2. Early days - the Internet before the World Wide Web
Transcript

I wanted to find out why the Internet was called the ‘Internet’ and how it actually worked – so I did some research. First off, I looked into the way that information travelled around the network.

All information was broken up and sent in ‘packets’. Each packet had its own address and was transferred to its destination through ARPAnet’s network of computers, which was created in 1969.

The important thing about ARPAnet was that it didn’t matter which way the packets were transferred through the network, so if part of it was damaged, the packet would be sent to its destination via another path.

Tim Berners-Lee, the guy who invented the World Wide Web, describes Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn as the ‘fathers of the Internet’ because they were the people who, way back in the early 1970s, designed the way the Internet works. According to an article they published in 1974, their design involved ‘protocols’, called the ‘Internet Protocol’ and the ‘Transmission Control Protocol’.

The Internet Protocol was responsible for getting the packet of information to its destination. The Transmission Control Protocol broke up the packet of information into bits of a manageable size, and put them back together in the right order when they reached the destination computer. If any information got lost along the way, the Transmission Control Protocol asked for it to be sent again.

Basically, these two protocols worked together, to make sure that all information sent via the Internet, got to the right destination and made sense when it got there!

The Internet protocols allowed computers operating any system to connect to ARPAnet, so from the very beginning, it was designed to be accessible to all. As other networks joined ARPAnet and became interconnected with each other, the whole ‘network of networks’ became known as the ‘Internet’. So, what was the Internet first used for? As well as sharing important information for work and research purposes, the people on ARPAnet quickly saw that it could also be used for more sociable activities.

I was interested to find out from Hobbes’ Internet Timeline that the first ARPAnet mailing list, called MsgGroup, was created in 1975 by Steve Walker. Apparently, a science fiction list called ‘SF-Lovers’ became the most popular unofficial list early on. In fact, it was the popularity of these early mailing lists that inspired the development of ‘Usenet’ for organisations not connected to the ARPAnet.

‘Usenet’ (or ‘user’s network’) was originally developed simply so files could be shared between computers. It grew into a whole range of ‘Newsgroups’, covering a wide range of subjects. Essentially, Usenet consisted of virtual bulletin boards, on which users could read and respond to any messages posted. In the 1980s, the popularity of Bulletin Boards grew massively, turning them into popular virtual communities of users.

‘Internet Relay Chat’ was invented in 1988 by a university student in Finland. This was a really important development, because it laid the foundations for later chat networks and real-time chat websites which became very popular. Lots of the ideas behind Internet Relay Chat were used in the development of instant messaging services, like MSN Messenger.