The History of the Internet

A blogpost on the basis of Manuel Castells’ “The Internet Galaxy: Reflections on the Internet, Business and Society”


1965: Hypertext

1968: Graphics interface, mouse


  • ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency) to mobilise research resources
  • ARPANET’s aim: stimulate research in interactive computing
  • ARPANET for military communication


  • first successful demonstration of the ARPANET in Washington DC


  • UNIX: operative system of Bell Laboratories -> sources code and permission to alter it given
  • 10 years later -> GNU:  alternative operating system to UNIX -> published on the net without copyrights


  • Through the MODEM: transmission of files


  • TCP/IP: Transmission Control Protocol


  • Bridge between Usenet News (based on UNIX) and ARPANET -> Internet


  • BITNET network for IBM


  • FIDONET -> cheapest computer network used by 3 mio users in 2000


  • ARPANET obsolete -> shut down
  • Browser: www released in August 1991 with few adaptions later on


  •  Linux on the net -> without copyright in order to improve it


  • Mosaic Communications (later Netscape Communications): adaption of the www but with graphics


  • Microsoft -> Windows 95 -> Internet Explorer
  • Java by Sun Microsystems: for apps to travel over the internet -> download programs from the internet
  • 16 mio users of computer communication networks


  • 60% of the users use Apache (based on UNIX)



From the networks to the internet

  • usually, networks are comfortable systems; not suitable for coordinating complex tasks
  • hierarchies much better -> conceived to organise in strongly defined systems, other than networks which are flexible and adaptable
  • internet networks are flexible but more important they organise much more than humans -> achieve what hierarchies did
  • internet provides us with information for all mankind; foundation of the system is the network
  • important activities which are based on networks: capital mobilisation, individual freedom and communication, and lastly telecommunications
  • network society makes the new economy up
  • e.g. new financial markets are influenced by crowd thinking rather than by the effective performance of the businesses


The internet economy

The question is: What is this new economy? What sums this up? Well, our new economy is the economy of the internet industry.

“The internet is the fabric of our lives.” (p.1)

  • it gives us structure -> economic, social, political and cultural events are mostly planned through the internet
  • it changes the way in which we communicate, but we transform the internet, too
  • free for communication and simultaneously easily changeable
  • full expression of ourselves not in an extremely positive nor negative way
  • reflects us and the interpretation of the given information is allocated to user


The development of ARPANET



“History cannot be re-written, but with our current script, without ARPA there would have been no ARPANET, and without ARPANET, the Internet as we know it today would not exist.” (p.21)


  • Origin in US Defense Department, although main purpose was not military-oriented
  • ARPA’s purpose: optimizing the use of expensive computer resources by on-line time-sharing between computer centers and the development of computer networking in general
  • ARPANET’s most popular use: electronic mail developed by Ray Tomlinson in July 1970
  • Members of ARPA: scientists, engineers, researchers and graduates of MIT and other research universities (UCLA, Standford, Harvard, etc.) → Joseph Licklider, Ivan Sutherland, Leonard Kleinrock, Frank Heart, Robert Kahn, Vinton Cerf, Stephen Crocker, Jon Postel, etc.
  • 1970: Kahn and Cerf enabled ARPANET to become an open system of computer communication
  • The role of the US Defense Department: Provision of necessary resources for computer networks
  • 1975: ARPANET was transferred to the Defense Communication Agency  which started to use the network for military operations


“In sum, all the key technological developments that led to the Internet were built around government institutions, major universities, and research centers.” (p.22)


The Internet and the grassroots

  • Universities such as Boulder, CO; Blacksburg Electronic Village; Cleveland FreeNet; etc. highly supported community networks
  • Cerf, Crocker and Postel sent their work in Progress among others to BBN through “request for comment” memos or RFCs, which influenced the style of informal technical communication up to today
  • The openness of this format was and continues to be essential for the development of the Internet’s infrastructure protocols
  • The grassroots influenced the development of commercial services in the 1980s


An architecture of openness

  • ARPANET was able to connect to thousands of local networks because of its flexibility of communication protocols
  • 1976: x.25 protocols approved as common international standard by the International Telecommunications Union
  • No communication possible between x.25 protocols and ARPANET’s TCP/IP protocols
  • x.25 = mostly public network providers would have control and accountability at the expense of private computer owners
  • TCP/IP = based on diversity of networks
  • → public telecommunication networks and commercial networks used x.25
  • →ARPANET stayed with TCP/IP
  • Decision of ISO (International Organization for Standardization): OSI (The Open Systems Interconnection protocol) became the official international standard


Self-evolution of the Internet: Shaping the network by using it

“It is a proven lesson from the history of technology that users are key producers of the technology, by adapting it to their uses and values, and ultimately transforming the technology itself […]” (p.28)

  • 1985: everybody could join the Internet
  • users became producers and shapers of the Internet
  • reason for the constant growth of the Internet


 Governance of the Internet

  • Cerf and Kahn formed the International Configuration Control Board (ICCB)
  • 1984: Barry Leiner expands ICCB, building of Internet Activities Board chaired by Dave Clark (MIT computer scientist)
  • 1989: Internet Activities Board split into two organizations: Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) & Internet Research Task Force (IRTF)
  • agreements reached by working groups were published as RFCs, became Internet’s unofficial standards
  • Us government agencies  also adopted the use of the Internet procotols → Internet protocols became the networking standards for the US government
  • 1992: NSF wanted to privatize Internet
  • January 1992: The Internet Society was formed which was led by Kahn and Cerf
  • The US Government had delegated authority for Internet addresses to the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA), set up and mangaged by Jon Postel
  • Postel died in 1998
  • Clinton administration had suggested to privatize IANA
  • Before Postel’s death he proposed his organization the Internet Corporation of Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN)
  • ICANN is a non-profit, private corporation that manages IP address space allocations, protocol parameter assignments, domain name systems and root server systems
  • ICANN was approved by the government in late 1998 and completed its formative phase in 2000



Discussion in plenum

  1. How has the Internet changed?

  2. Which technologies are still relevant to this day?





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