The first recorded description of the social interactions that could be enabled through networking was a series of memos written by J.C.R. Licklider of MIT in August 1962 discussing his "Galactic Network" concept. He envisioned a globally interconnected set of computers through which everyone could quickly access data and programs from any site. In spirit, the concept was very much like the Internet of today.
The Internet had its roots during the 1960’s as a project of the United States government’s Department of Defense, to create a non-centralized network designed to survive partial outages (ie. nuclear war) and still function when parts of the network were down or destroyed. This project was called ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network), created by the Pentagon’s Advanced Research Projects Agency established in 1969 to provide a secure and survivable communications network for organizations engaged in defense-related research.
In order to make the network more global a new sophisticated and standard protocol was needed. They developed IP (Internet Protocol) technology which defined how electronic messages were packaged, addressed, and sent over the network. The standard protocol was invented in 1977 and was called TCP/IP (Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol). TCP/IP allowed users to link various branches of other complex networks directly to the ARPANet, which soon came to be called the Internet.
Researchers and academics in other fields began to make use of the network, and eventually the National Science Foundation (NSF), which had created a similar and parallel network called NSFNet, took over much of the TCP/IP technology from ARPANET and established a distributed network of networks capable of handling far greater traffic. ARPANet grew during the 1970’s, and was upgraded to a high speed network by linking several powerful supercomputer stations called nodes.
E-mail was adapted for ARPANET by Ray Tomlinson of BBN in 1972. He picked the @ symbol from the available symbols on his teletype to link the username and address. The telnet protocol, enabling logging on to a remote computer, was published as a Request for Comments (RFC) in 1972. RFC’s are a means of sharing developmental work throughout community. The ftp protocol, enabling file transfers between Internet sites, was published as an RFC in 1973, and from then on RFC’s were available electronically to anyone who had use of the ftp protocol.
In 1985, the National Science Foundation (NSF) began a program to establish Internet access across the United States. They created a backbone called the NSFNET and opened their doors to all educational facilities, academic researchers, government agencies, and international research organizations. ARPANet was shut down by the Defense Communications Agency in 1989 due to limited funding and support from the military.
In 1989 another significant event took place in making the nets easier to use. Tim Berners-Lee and others at the European Laboratory for Particle Physics, more popularly known as CERN, proposed a new protocol for information distribution. This protocol, which became the World Wide Web in 1991, was based on hypertext--a system of embedding links in text to link to other text, which you have been using every time you selected a text link while reading these pages. Although started before gopher, it was slower to develop.
By the 1990’s the Internet experienced explosive growth. It is estimated that the number of computers connected to the Internet was doubling every year. By mid-1994 the Internet connected an estimated two million computers in more than 100 countries, serving some 23 million users. Many commercial computer network and data services also provided at least indirect connection to the Internet. It was also estimated that at this rapid growth everyone in the world would have an e-mail address by the year 2000.
The development in 1993 of the graphical browser Mosaic by Marc Andreessen and his team at the National Center For Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) gave the protocol its big boost. Later, Andreessen moved to become the brains behind Netscape Corp., which produced the most successful graphical type of browser and server until Microsoft declared war and developed its MicroSoft Internet Explorer.
Since the Internet was initially funded by the government, it was originally limited to research, education, and government uses. Commercial uses were prohibited unless they directly served the goals of research and education. This policy continued until the early 90’s, when independent commercial networks began to grow. It then became possible to route traffic across the country from one commercial site to another without passing through the government funded NSFNet Internet backbone.
Delphi was the first national commercial online service to offer Internet access to its subscribers. It opened up an email connection in July 1992 and full Internet service in November 1992. All pretenses of limitations on commercial use disappeared in May 1995 when the National Science Foundation ended its sponsorship of the Internet backbone, and all traffic relied on commercial networks. AOL, Prodigy, and CompuServe came online. Since commercial usage was so widespread by this time and educational institutions had been paying their own way for some time, the loss of NSF funding had no appreciable effect on costs.