The Evolution of the Internet
So you believe Al Gore created the Internet? Well thats not possible, because I did. Yes, its true, a few years ago I was sitting in my basement with nothing to do and suddenly the idea came to me: why not create an inter-connected network of networks that will allow users to send mail instantly, download copyrighted songs, and order pizza, all from the comfort of their own living room? OK, so maybe I didnt exactly invent the Internet, but neither did Al Gore.
So who was the genius behind the information superhighway, you ask? Well lets take a step back to the sixties, a decade when Cold War tension caused nationwide fear of nuclear warfare. Early in the decade, two groups of researchers, privately owned RAND Corporation (Americas leading nuclear war think-tank) and federal agency ARPA (Advanced Research Projects Agency), grappled with a bizarre strategic mystery: in the event of nuclear war, how could political and military officials communicate successfully? It was obvious that a network, linking cities and military bases, would be necessary. But the advent of the atomic bomb made switches, wiring, and command posts for this network highly vulnerable. A nuclear-safe network would need to operate with missing links and without central authority.
In 1964, RAND Corporations Paul Barran made public his solution to the problem. Essentially, the concept was simple. Barrans network would be assumed to be unreliable at all times. Information would be broken into many small pieces called packets and then sent to various points, or nodes, in the network until they reached their destination. ARPA embraced Barrans idea for three reasons. First, if nuclear bombs blew away large components of the network, data would still reach its destination. Second, it would be relatively secure from espionage, since spies tapping into parts of the network would be able to intercept only portions of transmissions. Lastly, it would be much more efficient because files and transmissions couldnt clog portions of the network.
Only five years after Barran proposed his version of a computer network, ARPANET went online. Named after its federal sponsor, ARPANET initially linked four high-speed supercomputers and was intended to allow scientists and researchers to share computing facilities by long-distance. By 1971, ARPANET had grown to fifteen nodes, and by 1972, thirty-seven. ARPAs original standard for communication was known as Network Control Protocol or NCP. As time passed, however, NCP grew obsolete and was replaced by a new, higher-level standard known as TCP-IP, which is still in use today. TCP, or Transmission Control Protocol, is responsible for converting messages into streams of packets at the source of the transmission and then assembling the streams at the final destination. IP, or Internet Protocol ensured that packets were routed across multiple nodes and networks, even those using the original NCP standard.
The Internet, as it came to be called, spread like wildfire. Since software for TCP-IP was available to the public and the technology for networking was decentralized by its very nature, nodes and networks easily joined in. Each node covered its own expenses, and thus there was no disapproval for expansion. Like the telephone, the Internet was relatively useless without universal participation. In 1989, ARPANET was completely eliminated in favor of TCP-IP, which already contained over 300,000 nodes. Practical applications for the Internet popped up everywhere. Graduate students at North Carolina and Duke invented an electronic bulletin board called Usenet and researchers at the University of Minnesota developed a primitive search engine called Gopher.
In 1991, the foundation for the modern Internet was built when Swiss Internet user Tim Berners-Lee released his system of Internet hypertext. Prior to hypertext, Internet use was limited to nerds who knew the commands needed to communicate through the text based network. Hypertext allowed users to link words, pictures, and files with mouse clicks. It wasnt long before University of Illinois student Marc Andressen and fellow computer programmers invented the first Web browser called Mosaic. The introduction of Web browsers spawned a new era of communication and, in response to the 1993 release of Mosaic, Internet use grew 341,634%.
You may have noticed that Al Gores name was never mentioned in this brief history of the Internet. While Gore did in fact help secure government funding for a related project in the 1980s, he did not invent the Internet. In fact, there is no specific creator of the Internet, nor is there a date when the Internet came into being. It evolved over thirty years from the governments way of post-nuclear war communication to todays Information Superhighway. The number of hosts now far exceeds ten million, and hundreds of millions of users from over 150 countries are connected. Sorry Al, the Internet would have done just fine without you.