The internet was just a glimmer in 1971, when Project Gutenberg started. It “took off” in 1974, fifteen years before the web.

The first steps

Often called the father of the internet, Vinton Cerf was the co-author (with Bob Kahn)  of the TCP/IP protocol in 1974. The internet expanded as a network linking U.S. governmental agencies, universities and research centers, before spreading worldwide from 1983 onwards.

The internet got its first boost in 1990 with the invention of the web by Tim Berners-Lee, and its second boost in 1993 with the release of Mosaic, the first browser for the general public.

Vinton Cerf founded the Internet Society (ISOC) in 1992 to promote the development of the internet as a medium that was becoming part of our lives. When interviewed by the French daily “Le Monde”, he explained that the network was doing two things. Like books, it could accumulate knowledge. But, more importantly, it presented knowledge in a way that connected it with other information whereas, in a book, information stayed isolated.

Because the web was easy to handle, with the use of hyperlinks to go from one document to the next, the internet could now be used by anyone, and not only by computer literate users. There were 100 million internet users in December 1997, with one million new users per month, and 300 million users in December 2000.

A worldwide expansion

North America was leading the way in computer science and communication technology, with significant funding and cheap computers compared to Europe. A connection to the internet was much cheaper too. In some European countries, internet users needed to surf the web at night (including the author of these lines), when phone rates by the minute were cheaper, to cut their expenses. In late 1998 and early 1999, some users in France, Germany and Italy launched a movement to boycott the internet one day per week, to force internet providers and phone companies to set up a special monthly rate, for  us to still be able to pay the bills (meaning: other bills) while using the internet. This action paid off, and providers began to offer “internet rates”.

In summer 1999, the number of internet users outside the U.S. reached 50%.

In summer 2000, the number of internet users having a mother tongue other than English also reached 50%, and went on steadily increasing then. According to statistics regularly published on the site of Global Reach, a marketing consultancy promoting the localization of websites, they were 52.5% in summer 2001, 57% in December 2001, 59.8% in April 2002, 64.4% in September 2003 (including 34.9% non-English-speaking Europeans and 29.4% Asians), and 64.2% in March 2004 (including 37.9% non-English-speaking Europeans and 33% Asians).

Broadband became the norm over the years. Jean-Paul, webmaster of the hypermedia website, summarized things in January 2007: “I feel that we are experiencing a ‘floating’ period between the heroic ages, when we were moving forward while waiting for the technology to catch up, and the future, when high-speed broadband will unleash forces that just begin to move, for now only in games.” (NEF Interview)

The internet of the future

The internet of the future could be a “pervasive” network allowing us to connect in any place and at any time on any device through a single network that would be omnipresent. The concept of a pervasive network was developed by Rafi Haladjian, founder of the European company Ozone. He explained on its website in 2007 that “the new wave would affect the physical world, our real environment, our daily life in every moment. We will not access the network any more, we will live in it. The future components of this network (wired parts, non wired parts, operators) will be transparent to the final user. The network will always be open, providing a permanent connection anywhere. It will also be agnostic in terms of applications, as a network based on the internet protocols themselves.” We do look forward to this.

As for the content of the internet, Timothy Leary, a visionary writer, described it in 1994 in his book “Chaos & Cyber Culture” as gigantic glass towers containing the whole world information, with free access, through the cyberspace, not only to all books, but  also to all pictures, all movies, all TV shows, and all other data. In 2011, we are getting there.

French version:
Next article: 1990 > The invention of the web

This collection of 45 articles will include both well known and little known projects from 1971 to 2011, with an international perspective. If, despite all my efforts, you see some errors, please suggest corrections in an email to TeleRead’s editor for me.

Copyright © 2011 Marie Lebert



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