Dial up to 4G: the History of the Internet

It is 1969 and the USA is under the shadow of the Cold War. As the country holds its breath against the threat of nuclear attack, there needs to be a way to connect the most important organisations – research, education, government, military – in the event that warfare compromises traditional communications networks. The solution is ARPA Net, and no-one can possibly know what this early version of the Internet will one day become.

Needless to say, the Internet has come a long way since 1969 – in fact, it wasn’t known as the ‘Internet’ at all until 1982. Most recently, 4G mobile ultra-broadband makes the days of slow, noisy dial-up seem like a very long time ago. And the Internet is showing no signs of slowing down either.

The following is a brief timeline of the history of the Internet, covering the key people, technology and websites that have affected our everyday experience of surfing – and what the future might hold.

1969 – 1970 Arpanet

ARPA (Advanced Research Projects Agency) is developed and used to link four American universities in 1970. It remained online until 1990.

1971 Invention of email; Project Gutenberg

Ray Tomlinson developed email, using the @ symbol to separate username from computer name. In 1975, John Vittal would make email more user-friendly, including the ‘answer’ (‘reply’) and ‘forward’ buttons. HM Queen Elizabeth I would send her first email in 1976.

Gutenberg is Michael Hart’s ambitious project to turn the Internet into a free universal library by publishing all print media online, starting with the Declaration of Independence. Project Gutenberg paved the way for the modern e-book.

1973 Invention of TCP/IP protocols

Vinton Cerf used his PhD in Computer Science from UCLA to develop TCP/IP protocols. A protocol is the virtual ‘handshake’ that introduces one computer to another. Among these was the FTP protocol, which allows users to gain remote access to another machine and its files. TCP/IP became compulsory in 1983.

1979 First discussion group

Usenet was the forerunner to the thousands of discussion groups (e.g. Mumsnet) and forums (e.g. fan clubs) currently online.

1989-91 The World Wide Web as we know it, including HTML and URLs

Tim Berners-Lee, often called the Internet daddy, developed the World Wide Web as we know it today, with a user-friendly interface and hyperlinks.

1982 First emoticon

Emoticons were invented to convey humour and other expressions, beginning with the smiley :-)
The word ‘Internet’ was used for the first time this year.

1988 IRC chat

Internet Relay Chat paved the way for real-time messenger programmes later on, such as MSN messenger (later Windows Live messenger) and Facebook chat.

1991 First Web page; first webcam

Just as the first email explained what an email was, so too did the first Web page.
This year also saw the humble origins of the first webcam feed at a computer lab in Cambridge University, allowing programmers to keep an eye on the coffee pot from their desk.

1993 .org, .gov

The domains .org and .gov were invented to distinguish large organisation and government websites.

1997 ‘Weblog’

Though blogs have been around for a while, 1997 was the first time the word ‘weblog’ was used. Later, blogging platforms such as Tumblr, WordPress and Blogspot would bring blogging to the masses.

1998 Google

Google opened its first office in California, and revolutionised the way we search for information online. Today, Google has many offices worldwide, well-known for their eccentric architecture, decoration and facilities. Around 9/10 Internet searches go through Google.

1999 Napster; Myspace

Shawn Fanning invents the music sharing website Napster. Myspace is launched, and becomes the world’s most popular social network until Facebook.

2001 Wikipedia

A ‘wiki’ is a collaborative website of user-generated content. The idea of a wiki-encyclopaedia/dictionary rapidly caught on, and is currently among the top ten most-visited websites.

2003 Skype

Skype made VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) mainstream. A VoIP allows Internet users to speak and listen to each other online.

2004 Web 2.0; ‘The’ Facebook

As the number of Internet-users grew rapidly (544.2 million users in 2002), the term ‘Web 2.0’ was coined to describe a second generation of website with dynamic, media rich content.

In the same year, The Facebook was developed from the college dorm room of Mark Zuckerburg and his student friends. With the influence of Shawn Fanning (of Napster), the pronoun was soon dropped (but http://www.thefacebook.com/ still works).

2005 Youtube

Youtube was launched, bringing free online video hosting and sharing to a mass audience.

2006 Twitter

Twitter is launched, the concept of tweets being miniature personal bulletins of maximum 140 characters in length.

2007 The iPhone

The launch of the iPhone reignited interest in adapting web design for mobile platforms.

2012 4G

4G is the 4th generation of mobile phone mobile computer standards, delivering the fastest ever broadband connection speed.

2013-? New gTLDs (.apple?)

By 2012, practically every word in the English dictionary has been used as a URL. This encourages the development of a new wave of gTLDs (Generic Top-Level Domains) related to the content of the website, with possible examples including .blog, .music, and .news. Organisations wanting a gTLD were to register between January and June 2012, with the changes expected to roll out from April 2013.

Jack works alongside Abtec, a company that provides IT support in Leicester and many other areas of the UK.


  1. Steven Jude says

    Wow, this is a good primer on the history of the internet. It reminds of 2001/2002 when i was learning about ARPANET and DARPANET,

    The internet has come a long way in a very short time.