The Internet and the World Wide Web
Over the next decade, the ARPANET grew and gained popularity. During this time, other networks also came into existence. Different organizations were connected to different networks. This led to a problem: the networks could not talk to each other. Each network used its own proprietary language, or protocol (see sidebar for the definition of protocol), to send information back and forth. This problem was solved by the invention of transmission control protocol/Internet protocol (TCP/IP). TCP/IP was designed to allow networks running on different protocols to have an intermediary protocol that would allow them to communicate. So as long as your network supported TCP/IP, you could communicate with all of the other networks running TCP/IP. TCP/IP quickly became the standard protocol and allowed networks to communicate with each other. It is from this breakthrough that we first got the term Internet, which simply means “an interconnected network of networks.”
As we moved into the 1980s, computers were added to the Internet at an increasing rate. These computers were primarily from government, academic, and research organizations. Much to the surprise of the engineers, the early popularity of the Internet was driven by the use of electronic mail (see sidebar below).
Using the Internet in these early days was not easy. In order to access information on another server, you had to know how to type in the commands necessary to access it, as well as know the name of that device. That all changed in 1990, when Tim Berners-Lee introduced his World Wide Web project, which provided an easy way to navigate the Internet through the use of linked text (hypertext). The World Wide Web gained even more steam with the release of the Mosaic browser in 1993, which allowed graphics and text to be combined together as a way to present information and navigate the Internet. The Mosaic browser took off in popularity and was soon superseded by Netscape Navigator, the first commercial web browser, in 1994. The Internet and the World Wide Web were now poised for growth. The chart below shows the growth in users from the early days until now.
The Dot-Com Bubble
In the 1980s and early 1990s, the Internet was being managed by the National Science Foundation (NSF). The NSF had restricted commercial ventures on the Internet, which meant that no one could buy or sell anything online. In 1991, the NSF transferred its role to three other organizations, thus getting the US government out of direct control over the Internet and essentially opening up commerce online.
This new commercialization of the Internet led to what is now known as the dot-com bubble. A frenzy of investment in new dot-com companies took place in the late 1990s, running up the stock market to new highs on a daily basis. This investment bubble was driven by the fact that investors knew that online commerce would change everything. Unfortunately, many of these new companies had poor business models and ended up with little to show for all of the funds that were invested in them. In 2000 and 2001, the bubble burst and many of these new companies went out of business. Many companies also survived, including the still-thriving Amazon (started in 1994) and eBay (1995). After the dot-com bubble burst, a new reality became clear: in order to succeed online, e-business companies would need to develop real business models and show that they could survive financially using this new technology.
In the first few years of the World Wide Web, creating and putting up a website required a specific set of knowledge: you had to know how to set up a server on the World Wide Web, how to get a domain name, how to write web pages in HTML, and how to troubleshoot various technical issues as they came up. Someone who did these jobs for a website became known as a webmaster.
As the web gained in popularity, it became more and more apparent that those who did not have the skills to be a webmaster still wanted to create online content and have their own piece of the web. This need was met with new technologies that provided a website framework for those who wanted to put content online. Blogger and Wikipedia are examples of these early Web 2.0 applications, which allowed anyone with something to say a place to go and say it, without the need for understanding HTML or web-server technology.
Starting in the early 2000s, Web 2.0 applications began a second bubble of optimism and investment. It seemed that everyone wanted their own blog or photo-sharing site. Here are some of the companies that came of age during this time: MySpace (2003), Photobucket (2003), Flickr (2004), Facebook (2004), WordPress (2005), Tumblr (2006), and Twitter (2006). The ultimate indication that Web 2.0 had taken hold was when Time magazine named “You” its “Person of the Year” in 2006.
Sidebar: E-mail Is the “Killer” App for the Internet
When the personal computer was created, it was a great little toy for technology hobbyists and armchair programmers. As soon as the spreadsheet was invented, however, businesses took notice, and the rest is history. The spreadsheet was the killer app for the personal computer: people bought PCs just so they could run spreadsheets.
The Internet was originally designed as a way for scientists and researchers to share information and computing power among themselves. However, as soon as electronic mail was invented, it began driving demand for the Internet. This wasn’t what the developers had in mind, but it turned out that people connecting to people was the killer app for the Internet.
We are seeing this again today with social networks, specifically Facebook. Many who weren’t convinced to have an online presence now feel left out without a Facebook account. The connections made between people using Web 2.0 applications like Facebook on their personal computer or smartphone is driving growth yet again.
Sidebar: The Internet and the World Wide Web Are Not the Same Thing
Many times, the terms “Internet” and “World Wide Web,” or even just “the web,” are used interchangeably. But really, they are not the same thing at all! The Internet is an interconnected network of networks. Many services run across the Internet: electronic mail, voice and video, file transfers, and, yes, the World Wide Web.
The World Wide Web is simply one piece of the Internet. It is made up of web servers that have HTML pages that are being viewed on devices with web browsers. It is really that simple.