic later became what was to be known as Netscape Navigator in 1994. Technology from Mosaic was licensed to several companies including Microsoft which was eventually used in Internet Explorer.
On 1st October 1994 W3C was founded and formed by Tim Berners-Lee. This became the official body for the governing of Internet and worldwide web standards. It is through this body that some form of sanity has been maintained in the standards and definitions of HTML, CSS and other web-based standards.
Without the efforts of W3C, the web as we know it could have been virtually impossible to implement. Content would be fragmented meaning it would only work on a few software platforms thus limiting its reach.
In January 1997 they publish their first recommendation for HTML — HTML 3.2.
With the increase of websites and the growth of data and information available on the Internet it was obvious that it was going to be a problem accessing this information without a viable solution – as was evident with primitive forms of search programs.
Prior to the information explosion, back in 1990 the first search Engine named Archie was developed. This searched the file names from the directories of public servers. Being so few, there was no need for indexing of the information.
The first true search engine as we know it today came in 1994 and was called WebCrawler. It is the work of this search engine that is the basis of almost all search engines today without which we would find it virtually impossible to make use of the Internet.
Rich Internet Applications
In 1995, the work of James Gosling on the Java programming language was released. Gosling worked at Sun Microsystems at the time. Java was adopted to run embedded in major web browsers as Java Applets. This ushered in an error of rich Internet applications that could do what was not possible in any stand alone web browser.
The invention of the Java Applet opened the door for other rich Internet applications and plug-ins to be developed. Among these included Abobe Flash which was once known as Macromdia Flash . Microsoft also introduced Microsoft Silverlight which is very similar to Adobe Flash. Other major frameworks include JavaFX, HTML5, Ext JS, Qt Quick, Ajax and Google Web Toolkit among a host of others.
Rich Internet applications are browser-based or web applications that tend to have characteristics of full Desktop applications.
Web 2.0 was coined in 2002 as a form of democratic or semantic web. This ushered in an era where the users have more control in content creation than ever before. It bought about an explosion of blogs, multimedia sharing, wikis, RSS feeds and podcasting.
This era also allowed web content to be created in a more open and democratic way with wiki-based sites allowing users to manage the content on the website. Users viewing news websites and blogs could share their opinions through comments sections. This led to the emergence of websites like YouTube which allowed users to post video content as well as popular Content Management Systems such as WordPress and Joomla.
Because of Web 2.0 it is fairly easy to have your own professional looking website up and running in minutes or have rich and compiled content posted on the web without any programming knowledge.
Social Networking Services
The emergence of Social Networking Services was another major milestone on the web. These services, which allow users to share and connect with friends, classmates, work mates and family through online channels in various ways, did not emerge out of the blue.
Social Networking Services have their roots in online communities such as USENET and online bulletin board systems which existed way back into the 70s and 80s with the best known being Compuserve. Compuserve allowed members to share files and access news and events. AOL also included member profiles and allowed instant messaging, Tripod and Geocities both allowed users to create personal websites.
Probably the true pioneer of modern social networks is SixDegrees.com which started in 1997 but went out of service in 2001 and came back as a members only Social Network . A year later in 2002 Friendster came on the scene and ushered in the current generation of Social Networking Services.
Another milestone in the Internet and web history was the release of the first mobile phone capable of Internet connectivity. This was the Nokia 9000 Communicator. It was launched in Finland in 1996. Internet mobile services did not really take of until three years later when NTT DoCoMo launched i-mode in 1999.
This led to new technologies for the convenience of using mobile devices and WAP (Wireless Application Protocol). WAP was born with the first WAP phone being the Nokia 7110. This boom has led to the growth in using mobile devices to access the Internet such as those using Android operating systems as well as the influence of the iPhone and the iPad today.
Cloud Computing / Web Services
Drawing its name “Cloud” which is used as a metaphor for the Internet, signifying the nature of the computing infrastructure. Cloud computing is where the user focuses on computing tasks such as data access and manipulation and storage while using services and resources from a remote location without necessarily knowing the details of the infrastructure.
Cloud computing has its roots with Amazon where they provided cloud computing to external customers, through Amazon Web Service (AWS) which was launched in 2006. This has opened a new way for businesses to leverage the Internet while cutting operational costs on their storage and computational requirements. This has been a growing trend over the past few years where other major players have joined in.
It is anybody’s guess what the Internet and world wide web will have in store for us in terms of innovations and new ways of doing things in the next few years. At this time we can only speculate and wait and see what the future holds.
- Mosaic, www.ncsa.illinois.edu/Projects/mosaic.html
- Amazon Web Services (AWS), aws.amazon.com/what-is-aws/
- CompuServe, webcenters.netscape.compuserve.com/menu/about.jsp
- Internet History, http://www.computerhistory.org/internet_history/
- Image Credit: NCSA/University of Illinois, www.ncsa.illinois.edu
- Mobile Internet History, www.nokia.com/about-nokia/company/story-of-nokia/mobile-revolution
- World Wide Web Consortium, http://www.w3.org/
- What is Web 2.0, http://www.jisc.ac.uk/media/documents/techwatch/tsw0701b.pdf
- Java, www.java.com
- Social Network Sites, http://jcmc.indiana.edu/vol13/issue1/boyd.ellison.html
- Screenshots provided by writer
- Image Credit: Nokia, press.nokia.com
- Douglas Engelbart, www.dougengelbart.org