History of the Internet: how did it come into being and how has it evolved 

The Internet has been a transformative factor at both the individual and societal levels. A succession of major milestones, in the form of innovations, has marked the path of our evolution in this millennium.

History and evolution of the internet.
Communication Team

Telefónica

Reading time: 4 min

Arguably, the seeds of the Internet’s history began in 1957 in the historical context of the Cold War, which divided the world into two blocs led by the Soviet Union and the United States. In that year, the USSR launched the first satellite into space, Sputnik I. In response, the Americans created the Internet. In response, in 1958, the Americans created the Advanced Research Projects Agency, ARPA, under the Department of Defence. This agency had the talents of some 200 scientists focused on creating a network capable of communicating between several computers located in different places.

Arpanet. The first steps in the history of the Internet

In 1961, Leonard Kleinrock published the packet-switching theory from his post at MIT. It was based on the idea that all the information leaving a device was chopped up into blocks to facilitate its transmission. He called these blocks packets. The following year, Paul Baran presented a communications system that, through computers connected to a decentralised network, was immune to external attacks. Thus, if one node was destroyed, the rest could continue without any problems.

Later, in 1965, it was possible to connect two computers: one in Massachusetts and the other in California by means of a telephone line, although it was not very operational. The big breakthrough came in 1969 with Michael Elie, who succeeded in connecting a computer at the University of California with one at the Stanford Research Institute. Soon after, four more universities joined and this interconnection was called the Arpanet.

How did Arpanet become the Internet?

It happened in 1983. The US Department of Defense decided to incorporate the TCP/IP protocol into its network, which was renamed Arpanet Internet, and eventually, the term Internet alone remained.

Years later, in 1989, Tim Berners Lee incorporated three new resources: HTML, HTTP and a programme called Web Browser. They were the basis for making web pages. A year later, the Internet was born in closed form within CERN, the European Centre for Nuclear Research based in Switzerland, and in 1991, it finally reached the general public.

What were the most important milestones in the early years of the internet?

During the 1990s, there were many milestones and they followed one after the other at a frenetic pace. For example, in 1990, the first telephone modem was designed, which made it easier for all of us to access the Internet. The first provider of this service also emerged, and Arpanet ceased to exist. 

In 1991, the first web page could be created thanks to the World Wide Web protocols, written by Tim Berners Lee and his standards. The first search engine, called Gopher, was also born, and the first webcam was made. But perhaps one of the most important innovations was the standardisation of mp3, a compressed file format that allowed the transmission of sound without loss of quality. This was undoubtedly a revolution for the music industry.

The first graphical browser, Mosaic, arrived in 1993. Until then, computer literacy was required to navigate, as text had to be entered and the system was not at all intuitive. Competitors soon followed, such as Netscape Navigator in 1994.

In 1996, the firs webmail was created by HoTMaiL, whose capital letters were a tribute to the HTML standard, making it the first online email service.

This review of the history of the Internet cannot end without mentioning the appearance of Google in 1998, as it has revolutionised the way millions of users move around the Internet, and to this day it is still the great search engine.

How has the Internet changed people’s lives?

There were three relevant aspects in the 1990s that were the genesis of the great changes. On the one hand, the development of certain encryption systems, such as SSL. This, in particular, guaranteed the security of financial transactions. As a result, it favoured the emergence of commercial giants such as eBay and Amazon to usher in a new form of business.

The irruption of immediacy. This milestone had to do with the news that revealed the affair between Monica Lewinsky and Bill Clinton. This news appeared on the Internet before it appeared in the traditional print media. It raised awareness of the immediacy that was going to prevail in society, of the democratisation of information, but also of its possible manipulation and the possibilities of unprecedented dissemination.

And finally, it is necessary to mention the emergence of social networks, which has given rise to the dichotomy between increased individualism and a more intense sociability than in the physical dimension. The Internet has indeed changed us profoundly.

What are the latest innovations?

Today, we talk about the Internet of Things or IoT, data analysis or Big Data, artificial intelligence and virtual, augmented or mixed reality. The significance of the latest innovations affects us in the public or professional sphere, but also in the private sphere, at home.

Indeed, the history of the Internet has been intense, transformative and has occurred very quickly over time, and has been a vehicle for innovation and progress in society, with its lights and shadows.


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