The Internet and the World Wide Web, or simply the web, are not the same thing. The Internet is “a massive network of networks”. It is composed of local computer networks and the connections that exist between those networks, which together form a worldwide communication network. The web, on the other hand, is the information shared over the internet by way of HyperText Transfer Protocol (HTTP).
The Internet is the network, and the web is made up of the websites accessed over the Internet by way of HTTP. As you may be aware, the internet is relatively young, however has had the capacity to grow at a faster rate than anything ever before, resulting in a surprisingly rich history, not to mention near future ahead:
Since they are two separate entities, the Internet and the web have distinct histories and were started at different times. While the web was only born in 1990, the origin of the Internet can be traced back a few decades further, to the 1960s.
The First Computer Networks
At its core, the Internet is a network that allows packets of information to move from one computer to another. Research into packet switching can be traced back to the 1960s. The Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET), funded by the United States Department of Defense, was one of the most prominent and successful of these early network research projects, and led to the development of communication protocols that allowed for internetworking: the connection of different computer networks, and an idea fundamental to the eventual creation of the Internet as we know it today.
Take a look at some of the earliest maps showing the growth of ARPANET.
The first internet connection was made between UCLA’s School of Engineering in Los Angeles, and a research organization, SRI International, in Menlo Park, CA. The day was October 29, 1969. Additional ARPANET sites were added quickly, and a total of fifteen sites were connected just two years later. The real growth didn’t happen until the standardization of the internet protocol suite (TCP/IP) in 1982, which enabled worldwide communication using a single protocol.
Another major expansion occurred in 1986 when the National Science Foundation Network (NSFNET) allowed research and education organizations to make internet connections to supercomputer sites in the United States. Soon thereafter commercial Internet service providers (ISPs) began to appear, and by 1990 the Internet had outgrown the technological underpinnings of ARPANET to the point that it was decommissioned. The Internet stood fully on its own in 1995 when NSFNET was also decommissioned, and the Internet became a commercially-supported network of networks that would stand or fall based on its own merits.
The Web As a Catalyst for Growth
Want to get a sense of what the Web was like at birth? Check out the first website.
The incredible reach of the Internet today is due in no small to the web. The advent of HTTP, the proliferation of ISPs, and the launch of the NCSA Mosaic browser in 1993 and Netscape Navigator less than a year later, were all instrumental in making the Internet a place where anyone could reach a global audience. E-commerce sites such as Amazon and eBay were founded very shortly thereafter in 1994 and 1995 respectively, and online communities in the form of forums and bulletin boards proliferated.
Without the web, it’s hard to imagine the Internet having the sort of global penetration that it enjoys today. The web was the Internet service most easily adapted to commercial purposes and readily adopted by an increasingly computer-literate public. However, the web is not the only service made possible by the Internet.
Other Services Made Possible by the Internet
HTTP, the communication protocol that makes the web possible, is just one of the many communication protocols used to transfer information across the Internet. Various other communication protocols make other Internet services possible. Two additional critical services delivered across the Internet are communication and data transfer.
The communication services made possible by the Internet have become a staple of modern life. It’s hard to imagine what business and personal communication would look like today without the availability of Internet-enabled services such as email and VOIP phone calls.
Data transfer is another service enabled by the Internet that businesses and individuals rely on every day. Common Internet tasks such as file sharing, the use of FTP software to move files on and off of web servers, and streaming of media files are all made possible by data transfer internet communication protocols.
The Internet was born in the 1960s as a research project developed by educational, governmental, and non-profit research organizations. Since then it has grown up into the network that connects us in ways never before possible.
- The web, made possible by the Internet, has created a virtual world in which we do business, work, and play.
- Communication services such as email and VOIP phone service, made possible by the Internet, provide unprecedented ability to communicate privately to virtually any other person in the world.
- File sharing services, made possible by the Internet, enable virtual collaboration and a shared experience around rich media.
Born in the 1960s, exploding in reach beginning in the 1990s, and reaching new corners of the globe every day, the Internet has rapidly become a fundamental part of the infrastructure of modern life.
How the Web Was Born
The World Wide Web was originally developed in 1990 at CERN, the European Laboratory for Particle Physics. The original idea came from a young computer scientist, Tim Berners-Lee. The Web is now managed by The World Wide Web Consortium, or W3C for short.
Dreaming Up the Web
In March of 1989 Tim Berners-Lee wrote a proposal that outlined the concept we know today as the World Wide Web. Encouraged by his boss, Berners-Lee began working on the technologies necessary to make the Web a reality. With access to a TCP/IP network by virtue of his position at CERN, by the end of 1990 Berners-Lee had developed the technologies needed to power the web:
- HyperText Transfer Protocol (HTTP)
- HyperText Markup Language (HTML)
- A browser called WorldWideWeb
- HTTP server software which grew to be known as CERN httpd
- The first web server on a machine at CERN
- The first web pages which were simply a description of the project
Originally, the WorldWideWeb browser could only be used on the NeXT computer system, a glaring barrier to wide adoption of the platform. Nicola Pellow, a math student intern working at CERN, with experience programming for other computer systems, was drafted to develop a simple browser that would work on the most popular computer systems of the time. The resulting software was called the Line Mode Browser, and it was used widely throughout the Internet community in the early 1990s.
Encouraging Growth & Adoption
To encourage further development and adoption of the Web at CERN, the organization’s telephone directory was uploaded to the Web, which forced regular use of the platform throughout the organization. In August of 1991, Berners-Lee began to push for collaboration beyond CERN within the wider Internet-research world by posting a short summary of the project and an invitation to collaborate on the Web. At the same time, public accessibility to the Web was granted to anyone with an Internet connection, providing other research facilities the opportunity to collaborate with the team at CERN.
In 1993 the Mosaic browser was developed by students at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. It was released in Unix, Windows, and Apple formats, and grew rapidly in popularity due to it’s strong support for multimedia. Upon graduation, those same students formed the Mosaic Communications Corporation, and developed Netscape as a commercial software product. Netscape proved to be a huge success, and commanded as much as 90 percent of the browser market in the mid 1990s.
As a result of strong interest in the Web, and the broad accessibility afforded by browsers like Mosaic and Netscape, by the mid-to-late 1990s it was apparent that every large company needed a web presence. At the same time, easy financing fueled a boom of Dot-com startup companies. In combination, these factors drove rapid expansion of the Web, and solidified it’s position as an integral part of modern society.
Standing on the Shoulders of Giants
Berners-Lee wasn’t the first person to dream up the ideas and concepts that coalesce to form the Web we know and love today. The Web is an idea built on concepts dating all the way back to 1895.
- Mundaneum was founded in 1910, but the original concept was dreamed up in 1895 by a pair of Belgian lawyers and documentation scientists. The goal of the project was to gather all of the world’s knowledge, and classify it in what amounted to a massive index card system, creating a sort of physical Wikipedia before the Web. A few different efforts were made to create such a system, and some partial Mundaneum collections exist in museums to this day.
- Memex is the name given to a completely hypothetical knowledge storage and access system envisioned in 1945 by Vannevar Bush. It was conceptualized by Bush as a desk equipped with microfilm, viewing screens, and a complex indexing system to allow rapid retrieval of stored information. The memex system was always hypothetical, and no effort was every made to implement it, but many subsequent hypertext systems are believed to have drawn inspiration from memex.
- IBM Generalized Markup Language (GML) was developed in 1969 and 1970 by a team of developers working for IBM. GML is the markup language precursor to HTML. Just like HTML, it included tags to define things such as paragraphs, headers, lists, tables, and more.
- Project Xanadu represents the first hypertext project, albeit one conceptualized to look and function very differently from the Web. The project was founded in 1960, and it is still an active project to this day, with the team behind Xanadu declaring it a vast improvement over the Web.
Keeping the Dream Alive
In 1994 Berners-Lee left CERN to form the W3C. The goal of the W3C from it’s inception was to encourage development and adoption of standards across the Web. Berners-Lee decided to make the Web completely free, to minimize barriers to adoption of the technology. Berners-Lee continues to lead W3C today, and to work for consistent use of web standards, and the free exchange of information across the Web.
The W3C, is funded by a combination of member dues, research grants, sponsorships, and donations. The membership roster includes hundreds of well-known corporate members, such as AT&T, Adobe Systems, Microsoft Corporation, and Apple. Research grants from organizations such as the European Commission and the US Department of Education are used to support various research and standard development initiatives.
The W3C is administered by MIT in the United States, the European Research Consortium for Informatics and Mathematics (ERCIM) in France, Keoi University in Japan, and Beihang University in China. In addition, the W3C has offices in sixteen different world regions. For an exploration of this late 20th century marvel, visit A Little History of the World Wide Web.
Future of the Net
Future of the Net
When the World Wide Web began in 1990, few suspected how successful it would become. According to Internet Live Stat, as of October 2015 there were over 943 million websites, and that number is increasing every day. As little as a decade ago, most Internet users still connected using a dial-up modem; now the majority of Internet users have high-speed, broadband connections that are always active. Increased speed has ignited an explosion of electronic commerce, video on demand, telecommuting, collaborative scientific projects, video conferencing and virtual environments.
High-speed networks have made it possible for professionals to work in ways never before possible. For instance, scientists around the world can share specialized equipment like electron microscopes. NASA has developed a Virtual Collaborative Clinic that connects medical facilities around the U.S., allowing doctors to manipulate high-resolution, 3-D images of MRI scans and other medical imaging. Not only can doctors consult and diagnose, but they can simulate surgery by using a “CyberScalpel.” Virtual surgery gives surgeons an opportunity to practice before ever entering the operating room, reducing the time required for the actual procedure. Using this kind of virtual technology, local hospitals can access resources and skills only available at larger institutions. NASA plans to use the technology to provide remote health care to astronauts on extended space journeys.
And these innovations are just the beginning. As Internet speeds continue to increase, and more and more connected devices come online, soon our entire lives will be connected, no matter how far apart we are.
As more and more of our information gets uploaded to the cloud, it won’t be long before everything we do with an Internet-enabled device happens there. Google is already making major strides in the is direction with their chrome books, which include only enough storage to run its operating system and a handful of apps. Everything else, from saving files to running their office suite, happens in the cloud. At some point, expect device makers to remove even the minimal drive, and instead rely on virtual computing, in which even your operating system will exist in the cloud. Such a device would never need to be upgraded. Instead, your cloud provider would be responsible for improving performance or adding additional storage space on their end. The downside of such as device, of course, is that it would be useless without a stable Internet connection.
The other major development in cloud computing will likely be one that has already begun. While they are still struggling to make headway into the mobile Market, Microsoft is attempting to accomplish something that will forever change our expectations for Internet-enabled devices: they are promising an identical experience on your PC, laptop, tablet, and phone. No longer will you have to wonder if your favorite app is available for your desktop and your tablet, or struggle to remember how to change the picture on your phone, tablet, and PC. Instead, all devices will operate in the same way, they will run the same programs, and what you do on one device will carry over to them all. In fact, we are already starting to see devices communicate with each in a way that allows us to start a project on our computer and pick it up right where we left off on our phone.
The Internet of Things
While PCs were once the primary means of accessing the Internet, we're now seeing Internet-enabled devices such as netbooks, tablets and smartphones that send and receive e-mail and access the Web. As humans become more constantly connected, so too can the rest of our world. Soon, everything from your car to your refrigerator will be connected to the global network, communicating with each other wirelessly.
Wi-Fi enabled light fixtures already allow us to turn on and off our living room lights by talking to a speaker. We can adjust our thermostats from work. Our cars can even give us instant traffic updates as we drive and automatically re-route our GPS directions. It won’t be long before all of the items in our homes are fully integrated with each other. Our appliances will tell our computers when they have problems. Our refrigerator will tell us when we’re out of milk, and possibly even order more for us.
Seems far-fetched, but holographic technology is already being used by some big name companies and celebrities. CNN conducted a holographic interview with correspondent Jessica Yellin during the 2008 presidential elections. It was certainly no Princess Leia moment, but a Nevada company plans to use the technology to help Selena go back on tour in 2018, even though she died over 20 years ago.
While still relegated to big venues and flashy rating stunts, as this technology becomes more widely available and less expensive, we can expect to see businesses adopting it to bridge the growing geographical divide between regional offices or to allow more employees to work from home, while still maintaining a “physical” presence. Current video conferencing services will adopt as well, making it possible to talk with relatives as they are actually in the room with you. And, of course, video game designers will use the technology not only to bring games to life, but to allow friends to play side-by-side, no matter how far apart they are.
Increased Security Threats
As we connect more of our lives and rely on the cloud to store our personal information, we also open ourselves up to greater security risk. Hackers have found their way into private cloud-storage accounts and taken over personal cell phones. Foreign governments are increasingly using cyberattacks to steal intellectual property and threaten our security.
These types of threats will undoubtedly continue and grow worse in scale. Could someone be adjusting your thermostat without your knowledge? Or watching you through the video camera on your television? Is your tax information being viewed by an identity thief overseas?
As individual consumers, it will become critical to keep our devices up-to-date and protected using powerful software, such as home firewalls, to ensure we are the only ones with access. We will turn to security companies to monitor our homes, cars, and computing devices in much the same way we now rely on antivirus companies to keep our PCs safe. Our governments will need to put additional money and research into cyber security, as doing so will become one of the most important efforts they can take to ensuring personal and national security.
Faster, Closer, Better
Regardless of where technology takes us, one thing we can be certain of: In the future, the Internet will make the tools we use every day faster, more connected, and more functional than we could have ever imagined. While we can’t forget the risk, there’s no stopping the flood of innovation that is to come–and that’s a good thing!