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A Timeline of Important Events in Internet History

It's no exaggeration to say that the advent of the Internet was one of the most significant events in the history of human communication. It's important to remember, however, that this advance didn't spring from a single mind or a single corporation. The Internet itself is made up of a massive number of loosely connected nodes, which helps to foster independence and resiliency. The creation of the Internet came about in the same way. Researchers, academics, and user groups each contributed pieces of the overall puzzle. Only by reviewing the major events from the many decades of its development can we appreciate the overall impact of these contributions. Those of us who rely on these ubiquitous technologies may take them for granted, so it's important to look back and understand the effort required to build the Internet.

  • 1958: In response to the Soviet Union's launch of Sputnik, the first artificial satellite, the United States government establishes the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA). ARPA would later create ARPANet, the precursor to the Internet.

  • 1961: Leonard Kleinrock submits "Information Flow in Large Communication Nets" as his doctoral dissertation. This paper is considered to be the first document ever written on packet-switching technology, the foundation of Internet communication.

  • 1962: The U.S. Air Force launches AUTODIN, one of the first email systems.

  • 1964: Paul Baran releases his collected memoranda, "On Distributed Communications: Introduction to Distributed Communications Networks." Baran proposes a resilient, distributed network of nodes that would use routing intelligence to fragment and send data along multiple paths.

  • 1967: Dr. Lawrence Roberts publishes "Multiple Computer Networks and Intercomputer Communications," a description of the kind of network later made real by ARPANet and the Internet. Wesley Clark suggests the use of mini-computers as network packet-switching devices, laying the groundwork for future network routers.

  • 1969: ARPA establishes its first computer-to-computer link, thus creating ARPANet. Building on the work of Kleinrock, Baran, Roberts, and others, ARPANet is designed to link military and educational institutions with a redundant, disaster-resistant array of nodes.

  • 1969: The University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) deploys the first Interface Message Processors (IMPs) using Clark's design.

  • 1970: University of London professor Peter Kirstein establishes the first ARPANet node in Europe.

  • 1971: Michael Hart creates Project Gutenberg, named after the inventor of the printing press. The new project becomes the first digital library, housing electronic books with no copyright or with an expired copyright.

  • 1971: Combining messaging and file transfer programs on ARPANet, Raymond Tomlinson invents the first email system to stretch across multiple computer systems, incorporating many modern conventions like using the "@" symbol to separate a username and domain.

  • 1971: ARPANet is hit by the first computer virus when Robert Thomas's "Creeper" infects multiple nodes. While it was intended solely as an experiment, the virus spreads until Raymond Tomlinson writes another virus with the sole purpose of removing Creeper.

  • 1972: ARPANet pioneer Jon Postel compiles a registry of network addresses, laying the foundation for the creation of IANA, the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority. Postel would serve IANA in technical and administrative roles for more than 30 years.

  • 1973: Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn start work on new network protocols to support ARPANet's expansion into multiple computer platforms.

  • 1974: The Network Working Group, consisting of Carl Sunshine, Cerf, and Yogen Dalal, release RFC 675, "Specification of Internet Transmission Control Program." The new standard is the first to refer to its network protocol as an "Internet" and introduces TCP, the Transmission Control Protocol.

  • 1977: RFC 733 codifies multiple ARPANet email systems into a single standard. Bell Laboratories develops the Unix-to-Unix Copy (UUCP) file transfer protocol.

  • 1978: The first unsolicited commercial email message, commonly known as "spam," is sent when Gary Turk attempts to advertise his new line of computers.

  • 1979: Jim Ellis and Tom Truscott develop Usenet, with UUCP as its mail and file transfer protocol. Usenet is later expanded to become the first worldwide discussion forum.

  • 1981: Larry Landweber develops CSNET, the Computer Science Network. Designed to link university computer science departments, it brings the TCP/IP networking protocols into the mainstream.

  • 1982: Korean Professor Kilnam Chon sets up the first Internet connections outside of the United States and Europe.

  • 1983: Paul Mockapetris proposes the creation of the Domain Name System (DNS) in RFC 882 and RFC 883. His invention would become the Internet's standard name resolution technology.

  • 1984: Dr. Jun Murai establishes JUNET, or the Japanese University UNIX Network. Another UUCP-based network system, JUNET brings the Internet to Japanese universities for the first time.

  • 1986: The National Science Foundation brings its own network, NSFNET, online. For the first time, Internet technologies are scaled up to massive size. NSFNET carries research traffic at no cost to educational institutions.

  • 1986: A collaborative group of authors releases RFC 977, "Network News Transfer Protocol (NNTP)." Using UUCP and other Internet technologies, NNTP allows users with a news reader application to receive news feeds directly on their personal computers.

  • 1987: Rick Adams starts UUNET, the first commercial Internet service provider. The new company provides UUCP, USENET, email, and other services to its customers.

  • 1988: Robert Tappan Morris releases one of the first computer worms, which spreads throughout the Internet from its starting point at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). In response, computer scientists form CERT, the Computer Emergency Response Team.

  • 1989: Tim Berners-Lee writes a paper proposing the World Wide Web by combining hypertext linking with existing Internet technologies. Within a few years, the Web overtakes other protocols to become the Internet standard for information-sharing.

  • 1990: ARPANet is shut down.

  • 1990: John Gilmore, John Perry Barlow, and Mitch Kapor found the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) to protect civil liberties and the freedom of the Internet.

  • 1991: Phil Zimmermann creates the first version of PGP ("Pretty Good Privacy") encryption to protect email communications.

  • 1991: Then-Sen. Al Gore sponsors the High Performance Computing Act of 1991, which authorizes appropriations for the creation of nationwide Internet infrastructure.

  • 1991: America Online (AOL) offers connections to the Internet via its dial-up network.

  • 1993: America Online begins offering Usenet access to its members. Sometimes mocked as less experienced Internet users, AOL users flood the discussion boards. While every September would see an increase in Usenet users as new college students signed up, the influx of AOL users gave rise to the term "Eternal September."

  • 1993: Marc Andreessen and Eric Bina release the first version of NCSA Mosaic, one of the earliest graphical Web browsers. Visually appealing and easy to use, Mosaic sets the standard for future Web browsers to follow.

  • 1993: Oscar Nierstrasz releases W3Catalog, one of the first indexing Web search engines. Later search engines would build on this concept, enabling users to find Web pages about specific topics more easily.

  • 1994: David Filo and Jerry Yang create Yahoo, originally called "Jerry and David's Guide to the World Wide Web." The combination Web portal, search engine, and home page becomes one of the busiest sites on the Internet.

  • 1994: Mosaic releases Netscape Navigator, which becomes the dominant Web browser.

  • 1994: The "Make Money Fast" chain email first appears, requesting that users contribute money to a pyramid scheme. An early example of an email scam, "Make Money Fast" would inspire a host of imitators.

  • 1994: A pair of immigration lawyers post messages advertising their green card services to more than 5,500 Usenet groups. Considered the first instance of commercial spam on Usenet, the messages cause the lawyers to receive angry messages and have their Internet service terminated. The stunt also earns them a massive profit, prompting other spammers to imitate the tactic.

  • 1994: NetMarket begins selling Sting's new CD, Ten Summoner's Tales, via their online marketplace. The offering is significant due to the addition of encryption, which allows customers to securely use credit cards over the Web.

  • 1995: Pierre Omidyar starts AuctionWeb (later renamed eBay), an online auction service. Unlike with traditional auction houses, any user can directly buy or sell on the platform for a nominal fee.

  • 1995: Microsoft releases its first Web browser, Internet Explorer. Like many other Web browsers of the time, it is based on the NCSA Mosaic code. It's originally available for an additional fee, but Microsoft later ensures Internet Explorer's dominance by bundling it with every copy of Microsoft Windows.

  • 1998: Sergey Brin and Larry Page launch Google, a new Web search engine. Unlike other search engines at the time, which primarily return search results based on Web page popularity, Google's new algorithm determines relevancy based on relationships between pages.

  • 1998: Peter Merholz posts the first known weblog, or "blog," to appear on a traditional news site.

  • 1998: Under an agreement with the U.S. Department of Commerce, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is created to manage Internet DNS name and IP address assignments.

  • 1998: Netscape Corporation (formerly Mosaic) begins the Mozilla Project. The project releases the Netscape Web browser source code, prompting a wave of development and innovation by the open-source community.

  • 2000: The dot-com bubble bursts, leading to the closure of about half of all Internet startup companies and beginning a two-year downturn in technology stocks.

  • 2001: Seeking to create a free, collaborative encyclopedia, Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger launch Wikipedia. Millions of users contribute to the shared knowledge base, and Wikipedia becomes a perennial top-10 most visited website.

  • 2008: China claims the largest Internet user population in the world, with more than 298 million users.