The History of the Digital Ecosystem

Look for a book about the Internet.  Most of them are not actually about the Internet, but its effect on humans and society.  Also they are mostly about negative effects on the user.  What most people don’t know about the Internet is its history and its rather innocent origins.  Although there are some negatives that have come from the Internet, they aren’t so bad when the user considers just how much good has come from this world-changing invention.

According to Jerome S. Meyer, in his book World Book of Great Inventions, Movable type was the 8th greatest invention of all time because without it, “98 per cent of all people in the world who are now educated would be ignorant” (262).  His book was written in 1952, at least a decade prior to any of ARPANET’s successes, and a half a century before the millions of people populated the Internet we know now.  Since then the Internet has spread the written word even further than moveable type was able, and hundreds of educational websites and apps are available.

The Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) was the first group to create a network to link different types of computers together (Belfiore 71).  Their network was ARPANET.  ARPA’s first director JCR Licklider hoped to connect computers across the planet, referring to it as an “intergalactic network” (Jones 247).  Bob Taylor, the head thinker behind ARPANET, wanted to find a way to get the computers to “talk to each other” (Belfiore 70).

Ironically, one of the first tasks for ARPANET’s worldwide network was to connect seismologists, people who study the earth.  Prior to the connection, it took weeks to snail mail the information from all the monitoring stations to one central location.  In 1963, ARPA connected 130 monitor stations to collect the worldwide seismic data for study called the World Wide Standardized Seismographic Network (WWSSN).  The WWSSN was put in place to detect “underground explosions caused by nuclear bombs” (Belfiore 60).  This monitoring network was coupled with satellites that observed the atmosphere.  In combination, they made sure no one broke President Kennedy’s Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty of 1963.

Once ARPANET connected two computers between Los Angeles to Sa Francisco in October of 1969, the ball was rolling and it caught speed quickly.  A mere three years later, nearly 31 computers were connected to ARPANET (Jones 247).  Just like anything popular, ARPANET needed groupies, so in July of 1977, ALOHANET and SATNET connected with the quickly growing networks which lead to the creation of Internet Protocol (IP) and finally the birth of the Internet that we are all connected to (Jones 249).

By the turn of the century, the Internet had spent 10 years morphing from a phenomenon and media sensation into something so popular and universal, like water or telephone service.  (Jones, 250)

According to Nielson Net Ratings [], the Internet’s population had only about 2,000 researchers in 1973.  Those researchers were privileged; there were a lot of researchers that still had to share data by snail mail in 1973.  Nearly 30 years later, in April 2002, there were an estimated 428,000,000 (four hundred million) Internet users (Jones 250).  If you think that’s a lot, there were an estimated 2,405,000,000 (2 billion) in June of 2012 (Internet World Stats)

Excluding the gross increase of internet users; there have been a lot more changes that have come about because of the Internet.  These changes are specific to the Internet; none of these changes include a psychological study.  These changes are strictly facts and improvement directly involved with the Internet.

Ray Tomlinson of BBN is accredited with the development of email (Chapman).  Email was born in 1971!  Tomlinson’s first intention or email was to “send messages from one computer to another on the same network” (Jones, 175).  The “at” symbol [@] was used in the original email addresses to separate the recipient identification and the address of the computer.  The latter half has been changed to represent the email service used.

Until the mid-1970’s, Ray Tomlinson’s dual-program service was popular with ARPANET users.  These two program names were self-explanatory to their purpose: READMAIL and SNDMSG (with vowels send message).

Email started to become more user friendly when John Vittal merged the programs to make MSG in 1975.  With the new program users could reply and forward without having to manually type the receiver’s address.

Similar to “Reply All” that email users are familiar with today, email discussions were simply called “mailing lists”.  One of the first of these discussions was SF-LOVERS for science fiction fans.  By 1988, the internet had an exponentially growing user population and they all wanted to talk in real time without needing to use a mailing list.  The Internet Relay Chat (IRC) was born and it was the first chat room to distract students everywhere (Jones 250).

The Internet has been blamed for making teenagers lazy, but is it true?  The Internet was helpful in an office building so that a few coffee addicts were more productive.  The first webcam was aimed at a coffee pot starting in 1991 (Chapman).  How does live video of a coffee pot make office workers more productive?  Supposedly, it was used to prevent the coffee drinkers from wasting trips to an empty pot, but we all know it was to record who stole the last cup and didn’t make another pot.

Surprisingly enough, the first actual webpage didn’t actually make its way onto the Internet until 1991 (Chapman).  What did it say?  It was directions on how to use a webpage.  It sounds silly, but it’s true.  That happened with most of the internet firsts.  The webpage is still running at an updated 1992 version <>.

By 1993, “.com” was normal.  It wasn’t until then though that “.org” [organization] and “.gov” [government] joined the population of users, starting with the White House and the UN (Chapman).

Although there were programs that users could use to email, it took decades before companies started figuring out how to commercialize emails.  21 years after the first email was sent, “in 1996, HoTMaiL (the capitalized letters are a homage to HTML), the first web mail service, was launched” (Chapman). Gmail wasn’t far behind Hotmail.  Gmail began emailing on April Fool’s Day 2004, promising 1GB of storage.  When Gmail first started, a user needed to be invited to make a new account.  That made Gmail a highly sought after email service.  Finally in 2007, Gmail was opened to all so that anyone could go to the website and create an account.  (Web Developers Notes)

Google may not have been able to claim being the first to create an email service, but they were the first to create a web search service.  In 1998, Google made the Internet easier to use, making even more information accessible (Chapman).

Unlike a library, where books are carefully catalogued and arranged on the shelves systematically, Web pages are scattered, literally, worldwide. . . .  With millions and millions of pages on every imaginable topic now available on the Web, a reliable search engine is an essential tool for locating information.  (Jones, 401)

What about social media?  The term was coined in 2004, the same year theFacebook began.  The next year YouTube started sharing videos, and then a blue bird began Tweeting in 2006.  However neither Twitter nor Facebook can claim firsts.  MySpace came before Facebook in 2003, and was the most popular social networking webpage before Facebook stole the title.  (Chapman).

Bad things did happen because of the Internet as well.  Gary Thuerk was the first to send out 600 unsolicited commercial email messages (aka spam) in 1978 (Chapman).  Even worse than an annoying email, is a computer virus.  Internet worms are a form of virus or mal-ware that prey on the weaknesses of software.  Once they’ve gotten into the target they quickly replicate like bacteria and infect anything they digitally slither across.  Internet worms are dangerous.  “Unlike Trojans or other viruses that require user intervention to spread, Internet worms can spread on their own” (Janssen).  The original worms would start in one user’s emails, and spread itself to all the email in the user’s address book.  Although there were worms before the Morris Worm, Robert Tappan Morris wrote a virus that caused “major interruptions” across the internet in 1988 (Chapman).

Ever wonder how the search engines sort through so much information? Crawlers (aka “bots” or “spiders”) are similar to Internet worms in the fact that both spread throughout the Internet looking or information.  However, unlike the malicious worm, crawlers “crawl” around the Internet and search web pages for topics ad key words.  This information is sent back to the mother nest (the search engine) and catalogued for the user to find easily.

The Internet has caused a lot of changes to life as we know it, and it continues to do so.  This invention came about all because a lot of seismologists wanted to share about a couple tremors.  Now we have over-sharing of photos, videos, and viruses.  Although viruses are bad, many good inventions came from those bad things.  The chance to share millions of bytes of data is worth the sacrifice of computer viruses.  The Internet is certainly an amazing eco system.


Works Cited

Belfiore, Michael. The Department of Mad Scientists: How DARPA Is Remaking Our World, from the Internet to Artificial Limbs. New York: Smithsonian Books, 2009. Book.

Chapman, Cameron. The History of the Internet in a Nutshell. 15 November 2009. Web. 22 January 2013. <;.

Internet World Stats. World Stats. n.d. Web. 4 February 2013. <>.

Janssen, Cory. Internet Worm. n.d. Web. 21 February 2013. <;.

Jones, Steve. Encyclopedia of New Media: An Essential Refrence to Communicaiton and Technology. New York City: SAGE Publications, 2003. Book.

Kelly, Kevin. What Technology Wants. New York: Viking, 2012. Book.

Leiner, Barry M, et al. Brief History of the Internet. 2012. Web. 22 January 2013. <;.

Meyer, Jerome S. World Book of Great Inventions. Cleveland and New York: The World Publishing Company, 1956. Book.

Naisbitt, John, Nana Naisbitt and Douglas Philips. High Tech High Touch: Technology and Our Search for Meaning. New York: Broadway Books, 1999. Book.

Nielson. About Nielson. n.d. Web Site. 4 Fabruary 2013. .

The First Web Page. 1991. Web. 4 February 2013. <>.

Web Developers Notes. Gmail invites not required for Gmail email account. n.d. Web. 20 February 2013. <;.