Part I: History of the Web

How it All Got Started

by Pauline Sugarman

This article explores the History of the Internet from its inception in World War II to the Technology Boom of the late 1990's.

“The Internet ('Net) is a network of networks. Basically it is made from computers and cables. What Vint Cerf and Bob Khan did was to figure out how this could be used to send around little "packets" of information. As Vint points out, a packet is a bit like a postcard with a simple address on it. If you put the right address on a packet, and gave it to any computer which is connected as part of the Net, each computer would figure out which cable to send it down next so that it would get to its destination. That's what the Internet does.” Tim Berner-Lee –founding developer of the world-wide-web.

World War II and the Cold War

The beginnings of the World Wide Web, some would say, go back to WWII and the desire to create radar to defeat the Axis powers, as this spurred the development of computers to process the complex radar messages.

The Cold War spurred further research in radar and computers. During the 1950s and 1960s the US government poured millions into Research and Development. New federal agencies, including the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) were created to distribute the money around. MIT got a lot of money at this time, and around them sprang up the first high-tech companies. It was one of these companies, Bolt, Barenek and Newman, that developed the for-runner to the Internet, called the ARPAnet.

The 1960s

ARPAnet began as a government program at the Pentagon. Bolt, Barenek and Newman were paid to build it and test it. By 1969 there were 4 computers networked! (An interesting note, is that some of engineers trained on the ARPAnet went out on their own to found some of the first high-tech companies such as, Sun and Cisco).

The 1970's and 80's

By 1971 Ray Tomlinson developed the first email application for the ARPAnet. During the 1970s and early 1980s, the “net” spread to scientific communities and to universities. With the rise of the personal computers in the 1980’s people other than just diehard nerds started using modems to interact with people.

In 1989 Tim Berners-Lee, who was working at the CERN laboratory in Switzerland, build the first Web Browser to help keep track of large research projects. This “connected web” relied on the concept of hypertext, a term coined by high tech visionary Ted Nelson and developed in the 1960s by Dough Englebart. Hypertext allows the author of a document to include links to other documents. A user can click a link and instantly move to a reference document anywhere in the world.

The World Wide Web as We Know It

In 1990 the first prototype, which Berners-Lee called the “world-wide web” went online. By 1991, CERN had developed the text only browser that would run on any computer which enabled other scientists around the world to access documents across the internet. By 1992 there were more than 50 web browsers worldwide.

The Removal of Non-Profit Restrictions

Up until 1992, official policy for the Internet forbade anyone from using the network for personal gain or anything that didn’t have a job related function. The internet was still a restricted club of scientists, engineers and administrators at labs and universities. It was a U.S. Rep. Frederick Boucher who proposed dropping the restriction with an amendment to the National Science Foundation Act of 1950.

Netscape - the First Visual Browser

In 1992, Mark Andreessen at the University of Illinois, came across Berners-Lee’s world-wide web. He found it hard to use. Marc and a few other programmers really liked to concept but wanted to put a more human face on the Web. So they wrote the first graphic oriented browser which became known as Netscape.

Microsoft Jumps In - Microsoft Explorer Released on the World

With the development of Netscape and the Amendment to Act 1950, Microsoft decided that the “net” was a go. In 1995, Microsoft released Microsoft Internet Explorer and included it as part of the Windows 95 operating system.

The Tech Boom

By the late 1990s the hi-tech “boom” was in full swing. This period is now looked on by many as the most astonishing burst of irrational exuberance in history.

There was no end to the possibilities of this new medium. Not only could anyone with an idea and a good pitch receive start-up money, but we were told this new medium would revolutionize how we live our lives. Old mediums, such as books, would be wiped out by the internet’s new capabilities. Instead of buying a book, we would all go online to read. Who would need brick and mortar stores? All you would have to do is go online to buy all our food, clothes, and movies.

Banks and retail investors both had a big impact on the boom. As more and more people created ventures and pitched their ideas, the more initial public offers (IPOs), came to market. In the boom years, everyone wanted a piece of the action and demanded tech investments. With each round of ventures receiving funds, a steady valuation inflation took place. The second wave was valued off the first and it fed on itself.

In 1999’s article "Boom or Bubble", Charles Schwab’s president David Pattruck, is quoted saying that this is an “unusual time” – and ultimately “you need to have a clear sense of how you’re making money”. His comments were not well received - he came off as the nag and a party-pooping fogy.

Many people remember all too well what occurred next.  In the next article, we will look at what brought this first wave of technology boom to a halt - the Technology Bust...

The Technology Bust Forward Arrow

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