A Brief History of the Internet

October 5, 2022 • Devin Partida


The internet is a vast and ever-growing network of computers that connects people worldwide via the Internet protocol suite (TCP/IP). This digital network revolutionized the way we communicate, do business and access information. But how did it all start? Below, we’ll take a brief look at the history of the internet and its evolution over time.

How the Internet Has Evolved

The first computers emerged in the early 1800s. However, it was not until the mid-1900s that computer networks became more popular. In 1957, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the first artificial satellite.

This event sparked a “space race” between the USSR and the United States. As part of this competition, both countries developed rockets and missiles guided by computer systems.

In 1962, Dr. J.C.R. Licklider wrote a memo entitled “Intergalactic Networking,” proposing a global network of computers capable of sharing data and resources. At this point, the first concept of an “internet” gained traction. Licklider went on to work for the U.S. Department of Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. He oversaw the development of the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET), the first computer network.

ARPANET was a “packet-switching” network, which means it could send small pieces of data called “packets” through a network of computers. This was a major breakthrough at the time, as most computer networks could only send data one direction at a time. ARPANET went online in 1969 with four host computers at University of California Los Angeles, Stanford Research Institute, University of California Santa Barbara and the University of Utah.

The 1970s and 1980s

Internet history progressed in the 1970s when Ray Tomlinson sent the first email message using the “@” symbol, indicating where the message should be sent. Today, this is the standard way of sending email messages. In 1975, one of the first usable email programs with the ability to send, reply to and forward emails was created by John Vittal.

The 1970s also saw the development of Usenet, a network of bulletin board systems that allowed users to post messages and share files — comparable to today’s internet forums. By 1981, more than 400 Usenet systems were in operation worldwide.

In 1983, ARPANET switched from using Network Control Protocol (NCP) to Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP). This new protocol would become the foundation for all internet traffic today, leading to the official birth of the internet. Also in 1983, Domain Name System (DNS) was introduced, which gave each computer on the internet a unique name, or domain.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the internet became more accessible to the general public. In 1989, Tim Berners-Lee created the first web browser, the World Wide Web, and the first web server. He also wrote the code for HyperText Markup Language (HTML), which is used to create web pages. In 1991, the first website was created at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN).

Entering the New Millenium

The 1990s saw a rapid expansion of the internet as more and more everyday people got online. In 1995, there were at least an estimated 12 million American users. By 2000, this number had grown to over 50% of all Americans — and millions more were accessing the web worldwide. With the inception of blogging and social media in the early 2000s, internet has only exploded over the past 20 years.

Today, there are 4.66 billion active internet users worldwide. The internet has become a vital part of our daily lives, impacting everything from the way we communicate to the way we do business. It’s hard to imagine a world without it.

What Does the Future of the Internet Look Like?

The internet is constantly evolving and changing, making it challenging to know what’s next. However, by looking at internet history and recognizing some trends, we can guess at the coming years.

One trend is the continued growth of mobile internet usage. More and more people are using smartphones and other mobile devices to access the internet — as of 2021, 85% of American adults use smartphones. As smartphones become increasingly more available, especially in developing areas, we can expect to see these numbers rise.

Another trend is the rise of Internet of Things (IoT). The IoT refers to devices, such as cars, appliances and home security systems, that are connected to the internet and can share data. The IoT is likely most well known in the form of smart home devices. This trend is still in its early stages, but it’s expected to grow rapidly in the coming years.

Finally, we can expect to see more artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning being used to improve the internet experience. For example, Google’s search engine uses AI to provide users with more relevant results. We can also expect to see AI being used for tasks such as monitoring web traffic and detecting cyber threats.

This Is Just the Beginning

The history of the internet is fascinating, and it’s sure to continue evolving in interesting ways in the years to come. Between concepts like the metaverse and cryptocurrency, the internet has already grown far beyond its origins all those decades ago. What could be next?