A Brief History of the Internet & World Wide Web

The development of the Internet and of corresponding technologies such as the World Wide Web have been nothing short of revolutionary.  In 1999 the National Research Council published Funding a Revolution: Government Support for Computing Research, which defined four distinct periods of development tracing the emergence of the Internet as a public utility.


Evolution of the Internet  

Before 1970, the evolution of computers and computer science led to the creation of the Internet.  Researchers recognized that they needed a network to connect these individual nodes.  To address this concern, Paul Baran and other researchers developed “packet switching”: “a technique of breaking up a conversation into small, independent units, each of which carries the address of its destination and is routed through the network independently.”    

The 1970s embodied a second phase in which federally funded developers created experimental networks such as ARPAnet for the distinct purpose of research communications.  Despite the academic focus, this development period also yielded a broadly functional communication tool.  As networks increased in size, popular network applications grew in tandem. Two specific applications included FTP (File Transfer Protocol), developed for the purpose of sending and retrieving files, and the first email program.  These applications led the way to transforming workplace communications.  The Internet now allows more people to work from home and to have closer collaborations with teams around the globe, and unifies communications through social media communication tools like Slack. 

 By the 1980s the National Science Foundation (NSF) developed NSFNET, a major network that would later become the Internet.  Dennis Jennings, head of the NSF, selected the TCP/IP as the primary protocol suite for the NFSNET. According to the TCP/IP Guide, the TCP/IP protocols provided “the mechanism for implementing the Internet.”    Two technologies developed to support the rapid growth of the Internet included routers and the DNS.  Routers allowed traffic to pass between networks, while the DNS or Domain Name Service acted essentially as a phone directory of domain names that would then be translated into IP (Internet Protocol) addresses. 


The Internet & the World Wide Web

The 1990s witnessed the fourth stage in the development of the Internet and the World Wide Web, which “catapulted the Internet to popularity almost overnight.”   Tim Berners-Lee developed this platform so that the general public could publish and access information.  He stated that “the goal of the Web was to be a shared information space through which people (and machines) could communicate.” The World Wide Web incorporated principles from software design which included network concerns addressing scheme, common protocol, and format negotiation.  It was determined that the URI’s or Universal Resource Identifiers become the primary element in Web Architecture, as they could point or link to any information on the web.  Other protocols developed in those early years included the creation of the HyperText Transfer Protocol (HTTP) to speedily deliver hypertext links.  Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) was also designed to provide a much easier syntax format for the interchange of hypertext.


Open Source Internet

In recounting the history of the World Wide Web, The Web Foundation believes that the early web community sparked some revolutionary ideas including emphasis on decentralization, non-discrimination, bottom-up design, universality, and consensus.  They argue that “New permutations of these ideas are giving rise to exciting new approaches in fields as diverse as information (Open Data), politics (Open Government), scientific research (Open Access), education, and culture (Free Culture).”  Essentially, the principles that have guided and continue to influence prominent developers of the Internet and the World Wide Web are drawn from desires to positively influence society and politics.


Funding a Revolution: Government Support for Computing Research. (1999). Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.

Berners-Lee, T.  (1996) The World Wide Web: Past, Present, and Future. Retrieved from https://www.w3.org/People/Berners-Lee/1996/ppf.html

Burg, N. (2013, December 10) How Technology Has Changed Workplace Communication. Forbes. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/unify/2013/12/10/how-technology-has-changed-workplace-communication/#584bb4c670bd

History of the Web. (n.d.) Retrieved from https://webfoundation.org/about/vision/history-of-the-web/

TCP/IP Overview and History(2005, December 20)  Retrieved from http://www.tcpipguide.com/free/t_TCPIPOverviewandHistory.htm


** This post was a homework assignment that I thought might have interest to others new to the field of Information Technology and Software Development.