July 1945Vannevar Bush publishes his essay “As We May Think” in Atlantic Monthly. This early picture of an external extension of the human mind that could be navigated via associative trails inspired many of the people who pioneered the Internet and World Wide Web.
October 4, 1957Sputnik is launched. The launch of Sputnik spooked the U.S. government, spurring their desire to develop a network that could survive a military attack. Paul Baran of the RAND Corporation proved that a packet-switching, distributed network was by far the best design. His ideas were incorporated into work being done to make sharing across the United States’ few mainframes possible.
December 9, 1968The mother of all demos takes place at the Convention Center in San Francisco. Douglas Engelbart and his team demonstrated a working hypertext system, word processing, video conferencing over a network, the computer mouse and much more. The mother of all demos was a landmark in just about every field of computing, including the Internet.
October 29, 1969The first connection of a packet-switching network is made between Stanford and UCLA. The two mainframes used interface message processors (IMPs) to send a message. The first message ever sent over the Internet was “lo” because the system crashed at the letter g of “login.” This network would become ARPANET.
September 1971ARPANET implements a terminal interface processor (TIP), allowing computer terminals remote access to the network. This helped grow ARPANET much faster by making connection easier.
1971Ray Tomlinson sends the first email to himself over a network using separate machines. Not only could he not recall the exact date (autumn 1971), but he was also unable to remember the message itself (some nonsense like QWERTYUIOP, although he’s not certain). He chose the @ sign to separate the user from the host – a practice that persists in email addresses to this day.
December 1, 1971Michael Hart chooses to use his $1 million worth of computer time at the Materials Research Lab at the University of Illinois to store public domain books and documents for people to eventually access for free. The first document typed up was the Declaration of Independence.
1973ARPANET is connected to the University College of London and the Royal Radar Establishment in Norway, taking the proto-Internet international.
1974The first online first-person shooter game, Maze War, is introduced to ARPANET. The game is reportedly banned when it is discovered that half the packets between Stanford and MIT are from the game. (Read more about video games in From Friendly to Fragging: A Beginner's Guide to Video Game Genres.)
1974Telenet is launched, providing the first pay-for-access Internet available to the public.
1975John Vittal creates an email client called MSG, an update to the previously available SNDMSG. It could display and send messages, but had additional abilities to move (save/delete), answer (reply) and forward email. MSG is considered to be the first modern email program.
May 1, 1978Gary Thuerk sends a mass email about a new machine at Digital Equipment Corp. (DEC) to people on the ARPANET network. This is the first instance of spam, although Thuerk prefers to be remembered as the father of email marketing.
1979Telenet users discover multi-user dungeons (MUD), the first multiplayer online role-playing game (MORPG). The action is entirely text-based, but the success of the game spawns MUD2 and many more.
1980Usenet is launched by Tom Truscott and Jim Ellis. It worked on a different protocol than existing networks at the time and represents the earliest use of the Internet as a source for public news and bulletin-board-style posts.
1983MILNET is split off from ARPANET to function as a military-only Internet. It was unclassified and largely used to send email between bases.
January 1, 1983This is the day that ARPANET moved to TCP/IP, a suite of protocols designed by Robert Kahn and Vint Cerf. TCP/IP continues to be the language of the Internet.
1984The Domain Name System (DNS) is introduced, allowing a meaningful name to be assigned to a host on the Internet rather than using the numerical address.
November 2, 1988Robert Morris releases the Morris worm, the first piece of Internet malware. The worm was purportedly meant to measure the size of the Internet, but it made copies of itself regardless of whether a copy was already running on a host. These copies upon copies worked like a denial of service attack, slowing down the entire Internet. (Learn more about malware in Malicious Software: Worms, Trojans and Bots, Oh My!)
March 1989Tim Berners-Lee writes a proposal that will eventually lead to the World Wide Web. He had to do the work mostly by himself at first, formalizing the language of documents (HTML), the protocols for accessing them (HTTP) and building the first Web browser/editor to do it (confusingly named WorldWideWeb). Afterwards, the Web became a collaborative effort with many people helping through the request for comments (RFC) system.
- Tim Berners-Lee launches the first Web browser and Web page. The Web page described the Web and HTML, allowing others to build more sites of their own.
- Gopher is released to help people search the Internet for specific content using a menu-based interface. Gopher was eventually replaced by algorithmic search engines like Google and directories like Yahoo (that is, the original Yahoo), but for a time it was the primary means of finding information on the Internet.
- The first webcam is used to show the Trojan Room coffee pot at the University of Cambridge. The motivation behind the world’s first webcam was to save people the trouble of walking to the room only to discover that there was no coffee.
1993Mosaic is released, bringing a graphical Web to the general public. One of the creators of Mosaic, Marc Andreessen, would go on to build the Netscape Navigator and influence the creation of an Internet that went beyond text – and beyond just the technical crowd's capabilities.
October 1994Netscape Navigator is released in beta form. The official version 1.0 was released in December and quickly became the browser of choice for the World Wide Web.
October 27, 1994The first online banner ad appears on HotWired.com. One version was merely a message reading “Have you ever clicked your mouse right HERE? YOU WILL.” Online advertising has (arguably) evolved since that first ad appeared.
1995Secure sockets layer (SSL) encryption is introduced by Netscape, making it safer to conduct business online with credit cards. This innovation helped e-commerce to find its legs. It also added to the hype surrounding online companies and their potential to generate profit.
September 3, 1995Auction site Echo Bay (eBay) is founded by Pierre Morad Omidyar. The site's first bid-based sale is believed to be a broken laser pointer that sold for $14.83.
July 1995Pioneering e-retailer Amazon.com is launched as an online bookstore. Amazon popularized online shopping and has been at the forefront of many of the innovations in this space, including the incredibly powerful idea of displaying items based on the buying patterns of other users on the site.
July 4, 1996Hotmail, the first Web-based email service, is launched. Hotmail allowed people to keep their email and email addresses independent from their Internet service providers. Best of all, it was free to use.
1996Craigslist moves from an email subscription to a Web page at craigslist.org. The free online classified ad service expanded quickly to other cities and remains a force today.
September 15, 1997Google.com is registered as a domain. The search engine would go live in 1998 and grow to be both the largest search engine and one of the largest Internet-based companies in the world.
December 17, 1997Jorn Barger coins the term Web log to refer to the collection of online links he “logged” from the Internet. The term was then shortened to "blog" and applied to the personal diaries people had already been keeping online.
1998Napster launches, introducing Internet users to the joys of peer-to-peer file sharing and piracy.
March 11, 2000The market begins to sour on dot-com companies, marking the start of a crash that will see the Nasdaq dip 78% from March 2000 to October 2002. The bursting of the bubble marks the end for Internet start-ups like Pets.com, Webvan and many others.
January 9, 2001iTunes is launched. Apple’s online music store changed the industry by breaking up albums and selling individual tracks for 99 cents. By April 2006, iTunes had achieved the status of the largest music retailer in the world.
January 15, 2001Wikipedia, the bane of high school teachers and fact checkers, is launched. Wikipedia is possibly the finest example of what crowdsourcing can achieve on the Internet.
March 2002Friendster is launched. Friendster was an early social networking site that lost ground in North America to MySpace (2003) and Facebook (2004). Friendster now operates as a social gaming site. (Learn more about social media in Understanding Social Media.)
- The beta version of Skype is released. Although not the first VoIP software, it was user-friendly and quickly became widely adopted.
- MySpace makes its debut. Although not the first social media site to hit the Web, MySpace was the most widely adopted at the time. It was overtaken by Facebook, but is in the process of reinventing itself as a social entertainment network. Singer Justin Timberlake owns a stake in the site.