What, When, Who… Internet History Timeline

Posted September 25th, 2006 by Mike Cherim

This article is my version of the What, When, and Who of Internet history — with a few of my own additions — from when it was wood-burning to present. I have hopefully made it inclusive and comprehensive but please be sure to read the Credits and my Disclaimer. That said, I hope you find it as interesting reading it as I did writing it. I must confess that it was a pretty big challenge, more so than I had envisioned. Enjoy :-)

The Beginning

Vannevar Bush essay “As We May Think” is published in the Atlantic Monthly. It’s about preserving humanity’s information via Memex; a photo-electrical-mechanical system linking research books via microfilm. This is the beginning of the “linking” concept and is the birth of a notion but the world isn’t ready for any level of implementation.
The first portable, personal, digital computer is invented by Edmund C. Berkeley. It’s called Simon. As you know, the digital computer becomes an essential part of using the Internet. (The first mechnical computer was invented much earlier: in the 1800s, with the first working model being rolled out in 1876.)
The US DOD forms Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) in response to the Soviet’s Sputnik 1 launch and a touch national insecurity. The goal is to share war-related research information and this provides momentum to the research of theories of information technology.
Ted Nelson uses the word hypertext for the first time, referencing the theories of 1945. This time document linking research is moving forward. The world’s still not ready, but through the work involved with Project Xanadu, it’s getting there. Work continues.
Mouse inventor Douglas Englebart writes a paper titled “Augmenting Human Intellect : A Conceptual Framework” about networking information.
JCR Licklider writes a series of memos envisioning a global system of interconnected computers while Donald Davies, Paul Baran, and others theorize packet-switched networks. Together they create ArpaNet which is the precursor to the Internet. The first nodes are established at UCLA, the Stanford Research Center at UCSB, and UofU.
Me 1.0 is launched by my mother, though this has nothing to do with the web at this point. Me version 44.3 is in use today and remains fairly reliable.
Douglas Englebart tries to turn his theories into reality with the first successful implementation of hypertext. By 1968, he’s ready to present it to the world.
Douglas Englebart develops NLS used to store and retrieve electronic documents via hyperlinks — a term coined by Ted Nelson. At this time Englebart presents his work up to this point and the Fall Joint Computer Conference is what was referred to as the “mother of all demos.” The audience thinks it’s a hoax. It would be Tim Berners-Lee who puts it all together in an accepted form in 1980 (keep reading).
Ray Tomlinson writes software for exchanging electronic messages between ArpaNet computers. Later [1972] he improves email software to allow users typical email functions such as forwarding, storage, etc. This would mark the invention of email. The first spam message was sent a few weeks later (I’m kidding). According to one of the commenters, the first spam message was received in 1978.
Michael Hart begins Project Gutenberg dedicated to making copyright-free works available in electronic form.
Bob Metcalfe develops ethernet technology.
Bob Kahn and Vint Cerf develop TCP/IP.
Usenet bulletin board created to exchange information between two North Carolina universities.
Golden United spin-off CompuServe, also known as Compuscam, created as a service for computer time-sharing. Development began in 1969 and was available in corporate environments by 1982.
Philips invents the CD but users don’t see these things for a while.
Tim Berners-Lee, IT consultant for CERN, writes the Enquire cross-linking database that relies on the notion of hyperlinking between network nodes. This forms the very foundation of the World Wide Web (still not an established name at this point in time, though). For the record, Tim Berners-Lee denies that he invented the web as many claim. He’s adamant about it in fact. (I think he’s being humble and was instrumental in making all of this happen.)
Jim Thatcher begins development of the IBM Screen Reader (then on the IBM HomePage Reader around 1996). This is probably the very beginning of web accessibility concerns for Internet users. Jim Thatcher later publishes books on the subject of web accessibility. The first, “Constructing Accessible Web Sites,” in 2002. The latest, Web Accessibility: Web Standards and Regulatory Compliance, co-authored by several other respected accessibility specialists — I’ll call them “web accessologists” — in 2006.
The DNS is establish by Paul Mockapetris to translate names into IP numbers and email control is established.
Robert Tappan Morris, Jr. unleashes the Morris Worm infecting approximately 10% of all Internet-connected computers. This alerts people that security will become a concern and that idealism and the Internet do not mesh.
Jarkko Oikarinen develops IRC.
Tim Berners-Lee writes Information Management: A Proposal to convince CERN that it needs a global hypertext system.
AOL launched for Macintosh — released in 1984 — and Apple II users.
Tim Berners-Lee coins the phrase World Wide Web (WWW) in reference to a browser built for the NeXTstep platform. He launches the first web server and first web page (the killer app of the era), then at nxoc01.cern.ch, but now at http://info.cern.ch/.
Tim Berners-Lee makes WWW files publicly available on the Internet. This marks the official birth of the Internet.
James Gosling invents Java, which was originally named Oak.
Apple releases the first version of QuickTime.
World Bank goes online and the world begins shrinking as information is being pooled.
CERN announces WWW technology is free for anyone to use. (Good thing, huh?)
Marc Andreessen and Eric Bina release version 1.0 of the Mosaic browser.
Global Net Navigator sells first clickable web ad. It quickly catches on and becomes the standard banner ad.
The White House goes online.
The WWW beats out telnet to become the second most popular Internet service. FTP is first.
Web Crawler and Lycos search engines are released.
Jerry Yang and David Filo create “Jerry’s Guide to the World Wide Web” which was later named Yahoo.
The Netscape Navigator browser is released.
The World Wide Web Consortium is formed.
Federal Express launches its online package tracking service.
Database software MySQL, co-founded by Michael “Monty” Widenius and David Axmark, changes the way data is stored, organized, and delivered to web pages. This was the culmination of work that really began in 1978.
The word spam is coined in relation to unsolicited email, but the term really spans all the way back to 1937.
Finding jobs online gets its real start as Monster Worldwide Inc., founded in 1967, launches Montser.com.
RealAudio launches. Internet users can listen to streaming music in real time for the first time.
The WWW becomes the most popular Internet service finally beating out FTP. (Must’ve been the music that did it.)
Jeff Bezos founds Amazon.com. (Time to shop online.)
Netscape computer programmer Brendan Eich releases JavaScript and support for it in Netscape Navigator version 2.0, beta 3.
Internet Explorer or “IE,” version 1.0, is released followed by version 2.0 four months later. (Within weeks the first IE hack is needed… just kidding.)
Ebay is founded by computer programmer Pierre Omidyar.
News and Sports go online with CNN.com and ESPN.com. Web gets mainstream.
Craig Newmark launches Craigslist (started in San Francisco, California) to help people find stuff and make connections.
Jakob Nielsen launches Useit.com and slowly web usability becomes a topic of interest. (I’m not positive about the site’s launch date, but it seems his career in the field began pre-1989.)
PHP, probably the most flexible, powerful, and popular server-side scripting language ever is developed by Rasmus Lerdorf, though he’ll be quick to point out it wasn’t just him who is responsible. PHP changes the way web sites work and plays nicely with MySQL databases.
Microsoft releases IE3. This actually challenges Netscape.
Hotmail is released offering web based email services.
Larry Page and Sergey Brin begin work on a link analysis search engine called “BackRub.” This of course later gets renamed Googal, then becomes, yep, you guessed it, Google, but not until 1998.
I go online for the first time with a frames-built version of GreenMethods.com, but I don’t get into actual web development until 2003. I begin to embrace standards and accessibility in 2004.
Yahoo becomes the first Internet company to go public making an IPO.
The Apache web server officially becomes the number one web server according to a NetCraft survey.
The term Weblog — not blog — is coined by Jorn Barger. It seems as if he is currently missing, though his blog is still on the web. (No, he doesn’t use WordPress it seems.)
AOL buys Compuserve. Big business.
Tech news source SlashDot.org launches. (Initially it is a dot-com.) Finally there’s “News for Nerds.”
The first commercial version of Opera is released.
Macromedia, which is bought by Adobe in 2005, acquires vector-based animation software called “FutureSplash.” Shortly afterward it is released as Flash version 1.0.
Apple unveils the iMac and “i” things come to be.
Netscape goes open source with its browser suite code. The project is called Mozilla.org. (You may have heard of this.)
XML version 1.0, invented by Tim Bray, is released.
Google is launched. Its simple ad- and clutter-free interface is widely accepted and it shoots to the top as a users’ choice quickly. Nowadays we “Google” stuff when searching the web.
AOL buys Netscape. Big business.
Work on Semantic Web Activity begins and the web becomes a little less like the Wild West… a little less.
Web development goes pro as Webzines such as A List Apart launch bringing web development topics into the limelight.
Web Standards become, well, more standard when grassroots projects such as WaSP launch.
Cheap stuff like travel tickets, related services, hotel reservations, and car rentals permeate the web with the launch of sites like Priceline.com where all matter of things can be purchased for less. This starts a whole new era and a reason for people to strongly consider buying stuff online. By 2004 this phenomenon really gains momentum, but will have its up-and-downs for a few years — especially in the year 2000.
The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines Version 1.0 are published. Web accessibility starts to become something web developers start really thinking about. There’s still a ways to go in this regard.
Everquest becomes the first MMORPG through the efforts of Sony Online Entertainment and Verant Interactive.
The word “blog” is coined by Peter Merholz.
Shawn Fanning launches Napster and a new way of sharing (some would say stealing) music is created.
RDF Site Summary, also called RSS 0.9 at the time, is released on the My Netscape Portal. Later RSS becomes an abbreviation for Really Simple Syndication.
Vice President Al Gore says “I took the initiative in creating the Internet” and the story gets modified a bit by President George Bush and the whole matter becomes a worldwide joke.
Since the Y2K bug didn’t end the world as we know it, AOL buys Time-Warner and becomes the worlds largest media company.
The Dot-Com bubble bursts. (No free rides people, ya gotta work for a living. If you build it, they may not come.)
Apple Launches iTunes. See? More “i” things.
Wikipedia is launched. (This can help you find more detailed info about any of the stuff I’ve written about here.)
The Code Red worm is released targeting Microsoft’s Internet Information Servers, IIS, affecting some 300,000 web pages in mere hours, again reminding us of the urgent need for web security.
Napster is shut down (temporarily).
Mozilla 1.0, the precursor to the popular Firefox browser, is released.
Microsoft’s Internet Explorer captures 95% of the browser market.
Web Accessibility becomes a more common term when Joe Clark publishes “Building Accessible Websites.”
Nothing’s secret on the web as blogging becomes more mainstream and information linking sites like Technorati launch.
The term “Bloggosphere” is coined by Bill Quick to define the intellectual cyberspace bloggers occupy.
Heather Armstong’s once-instant messenger-typo (writing “dooce” instead of “dude”) becomes a neologism for losing one’s job because of Internet content. This is significant in two ways as it blurs the boundaries of freedom of speech, and blogging goes pro.
Social Networking becomes a buzzword as sites like MySpace launch.
Web Standards start becoming a popular methodology when Jeffrey Zeldman publishes “Designing with Web Standards,” 1st edition — the 2nd edition comes out in 2006.
Napster re-launches, with the law behind the service this time. Lessons learned.
Bookmarking site Del.ici.ous launches and the web shares more than ever
The term phishing is coined to describe deceptive online practices used to gather personal data.
Connectivity between people goes mainstream with the launch of sites like LinkedIn.com.
Comment Spammers (if you blog you know the breed) start getting rich and start becoming a huge problem to many bloggers. There’s a big need to step up the development of innovative controls to mitigate the problem around this time, though the problem certainly existed earlier than this and still does today.
Services abound with new socially networked sites such as image hosting service site Flickr.
Firefox version 1.0 is released by Mozilla.org. Web developers rejoice.
Google goes public. Now share-holders have a say.
Web Accessibility becomes less of an unknown when groups such as GAWDS launch.
Middle-aged farts like me start blogging and the practice becomes less uncommon.
Jesse James Garret coins the term AJAX marking the beginning a new era of user interactivity.
To define this new era terms like Web 2.0 start circulating on the web. Though, initially, there is a lot of confusion as to what it really means.
The Internet is officially massive when it is determined that 11.5 billion web pages are indexed according to a University of Iowa study.
The world’s videos go online for all to see when YouTube launches, but copyright infringment controversy runs rampant.
Many people don’t even know what Web 2.0 is yet, and Web 3.0 already comes onto the scene.
Personal data stored online gets lost or stolen with more and more frequency; people and businesses get really nervous about identity theft.
Common single user and local area network computer applications begin to go online where they may or may not be safe with the launch of Windows Live (which is a collective name featuring several web-hosted applications). Over this new usage of the Internet wars rage on, primarily between Microsoft and Google.
Link sharing goes mainstream with the launch of sites like Ma.gnolia.com and Digg.com.
With an urgent need for mainstream developers to get into web accessibility, sites like Accessites.org try to pave the way by showing that cool-looking, full-functioning yet accessible websites need not be polar opposites.
The first Mashup Camp meets. Considered an “Unconference for the Uncomputer” that’s dedicated to bringing together the Internet software mashup community for a face-to-face collaborative meeting. A place where innovation happens in “real time” (a term coined in the early 80s in relation to a genera of strategy game). Prizes are presented and the first Mashup Camp’s winner goes to PodBop.org, a site focusing on letting users match MP3 files.
And if Web 3.0 isn’t enough to cause confusion, Web 4.0 is on its way! (Interesting timeline there as well).
Internet Explorer version 7 is released in beta form and so is Firefox 2.0 beta. Firefox 3.0 is around the corner, probably coming in 2007.


This was a much bigger project than I had intended. I was inspired to do this from reading the print version of an interesting Information Week article called “Fifteen World Widening Years” that included a very interesting Internet development time-line side bar written by George Jones and Valerie Potter. I got some of my information from that sidebar as well as the articles and web pages I link to in this article. I thank the web in general for its infinite resources. Without the web, I wouldn’t have really been able to do this; but then again, without the web, I wouldn’t have had anything to write about or a place to publish it.


That’s it. Did I miss something significant? There’s no doubt in my mind that I did, but until I know what it is, I can’t add it to this timeline. Did I get some fact wrong? Probably. Let me know what it is and I’ll fix it or you can clarify it in a comment.

16 Responses to: “What, When, Who… Internet History Timeline”

  1. Adam responds:
    Posted: September 25th, 2006 at 12:19 pm

    Wow…. That must have taken a long time to put together. Well done, I like that you linked to all those sources for more info.

  2. David Zemens responds:
    Posted: September 25th, 2006 at 5:08 pm

    Great information source, Mike. It’s gonna take me a while to read up on all the links, but first look is you have provided a great service with this information. Thanks again.

  3. Joshua Kendall responds:
    Posted: September 26th, 2006 at 6:19 am


    2002 - “dooced” - neologism for losing one’s job as a result of something one wrote on the internet.

    Wikipedia has everything. :)

  4. Todd Sieling responds:
    Posted: September 26th, 2006 at 11:57 am

    This is quite a project, Mike. Aside from obviously being flattered by the inclusion of Ma.gnolia, I particularly like that you touch on milestones of the web’s conceptual foundations, as well as its technological and cultural ones. It’s really the combination of these things that drive the evolution of any technology, the web being one where it just happens much faster.

  5. Neal V responds:
    Posted: September 26th, 2006 at 4:30 pm

    Nice job man! This is definately a bookmark…

  6. Mel Pedley responds:
    Posted: September 26th, 2006 at 6:09 pm

    A couple of additional dates for you:

    1987: The idea for the ‘alt’ heirarchy on Usenet is conceived (May 7th to be exact) but isn’t created ‘officially’ until Apr 3 1988.
    [Alt Hierarchy History]

    Not so many people seem to be familiar with Usenet, these days, but the alt* newsgroups where were I spent most of my time in the mid-1990s and I still consider my ’second home’ to be two specific alt groups - even after 9 years! So this is an important date for me and a few hundred thousand other people.

    1994: Pizza Hut began offering pizza ordering via the Web and First Virtual, the first cyberbank, opened.
    [The History of the Internet- By Dave Kristula]

    I haven’t managed to verify the Pizza Hut information fully but I did find a reference to Pizza Hut’s online delivery service being well- established by 1996.
    [The Web’s Wider World Of Pizza Delivery]

    First Virtual, however, is credited as being the first online payment company - founded in 1994 by First Virtual Holdings, Inc., San Diego, CA.
    [The Free Dictionary.com]

  7. Ryan responds:
    Posted: September 30th, 2006 at 9:52 pm

    Interesting site, blogexplosion brought me here.

  8. Katalog responds:
    Posted: September 30th, 2006 at 10:56 pm

    Great and excellent article it’s realy helpful. Thanks

  9. Anthony Brewitt responds:
    Posted: October 2nd, 2006 at 4:33 am

    Just wanna say thanks, a fascinating read!

    I also found myself day dreaming of the first programming language I learnt which Is Pascal, coined by the French Mathematician Blaise Pascal whom invented the first automatic calulator in 1642.

    I forsee a timeline craze.

  10. Dr John responds:
    Posted: October 9th, 2006 at 7:49 am

    Re The first spam email - it is generally taken as being sent in 1978, a full six years after email was created. It’s well documented, as a quick google on “the first spam email” will quickly show ;) the reaction was much the same as spam gets today, and it contained an error as well, which helped make it obvious that it was not a personal message.

  11. Lisa responds:
    Posted: October 16th, 2006 at 2:37 am

    OMG! That had to take you ages! It’s really good, gave me an easy A in Digital Media :-) Well done!

Sorry. Comments are closed.

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