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The History of the Worldwide Web: Tracing the Origin Story of Websites and the Internet

Websites have a long and textured history, dating back to the early days of the internet. Back then, websites were basic, consisting mainly of a few lines of HTML code.


Which of the following early websites do you remember visiting?

  • AOL

  • GeoCities

  • Angelfire

  • Tripod


Today, websites are more sophisticated, with flashy animations and multimedia content. They are now a major part, quite frankly, of existence, and are used by billions of people around the world. In this article, we’ll take you on a journey to where it all began and appreciate the evolution of websites and web development over the years.


code for website on a screen

But first, definitions!

1. Hyper Text Markup Language (HTML)

Hyper Text Markup Language (HTML) is a language used to create web pages. It functions as a set of instructions, akin to a recipe, that web browsers follow to construct web pages. Similar to how a recipe provides instructions on how to combine different ingredients to make a dish, HTML uses tags (as ingredients) to provide instructions to web browsers on how to display elements such as headings, paragraphs, images, and more on a web page.

2. Transmission Control Protocol (TCP)

Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) is a communication protocol that computers use to talk to each other over a network, like the Internet. It operates like a postal service that ensures your letters are delivered correctly. Just as a postal service follows a set of rules to ensure that your letters are delivered reliably and in the right order, TCP establishes a connection between computers and ensures that data is transmitted accurately, in the correct sequence, and without any errors.

3. Internet Protocol (IP)

Internet Protocol (IP) is a set of rules that govern how data is transmitted over the Internet. It acts as a phone book that helps you find someone's phone number. Just as a phone book contains phone numbers that help you locate someone's contact information, an IP address uniquely identifies devices on the internet, enabling them to find each other and establish communication.

Think of IP addresses as unique addresses assigned to devices, such as computers, servers, routers, and other networked devices, that are connected to the internet. These addresses consist of a series of numbers separated by periods, such as 192.168.1.1. Each IP address serves as a unique identifier for a specific device, just like how each phone number is unique to a particular person or business.

The Internet's History

woman browsing the internet on her phone

"What’s the wi-fi password?"


We have come to rely so much on the internet, but do we really know where it began!?

Let’s dive into the history of what we use every day, “The Internet”.


Where it began

The emergence of the internet can be attributed to the escalation of the Cold War. The Soviet Union's deployment of the Sputnik satellite spurred the United States Defense Department to consider ways to share information even after a nuclear attack. This instigated the creation of ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network), which evolved into what we now know as the Internet. ARPANET was a huge success, but membership was limited to academic and research institutions with Defense Department contracts. As a result, other networks were formed to facilitate information sharing.


The invention of the internet

The internet was not invented by one person. It was invented by many people over several years. Here are the key contributors:


Larry Roberts (1969)

Larry Roberts is considered to be one of the fathers of the internet. He was one of the first people to see this technology's potential and helped develop it into what it is today. He was instrumental in creating the ARPANET, the first packet-switched network, in 1969. This was the precursor to the modern Internet. He also developed the TCP/IP protocol, which is still the modern-day standard for networking.


Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn (1973)

In 1973, Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn further developed the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) and the Internet Protocol (IP), which created the basic architecture for the internet. This was a huge breakthrough at the time, as it allowed multiple computers to communicate with each other across a network. Their work was published in a paper called "A Protocol for Packet Network Intercommunication." and it's considered to be one of the most important contributions to the invention of the internet.


Tim Berners-Lee (1989)

In 1989, Tim Berners-Lee, a British computer scientist, proposed a project that would allow computers to easily share information. This project became the World Wide Web. Berners-Lee wrote the first web browser and web server, and he also created the first website.

Tim Berners-Lee and the First Website

On December 20, 1990, Tim Berners-Lee published a document that revolutionised the internet. During an experimental session, he wrote the first webpage on his NeXT workstation (a Steve Jobs project) and linked it to other sites around the world.


sphere representing the world with dots showing connectedness

This revolutionary technology was formally called “The Worldwide Web”—a name given by Berners-Lee himself. The first website was hosted on a NeXT computer at CERN, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research; however, it can be accessed using any web browser with the link: http://info.cern.ch/hypertext/WWW/TheProject.html.


The Rise of Websites

In the early days of the internet, websites were used for research purposes only. For example, physicists would share their work by way of a website. It wasn't until 1994 that the World Wide Web became a household name. This was when the first browser was created and people began to use it to access information from all over the world.

infographic summarising the history of websites

In 1995, Netscape Navigator (a browser by Netscape) was released which made browsing much easier.


In 1996, a web company called AOL (American Online) released a service called AOL Browser which allowed people to explore sites without needing a computer science degree. In 1997, the first search engine was created called Yahoo.com. This made the process of finding websites on the internet even easier and more enjoyable.

In 1998, Google was created by two Stanford students named Larry Page and Sergey Brin. Their creation is still used today as one of the most popular search engines in the world. By 1999, most homes had access to a computer which made it much easier for people to browse websites and communicate with others online. As of May 2022, there are over 1.8 billion websites on the internet, and more than 2.3 billion people use the internet worldwide. This number is only going to continue to grow in the future.

How often do you use a search engine to find information on the internet?

  • Multiple times a day

  • Once a day

  • A few times a week

  • A few times a month


Websites in the Present Day

You’ve probably heard about websites like Wikipedia and Reddit, but what about the other billion sites on the web? The internet is now a vast space of communication, with billions of pages devoted to nearly every subject imaginable. You could spend your whole life browsing it and still not see everything. Businesses have taken advantage of this fact, creating thousands of new websites every day. As you surf the web, you’ll come across many different types of sites, each with its own purpose and focus.


People are now creating websites for just about any purpose you can imagine. You'll find websites devoted to art, animals, sports, and hobbies. You'll find websites that focus on health issues, cooking, and the news. You may even find a website devoted entirely to cute kittens!


Which of the following do you think is the most important factor in the success of a website?

  • Design and user experience

  • Content and information provided

  • Search engine optimisation (SEO)

  • Website speed and performance


For most of us, websites have become an indispensable part of our lives. There are so many things we do online now, from shopping to banking to socialising. But what is the future of websites?


How do you think websites will continue to evolve in the future?

  • More interactive and engaging design

  • Increased use of artificial intelligence (AI)

  • More personalised experiences based on user data

  • Other (leave a comment)


The future of websites looks to be exciting. They will be faster and more immersive, with new technology such as virtual reality and augmented reality taking over. There will also be a greater emphasis on artificial intelligence and machine learning, both of which will help to improve internet services.

woman waring VR goggles.

The future of the web holds a lot of potential for businesses as well as individuals. As developers continue to capitalise on these changes­, websites will continue to grow and become even more interactive.

 

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