Who Created the Internet?

Who Created the Internet

Ok … let’s get the Al Gore thing out of the way. To be fair to the former Vice-President, his exact quote from his interview with Wolf Blitzer on CNN’s “Late Edition” was, “I took the initiative in creating the Internet.” By that, Mr. Gore meant that he took action as a Senator to promote laws which promoted the development of the internet as we know it today and he definitely did make major contributions to the process. Of course, like most successful politicians, he may have said it using words that glorified his importance. We will talk more about his actual deeds a bit later.

The truth is that no one person created the internet. The internet like Al Gore himself, evolved from something else.

Most “experts” agree that the “seed of life” for the internet appeared in 1969 when the ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network) was funded by the U.S. Department of Defense. The system was simply a way for the computers at various university research laboratories to talk to each other so that scientists could work together for the advancement of computer techologies. ARPANET was actually developed by scientists at BB&N (Bolt Beranek & Newman) – a school in Cambridge, Massachucetts and scientists at Stanford University. But ARPANET, while innovative, was certainly not the internet we know today. If you didn’t have very impressive credentials, you weren’t invited to participate and if you wanted to do anything other than computer technology, you were out of luck.

During the 1970s, Robert Kahn of BB&N and Vinton Cerf of Stanford developed a system that they called TCP/IP (Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol). That system, for the first time, allowed different computers with different operating systems, to all talk to each other. That protocol would become much easier to use over the following three years due to the development of FTP (see article, “What Does FTP Stand For?”). Access to the ARPANET system, however, was still severely restricted.

In the 1980s and early 1990s, personal computers became readily affordable. Companies like Compuserve, Prodigy, Delphi, and Genie saw a market in providing a computer network for the common man. These services still held little resemblence to today’s internet though because users on one companies’ network couldn’t communicate with the users on another! You also had to be pretty computer savvy to use them! No icons to click on … no sir! You had to learn the code that instructed the other computer to download a file to you. Then, the file might take 3 or 4 hours to download! So while some interconnectivity between pcs was available, it wasn’t usable by much of the public. The learning curve was so much longer than the benefits that most people stayed away.

And now we come back to Al Gore. In 1986, he sponsored legislation that opened up the existing system of inter-connected computers to a wider spectrum of uses. A bill known as the, “National Science Foundation Authorization Act” contained an amendment sponsored by Gore called, “The Computer Network Study Act”. That amendment proposed studying the “needs of computer telecommunications systems over the next 15 years”. In detail, the act was to determine:

1. The quantity and quality of data transmission required.

2. Data security needs.

3. How to make different software on different computers more compatible.

4. Exploitation of Fiber Optic Systems to increase data transfer rates.

5. Any other methods to open up the network to smaller computers (rather than the current huge university computers only)

So while Al Gore certainly didn’t “invent” the internet, his amendment did initiate the progress towards other people turning the ARPANET system into what we have today … the world’s knowledge at nearly everyone’s fingertips; fast, efficient communications for everyone via email; instant banking for the masses; etc.

Prior to 1991, the only way that anyone could access the “internet” was by basic email and FTP (File Transfer Protocol). FTP required the user to know on which computer the file was located and what its “address” was. Then you had to access that computer via username and password and download the file. All of this had to be done manually.

Tim Berners-Lee, a computer programmer at the European Center for Particle Research (CERN) in Geneva, Switzerland developed a way where users could access a file by simply clicking on a link on a web page. The link would be programmed with the address of the desired file, eliminating the need for any knowledge of FTP on the part of the user! Berners-Lee coined his new development with the phrase, “World Wide Web”. He was also the father of “HTML” (HyperText Markup Language), the code used to display web pages in a way that the masses can use with very little instruction.

In late 1991, the ban on commercial use of the web was lifted and the world wide web as we know it today had begun!

So the answer to the question, “Who created the Internet” is:

1. The Department of Defense and scientists connected the first computers to share information.

2. Companies developed very basic and hard to use networks, showing an interest in a system for the masses.

3. Legislators funded studies which inspired others to make the system more pratical and available to the masses.

4. Individuals, institutions, and commercial interests made it happen.

If you asked the question, “Who was most influential in developing the internet?”, I would have to give the prize to Tim Berners-Lee. His contribution in making the world wide web easy for everyone to use transformed it from something used by tens of thousands of “techie” users into hundreds of millions of web surfers.

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