Why and When Was the Internet Built?
What did we used to do without it? How did we get directions, make bank transfers, or shop for Christmas gifts before the Internet?
Al Gore has been the butt of jokes for his comments on the creation of the Internet. For the record, Gore said he was instrumental in the creation of the Internet. And indeed, Al Gore provided early support for the use of the Internet among civilians.
So, who actually created the Internet? Here’s the condensed version of the story of the Internet’s creation.
The Internet is Born
The network of computers that we call the Internet was first put to use forty-two years ago. In 1969, the United States Defense Department networked a series of computers far apart in distance to aid computer research. This network was called ARPANET. It was the creation of a company called Bolt Beranek & Newman.
ARPANET was based on concepts first suggested by scientists J.C.R. Licklider and Leonard Kleinrock at MIT.
ARPANET was nothing like the Internet as you know it. No LOLcats, no Facebook, no graphical interface, and limited in size. ARPA comes from Advanced Research Programs Agency, the group that Robert Kahn and Vinton Cerf (heads of the ARPANET project) were working for at the time of the invention. These two spent years (mostly in the 1970s) developing the transmission system ARPANET used to transfer data between different networks of computers during a time when there were a lot more incompatible operating systems being used by computer networks. Must have been a rough job.
The TCP/IP Breakthrough
The breakthrough that allowed ARPANET to one day become the Internet was the invention of TCP/IP as a transmission system for data over networked computers. It was the invention of Robert Kahn and Vinton Cerf.
TCP/IP stands for for Transmission Control Protocol and Internet Protocol, and it’s the same standard being used today.
Even after the invention of TCP/IP, the Internet was still just a tiny network of university and research computers. This system allowed them to share and transfer information across the country faster than by mail or other means. So is this the point when the Internet was born? Not quite.
When you think of the Internet, you think of some combination of your email and the World Wide Web. This combination of personal email and things like Google and online commerce could be called “the Internet”, and we’re still about twenty years out from this.
Now known as “email”, electronic mail was developed in the 1970s as a new way of sending simple text file messages between computers on the same network. At the beginning, you could only send emails to other computers on a single network–this was eventually changed to include the ability to send messages between two different networks.
How did it happen? A series of “gateways” were created among the various networks to allow people to send simple text files as email messages between computer networks. It took nearly twenty years for email as we know it to develop–it wasn’t until the early 1990s that all email took place on the Internet, and it wasn’t until then that the “@” symbol was used as an email standard. The guy who invented the “@” symbol and the first huge email program is named Ray Tomlinson, who is also an employee of BB&N, the company which developed ARPANET.
The Internet Explosion
The 1980s and early 1990s saw an explosion in the use of personal computers in the home. The computer was no longer a gigantic box that required a full-time staff of engineers to run. As soon as personal computers were available, private networks popped up. With names like Delphi, CompuServe, Prodigy, and Genie, these private networks offered a rudimentary version of the Internet. But these were still individual companies–nothing like the vast network of computers now connected to the Internet.
At this time, most Internet use was still at the college and research level. That’s where Al Gore comes in.
Al Gore Invents the Internet
What Gore did was to sponsor legislation that helped expand the baby Internet to more uses than just research or small network communications. Al Gore is on the record as sponsoring Internet-friendly bills as far back as 1986. At the time, Al Gore spoke of the need for “widespread” computing connected by networks. Mr. Gore even proposed legislation to expand the personal and home use of the Internet.
But that’s where his involvement stops. So no, Al Gore did not “invent” the Internet. Vinton Cerf, one of the many people who can actually make that claim, has this to say about Gore’s involvement: “I think the vice president is very deserving of credit for his active support for the Internet.”
So he’s got that going for him.
So Who Invented the Internet?
The simple answer to this question is: Tim Berners-Lee.
Berners-Lee was a computer programmer at the European Center for Particle Research. Berners-Lee is credited with inventing “links”. His idea of links was to create a system that would contain the information about the location of a file with just a piece of text, so that just by clicking a link that user could access that file.
Berners-Lee called this link system the World Wide Web, or WWW. He also invented the “http://” format and invented HTML, the first programming language for the Internet. Berners-Lee finalized this system in 1991.
The next time someone disses Al Gore for saying he invented the Internet, drop some knowledge on them. Many people contributed to the invention of what we call the Internet, and he was a big part of the expansion of the Internet.
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