Last Updated: August 17, 2020

Definition - What does Internet mean?

The internet is a globally connected network system facilitating worldwide communication and access to data resources through a vast collection of private, public, business, academic and government networks. It is governed by agencies like the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (or IANA) that establish universal protocols.

The terms internet and World Wide Web are often used interchangeably, but they are not exactly the same thing; the internet refers to the global communication system, including hardware and infrastructure, while the web is one of the services communicated over the internet.

Techopedia explains Internet

The internet originated with the U.S. government, which began building a computer network in the 1960s known as ARPANET. In 1985, the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) commissioned the development of a university network backbone called NSFNET.

The system was replaced by new networks operated by commercial internet service providers in 1995. The internet was brought to the public on a larger scale at around this time.

Since then, the Internet has grown and evolved over time to facilitate services like:

  • Email.

  • Web-enabled audio/video conferencing services.

  • Online movies and gaming.

  • Data transfer/file-sharing, often through File Transfer Protocol (FTP).

  • Instant messaging.

  • Internet forums.

  • Social networking.

  • Online shopping.

  • Financial services.

As a global network responsible for vast amounts of data transfer and process facilitation, the Internet is constantly evolving. For instance, an initial protocol called IPv4 distributing Internet Protocol (IP) addresses has largely been replaced by a new IPv6 model that will increase the number of addresses available for each continent around the globe.

The Internet has also expanded beyond the traditional workstation, as the “Internet of Things,” (IoT) as it's called, is born. There's still somewhat of a delineation between traditional Internet nodes, which use a classic web browser, and Internet-connected devices which will more commonly use reduced instruction set software, but the Internet of Things is blurring the line of where the Internet stops and the analog world begins.

In addition, there is a key framework that helps people to understand how the Internet is changing, and where it's likely to go in the future.

This is composed of three versions or iterations of the World Wide Web, as defined above.

  • Web 1.0 is the original incarnation of the Internet as a place where most data was read-only. Web 1.0 is often described by experts as an Internet where the most common kinds of activity are passive – reading, doing research, or learning about products and services before making a purchase over traditional media, for example, by telephone.

  • Web 2.0: As engineers added things like Javascript applets and modules to the web, Web 2.0 emerged. Web 2.0 is the read/write web or the functional web, where web fields and forms have allowed users to participate in transactions, upload resources or post their own suggestions in active conversation.
    Web 2.0 is, by most people's assertions, the Internet that we now use. The problem of “stateless” web-delivered functionality as is Web 2.0, is largely solved by digital “cookies,” trackers that save individual user data in the browser to enable things like saved passwords.
    The trade-off is that user activity is inherently tracked: when a user erases the cookies, that session data is gone, and the user will have to start over as a new guest in any future sessions.

  • Web 3.0 is the posited future Internet called the "semantic web," where Internet data will have evolved relationships, and mapping will help automate a lot of what we now do on the Internet manually. The semantic web, proponents suggest, will be a web that is in many ways automated by linking individual virtual objects and websites together in a seamless manner. With that in mind, Web 3.0 may help us to do away with the current model of using cookies for session data retrieval.

All of these changes show the general purpose nature of the Internet and its broad scope in human societies. Defining groups like the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) and World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) continue to work on standards and universal approaches.

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