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Anniversary year for the Internet and the World Wide Web
From two to 2 billion
photo credit: Stockxpert

It is 40 years since the first packet-switching technology was used on a computer network in 1969, and 20 years since the World Wide Web was first proposed in 1989. This makes 2009 a significant anniversary year for a technology that millions of people now use. Here are some of the milestones.

1969 — ARPANET

On 29 October 1969, a computer at Stanford Research Institute (SRI) and one at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), United States, were connected in the first network to use packet switching: the US Defense Department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency Network, or ARPANET. They were equivalent to the first two hosts on what would become the Internet. By December 1969, ARPANET contained four nodes, at Stanford, UCLA, the University of Utah, and the University of California, Santa Barbara. In 1972, Robert E. Kahn (co-inventor of TCP/IP — see below) gave the first public demonstration of ARPANET. “The social implications of this field are a matter of widespread interest that reaches society in almost all walks of life,” said Mr Kahn in introducing the “computer communication network”.

1971 — The first e-mail

The creators of ARPANET wanted an easy way to communicate with each other, and a system was invented to permit different hosts on the network to exchange messages — rather than only among users of the same machine. The inventor was Raymond Tomlinson, working for a company that is now BBN Technologies, who introduced the “@” symbol to distinguish users and network hosts. The first electronic mail (e-mail), sent between two computers side-by-side, was later described as meaningless and “entirely forgettable” by Mr Tomlinson. By 1973, e-mail accounted for some three-quarters of the activity on ARPANET.


The French government developed its own computer network, named CYCLADES. Designed by Louis Pouzin in 1972, it was first demonstrated in 1973. It pioneered the concept of making each host responsible for transmitting data, instead of the network.

1975 — TCP/IP

This concept from CYCLADES was used in the development of the transmission control protocol (TCP) and the Internet protocol (IP), normally referred to as TCP/IP. This allows not only computers within a network, but also networks to communicate with each other, and it was designed by Robert E. Kahn and Vinton Gray Cerf working at ARPA. In 1975, a TCP/IP test was performed between Stanford and University College, London. The standard made possible larger numbers of hosts on a network, and by 1987, there were some 30 000 hosts on the Internet.

1978 — The first spam

On 3 May 1978, reputedly the world’s first unsolicited e-mail was received by 600 users of ARPANET from Gary Thuerk, a marketing manager for a computer manufacturer in the United States.

1983 — The domain name system

The domain name system (DNS) had its first successful test on 23 June 1983 at the University of Southern California, in Los Angeles, United States. It was created by a group including Jon Postel, Paul Mockapetris and Craig Partridge, and made Internet addresses easier to remember compared with their numerical equivalents. In October 1984, seven generic top level domains (gTLD) were established, including .com, .net, .org and .gov.

1989 — The World Wide Web

Working at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), on the Swiss-French border, in 1989 Tim Berners-Lee proposed “a distributed hypertext system” that was originally called “Mesh”. He described how “by allowing large existing databases to be linked together and with new ones,” a place would be found “for any information or reference which one felt was important, and a way of finding it afterwards. The result should be sufficiently attractive to use that the information contained would grow past a critical threshold, so that the usefulness of the scheme would in turn encourage its increased use.” In 1990, the code for what was now called the “World Wide Web” was developed, as well as the standards for HTML, HTTP and URL. Crucially, the system was to be used not only within CERN, but also to be made freely available to all.

1991 — The first website, and webcam

In 1991, Mr Berners-Lee opened the first website, which explained the World Wide Web and its aim “to give universal access to a large universe of documents”. In the same year, the first webcam was used at Cambridge University, in the United Kingdom. It monitored the status of a coffee machine in a computer laboratory, so that researchers could see whether coffee was available.

1993–1994 — Web browsers for everyone

Although not the first graphical Web browser, Mosaic, launched in 1993, became popular with the general public because it was easy to use. In 1994, some of Mosaic’s authors produced the browser Netscape Navigator. These tools did much to spread the use of the World Wide Web.

1993–1998 — Search engines make surfing easy

A search engine for the World Wide Web, Aliweb, was created in 1993 and was soon followed by others, including Yahoo! and AltaVista in 1995. Google began operating in 1998.

1996–2007 — The mobile Web

Nokia offered Internet access via mobile phone in Finland in 1996. In Japan, NTT DoCoMo launched “i-Mode” in 1999: a browser-based mobile Web service. Smartphones that can provide multimedia gave new impetus to the mobile Web. The iPhone, for example, was created by Apple Inc in 2007.

2003–2005 — Social networks and sharing pictures

Online chatrooms began as early as 1985, with The WELL. Many regional networking sites now exist around the world. Friendster went global in 2003, followed by MySpace. Facebook, founded in 2004, opened worldwide in 2006. The micro-blogging site Twitter was launched in 2006. Image and video-sharing websites also took off at this time. Flickr was founded in 2004, and YouTube in 2005.

2009 — Approaching 2 billion

ITU statistics indicate that, in 2009, about 10 per cent of the world’s population have access to the mobile web. In total, 1.8 billion people are Internet users, with over half having broadband access.


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