The first network of computers involved just 4 machines collectively called Arpanet. This took place in 1969 and was funded by America’s Defence Department’s Research Projects Agency.
By 1971, Arpanet had increased in size to 23 computers. Its original usage had been for people to be able to work on a project using a computer but away from their place of work. However, it soon became clear that one of the main features of Arpanet was its use for electronic mail (e-mail).
Another unplanned use of Arpanet was the Usenet news system which enabled users to access and contribute to newsgroups.
Between 1975 and 1985, a number of other computer networks developed including AOL and Compuserve. However, each network could not ‘communicate’ with the others. If you used AOL, you could not access any other network. As a result of this, military networks, scientific networks etc stayed specific to their field – there could be no sharing of information.
In the late 1970’s, Arpanet sought to change this. They wanted to devise an inter-networking system (or internet) whereby different networks could ‘talk’ to one another. Arpanet devised TCP/IP (Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol). This was a set of rules for communication between networks. The Internet became a network of networks. Only the military stayed outside of this for security reasons. Such a transfer of vast amounts of information had been unthinkable just a decade earlier but TCP/IP changed all this.
In 1988, there were 50,000 computers attached to the Internet. By 1991, there were 1 million. However, it was difficult to access the information contained on the Internet as the system had little organisation. This problem was solved by Tim Berners-Lee, a British scientist studying at a research facility in Switzerland. He invented a method of organising information which he called the world-wide-web (www). His system linked documents from different sources and guided users to related information. The www was first used by the public in 1991 and it allowed the transfer of text, sound, images and video clips. Above all else, it was simple to use.
In 1998, 130 million people were using the Internet and the figure continues to grow annually.
Tim Berners-Lee is now working at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in America.