A Science Odyssey
People and Discoveries

The Internet gives rise to the World Wide Web

The 1957 launch of the satellite Sputnik revealed the technological capabilities of the Soviet Union, and Cold War rivalry encouraged the United States to gear up. President Eisenhower established the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA), an organization including many of the nation's leading scientists. They developed the first successful American satellite in less than two years. In 1969 ARPA began to focus on communications technology, including computer networks, especially those that could suffer partial outages and still work -- in a military situation, for example. ARPA researchers were located at universities and research organizations around the country, and in the early 1970s, the network connecting researchers at these far-flung campuses became the ARPAnet.

In the early 1980s, local area networks (LAN) were being used in business and industry, and other large scale networks were built using the same protocols as ARPAnet. The National Science Foundation established the most important of these in the U.S. In the late 1980s it developed five supercomputer centers that universities and researchers could share time on. They created regional networks to make connections to the main computer more efficient. This created a "chain" of computers that connected each one to the center but also to every other "link" in the chain. That connection to others in the system became as useful as access to the main computer.

Meanwhile in Europe, researchers at CERN (the European Laboratory for Particle Physics) were struggling with their own computer networking problems. Throughout the system people used different techniques, protocols, and equipment, making communication between computers very complex. In 1980, Tim Berners-Lee, a consultant at CERN, wrote a program called "Enquire-Within-Upon-Everything," enabling links to be made between any point in the system. Nine years later Berners-Lee wrote "Information Management: A Proposal:" Instead of standardizing the equipment or software, they created standards for data, and a universal addressing system. That way any document on the Internet could be retrieved and viewed. In 1990, CERN was the largest Internet site in Europe. Over the next year or two, the proposal was circulated and revised, resulting in an initial program being developed that was dubbed the World Wide Web. At least one expert has called the Web a "side effect of CERN's scientific agenda." In 1992, the World Wide Web was demonstrated and distributed, and browser software was released throughout and beyond CERN. That November there were about 26 reliable Web servers.

All you needed to use the Web was a browser. The early browsers were functional but not especially "user-friendly." A young programmer at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) named Marc Andreesen created a new graphical Web browser. This was pleasing to the eye and easy to use -- just point-and-click. Users didn't need to know any programming or even any Internet addresses. It also made it fairly simple for users to add their own material to the Web. Andreesen and his coworkers called this browser Mosaic, and released free versions for Windows and Macintosh in August of 1993. Interest in the Web -- especially commercial interest -- exploded with the arrival of Mosaic. By October there were more than 200 Web servers, and at the end of 1993, Mosaic was being downloaded from NCSA at a rate of 1,000 copies per day. By June 1994, there were 1,500 Web servers.

In July 1993, there were 1,776,000 hosts in 26,000 domains; by July 1996, there were 12,881,000 hosts in 488,000 domains. In July 1996, there were 3,054 Internet service providers and projections of Web user sessions rising to 15.79 billion in the year 2000.

"The Web reminds me of early days of the PC industry. No one really knows anything. All experts have been wrong."
(Steve Jobs in Wired, February 1996)

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