Since you’re reading this article, it’s fair to assume that you’re curious about the internet. How much do you really know about the creation of the internet, like when the internet was created? Many of us spend large chunks of our days online on social media apps, shopping, and reading the news, but how did we get here?
In this article, we’ll provide a timeline of the internet since its creation. We’ll talk about critical dates, people, projects, websites, and more history of the internet. We won’t get to everything (after all, this is a pretty huge topic) but we’ll teach you more about the major events and breakthroughs that led to the internet from 1969 on.
Table of Contents
1969: Arpanet and Unix
As it turns out, 1969 wasn’t just for Woodstock. In 1969, there were two major developments relating to the birth of the internet.
The first was Arpanet. Arpanet, or the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network, was the first computer network that started the internet. On October 29, 1969, computers connected for the very first time between Stanford and UCLA. This was what started the internet.
The other landmark occasion for the internet in the 1960s was Unix. Unix was an operating system that actually inspired Linux and FreeBSD, which are the operating systems behind many of the most prevalent web servers and web hosting services to this day!
1970: Arpanet Network
In 1970, Harvard, MIT, and BBM (a company that created the computers) created the Arpanet network.
1971: Email and eBooks
Yes, email has really been around since 1971. It was developed by Ray Tomlinson, who decided to use the “@” symbol in email that we still use today. (If you use an email newsletter or email marketing for your business, you can thank Ray.)
Have you ever used Project Gutenberg? Project Gutenberg is a website devoted to making books and documents available for free electronically. It started in 1971 when Michael Hart realized that the future of computers wasn’t just in computing, but also in storing and retrieving information. He typed the Declaration of Independence out (one word at a time!) and made it available online. This was the birth of eBooks as we know them today.
In 1972, France got in on the action with a project called CYCLADES. It was very similar to Arpanet. Though CYCLADES was ultimately closed, it was responsible for one major breakthrough. This was that the host computer should be in charge of data transmission, instead of the network.
1973: The First Trans-Atlantic Connection and the Rise of Email
In 1973, Arpanet made the very first trans-Atlantic connection with the University College of London. Also in 1973, 75% of Arpanet network activity was email!
1974: The Start of TCP/IP
In 1974, a proposal was made to link networks together into an “inter-network.” This was a breakthrough that would eventually become the internet.
1975: The First Modern Email Program
As email caught on, John Vittal developed the very first modern email program in 1975. His program began the “reply” and “forward” features in email that we all know and use every day.
1977: The PC Modem
The very first PC modem was introduced and sold to computer hobbyists in 1977. It was developed by Dennis Hayes and Dale Heatherington.
1978: The Bulletin Board System and Spam
During a Chicago blizzard in 1978, the first bulletin board system (BBS) was built online. Unfortunately, spam email also began in 1978. Gary Thuerk sent out the first unsolicited email message to 600 Arpanet users in California.
1979: The First Multiplayer Internet Games and Usenet
Well before World of Warcraft, MUD (MultiUser Dungeon) was developed back in 1979. These multiplayer internet games were entirely text-based virtual worlds that combined chat, role-playing, and fiction.
Also in 1979, Usenet was created by two graduate students. It was the first internet-based discussion program and allowed everyone around the world to talk about a certain subject by posting messages by category.
1980: ENQUIRE Software
ENQUIRE was developed by the European Organization for Nuclear Research and allowed scientists at their lab to keep track of people, software and projects using hypertext.
1982: The Birth of the Emoji
The first emoticon was used in 1982 by Scott Fahlman. He proposed using a yellow smiley face after a joke, instead of the original -) (which was first used in 1979. This led to the emojis we still use today!
1983: Arpanet Computers Switch to TCP/IP and the Name Server
The deadline for Arpanet computers to switch over to the TCP/IP protocols was January 1, 1983. A few hundred computers were affected by the switch. The name “server” also came about in 1983.
1984: Domain Name System
In 1984, the domain name system was created. So were the first Domain Name Servers. This was an important development because it made addresses on the internet easier for people to understand than the numerical IP addresses. The Domain Name Servers made it so that people could type in a domain name, which was then converted to an IP address automatically.
1985: Virtual Communities
In 1985, The WELL (The Whole Earth ‘Lectronic Link) was developed. It is one of the oldest virtual communities (yes, it’s still around!) It began as an online gathering place for the Whole Earth Review. It’s now described as a “cherished watering hole for articulate and playful thinkers from all walks of life.”
1986: Protocol Wars
In 1986, the “Protocol Wars” started. Back then, European countries wanted to use the Open Systems Interconnection, while the United States was using the Internet/Arpanet protocol. (The Internet/Arpanet protocol obviously won out.)
1987: The Internet Grows
As of 1987, nearly 30,000 hosts were on the internet. Originally, the Arpanet protocol was only meant to have up to 1,000 hosts. However, the TCP/IP standard made it possible to allow larger numbers of hosts.
1988: IRC and the First Major Internet-Based Attack
In 1988, Internet Relay Chat (or IRC) was deployed for the first time. This preceded the real-time chat and instant messaging (AIM, anyone?) that we still use today.
Also in 1988, one of the first major internet worms was released. The Morris Worm was written by Robert Tappan Morris and caused a lot of interruptions across the internet.
1989: The Launch of AOL and the World Wide Web
In 1989, Apple pulled out of the AppleLink program. So, it was renamed to America Online. AOL made the internet popular for average people.
Also in 1989, the proposal was written for the World Wide Web. It was written to persuade CERN that a global hypertext system was in their best interest. Originally called “Mesh,” the term World Wide Web was coined while Tim Berners-Lee was writing the code.
1990: First Commercial Dial-Up ISP
The first-ever dial-up internet provider, The World, debuted in 1990. Also in 1990, Arpanet ceased to exist. Also in 1990, the code for the World Wide web was written based on Tim Berners-Lee’s proposal.
1991: First Web Page and First Content-Based Search Protocol
In 1991, the first web page was created. What was it about? The purpose of the World Wide Web.
Also in 1991, Gopher, the first search protocol that looked at a file’s contents (not just its name) was developed.
1991 was a big year! Also this year, the first webcam was deployed. True story: it was used to monitor a coffee maker at Cambridge University’s computer lab, so that the lab users wouldn’t waste trips to an empty coffee pot.
1993: Mosaic Released and Governments Go Online
Mosaic, the first major internet browser, came out in 1993. Though it wasn’t the first browser, it was the first one that was used by many non-techies.
Also in 1993, the White House and United Nations joined the internet and the .gov and .org domain names were born.
1994: Netscape Navigator
The first major competitor to Mosaic, Netscape Navigator, came out in 1994.
1995: Amazon, eBay and the Commercialization of the Internet
1995 is generally thought of as the year the internet became commercialized. Netscape developed SSL (or the Secure Sockets Layer) encryption, which made it safe to execute financial transactions online.
Two online businesses you might recognize also made their debuts in 1995: Echo Bay, which later became eBay, and Amazon.
1996: Launch of HoTMaiL
The first webmail service, HoTMaiL, was launched in 1996.
1997: The Term Weblog is Used for the First Time
In 1997, the term “weblog” was used for the first time. (However, blogs had actually already been around for a while in various forms.)
1998: Google, Napter, and the Monica Lewinsky scandal
In 1998, a search engine you might have heard of (Google) made its debut online. This changed the way people found information online.
Napster also launched in 1998, which began the trend of mainstream file-sharing of audio files over the World Wide Web.
Also in 1998, for the very first time, a huge news story broke online in 1998. The Monica Lewinsky scandal (involving President Bill Clinton) was posted online on The Drudge Report.
1999: SETI@home project
In 1999, the SETI@home project was launched at UC Berkeley. This was an internet-based volunteer computing project. The purpose of the SETI@home project was to look for evidence of extraterrestrial intelligence. But how it did so was even more interesting. The project used the power of more than three million volunteers’ computers across the globe to basically create a supercomputer. Unfortunately, the project took a hiatus beginning in March 2020.
2000: The Dotcom Collapse
The dotcom collapse occurred in 2000, which resulted in the closing of hundreds of companies major losses for investors.
2001: The Launch of Wikipedia
Wikipedia launched in 2001, during the dotcom collapse. Wikipedia started the ball rolling for collective web content.
2003: Skype, MySpace, and the CAN-SPAM Act
In 2003, Voice over IP calling went mainstream when Skype was released. This was the first easy-to-use VoIP.
MySpace also was launched in 2003, and was the most popular social network for a long time. (Facebook now holds this title.)
Also in 2003, the CAN-SPAM (Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing) Act was signed. The CAN-SPAM Act shut down the tirade of unsolicited (spam) emails.
2004: Web 2.0, Social Media, and Facebook
In 2004 the term Web 2.0 became popular. The term refers to interactive and user-driven websites and applications, which became more mainstream around 2004.
The term “social media” was also coined in 2004. Several websites and applications that let users create and share content and connect with others online debuted around this time. They quickly became popular as many enjoyed seeing their loved ones’ lives online. (Sound familiar?)
Also in 2004, “The Facebook” launched to college students only. Later on, it opened up to everyone and the “The” was dropped from the name and URL.
2005: YouTube Launches
In 2005, YouTube debuted, which was the first free online video host and sharer. Now, YouTube is a popular marketing tool.
2006: The Launch of Tweeting
Twitter opened in 2006, though it was first called “twittr.” Now, Twitter is one of the most major social media platforms online.
2007: The Rise of Streaming TV Shows and the iPhone
In 2007, a joint venture between ABC, NBC and Fox called Hulu debuted. Its purpose? To allow viewers to watch their favorite TV shows online, leading the advent of streaming movies and TV that we chill and watch today.
Also in 2007, the first iPhone was released. The iPhone unleashed a huge interest in mobile web apps.
2008: The first Internet Election
2008 was the first United States presidential election that allowed candidates to fully utilize the internet. Hillary Clinton used YouTube to post campaign videos. Ron Paul set a huge record in online donations. All of the candidates had social media pages for their campaigns. The 2008 set the trend of “internet elections” that we now know and either love or hate today.
2009: U.S. Relaxes Control of ICANN
In 2009, the United States relaxed its control over ICANN, which is the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers.
Hopefully, you have learned quite a bit about the evolution of the internet. To this day, the internet continues to grow and innovate. For help using the internet to its full ability to grow your business, contact SEO Design Chicago today!