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Considering that we constantly talk about the new developments and improvements that digital marketing and technology bring us, we believe it is a good time to dedicate a post to what already seems indispensable to us. Today we address the history of the Internet, starting by taking into account that it was born, at the time, as a military project to ensure communications between different points in the United States in case of a large-scale attack. Fortunately, it was never used in this situation, and today it is a fundamental tool for many of us that has changed our way of acting, communicating, and working.

Let us take a step-by-step look at the stages of this process

How the Internet was born: Cold War

First of all, let us put ourselves in context. To begin the story of the Internet, we go back to 1947, when the Cold War starts, a confrontation that began at the end of World War II. As you well know, it is a conflict caused by the tension between the Western-capitalist bloc led by the United States and the Eastern-communist bloc led at that time by the Soviet Union.

In this, two opposing models were facing each other, fighting to implement their method and ideology worldwide. The reason for calling this confrontation “Cold War” is because they never directly confronted each other. Instead, on the contrary, they involved the rest of the countries with the goal of expanding their model.

After a long period of confrontations, during the last stage, the Soviet economic model stalled, and the United States strengthened militarily, which then positioned it in a favorable situation. In 1985, Gorbachev rose to power and was the one who promoted a series of reforms known as Perestroika (restructuring). After several approaches, at the end of 1989, Gorbachev and Reagan’s successor, George H. W. Bush, declared the Cold War over. Subsequently, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the dissolution of the Soviet Union as such occurred.

ARPA, the agency that laid the foundations of the Internet

In 1957, the USSR launched the first artificial satellite in history, Sputnik 1, and in this context, the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA), linked to the Department of Defense, was organized in the United States. It was created in response to the technological and military challenges posed by the then USSR and, a decade later, would be considered the organization that laid the foundations of what would be known as the Internet decades later.

A lo largo de los siguientes años se llevaron a cabo grandes avances. En 1962, Paul Baran, investigador del Gobierno de los Estados Unidos, presentó un sistema de comunicaciones que, mediante computadoras conectadas a una red descentralizada, resultaba inmune a ataques externos. En caso que uno o varios nodos resultaran destruidos, los demás se podían seguir comunicando sin problema alguno.

Over the following years, significant advancements were made. In 1962, Paul Baran, a researcher for the United States Government, introduced a communications system that, through computers connected to a decentralized network, was immune to external attacks. In the event that one or several nodes were destroyed, the others could continue to communicate without any problem.

This project was based on the work of Leonard Kleinrock who, a year earlier, had published from MIT the theory of packet switching, which posited the feasibility of using this revolutionary technique. This theory is based on the concept that all information leaving a device is broken down into blocks to be transmitted through the network, and these blocks are called packets.

Work continued to establish a network that could be accessed from anywhere in the world, which they named the “galactic network.” In 1965, a TX2 computer in Massachusetts was connected to a Q-32 in California via a switched but slow and still limited telephone line. It worked and allowed for connected work but, as one can easily imagine today, the system was inadequate.

ARPANET

In the following years, research continued until 1969 when Michel Elie, considered one of the pioneers of the Internet, entered UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles) and joined ARPA with a research scholarship. By the end of that year, the connection between the computer at UCLA and another at the SRI (Stanford Research Institute) was successfully made.

Shortly after, four American universities were interconnected. This network was named ARPANET, and the goal of this development was to maintain communications in the event of war, given the situation of uncertainty and fear at the time. It was a revolution since until then, there was only a centralized network which was considered very insecure in case of war because the system could easily be blocked.

The first message in the history of the Internet and the origins of email

The University of California was one of those initial four nodes of ARPANET and played a fundamental role in the first successful connection of two remote computers. On October 29, 1969, Charley Kline, a graduate student, attempted to send the message “LOGIN” to a computer at the Stanford Research Institute, 600 kilometers away. However, the connection was lost after sending just the letters “LO.” Thus, the first message sent through ARPANET was “LO.”

By 1970, ARPANET was consolidated. Ray Tomlinson laid the groundwork for what is now known as email. This need arose because the developers needed a coordination mechanism, which was covered by this system.

The network moved from military agencies to universities and the country’s defense projects with increasing strength. Scientists used and developed it to also share opinions and establish collaborations in their work. By 1972, it already integrated 50 universities and research centers across the United States. A year later, ARPANET had established connections with other countries such as England and Norway.

With the rise of computer commercialization, the number of connected computers increased, and from the 1980s, other networks appeared which, as one can imagine, caused chaos due to the great variety of formats of the connected computers. Once it was unified and consolidated, the Internet was born.

What does Internet means

The term “Internet” was first used in 1974 in a research document titled “A Protocol for Packet Network Intercommunication.” This document was authored by network pioneers Vinton Cerf and Robert E. Kahn.

The name “Internet” stems from the very need it was born to solve: to accelerate communications. In essence, Internet is an abbreviation combining the terms Network and Interconnect. Thus, it could be said that the Internet is a globally interconnected network, quite akin to what is denoted by the famous WWW, or World Wide Web. This implies a vast network of networks where computers around the globe can communicate and share data through a standardized set of protocols, effectively making it the backbone of digital communication and information sharing worldwide.

From ARPANET  to www

The year 1983 is commonly marked as the birth year of the Internet. It was then that the United States Department of Defense decided to adopt the TCP/IP protocol for its ARPANET network, thus creating the ARPANET Internet network. Over the years, it simply became known as “Internet.”

On March 12, 1989, Tim Berners-Lee first described the hypertext transfer protocol, which would lead to the first web using three new tools: HTML, HTTP, and a program called Web Browser. A year later, the Internet was born in a closed environment within CERN, and in August 1991, users outside of CERN began to access that information.

Thus, the first website in history was that of CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research) in Switzerland, launched in the same year, 1991, and is still available for viewing today. Berners-Lee created the site as a way to provide information on how the World Wide Web worked and how users could set up their own servers and browsers.

While WorldWideWeb was the first web browser, it was not the browser that popularized the web among the general public. That credit goes to Mosaic, the first graphical web browser, launched in 1993 at the University of Illinois. Mosaic was followed by other popular browsers like Netscape Navigator, which significantly contributed to the expansion and adoption of the World Wide Web.

The World Wide Web grew rapidly: in 1993, there were only 100 World Wide Web sites, and by 1997, there were more than 200,000. And from there, the fascinating story of the Internet continues to our days. What an incredible journey! And it all seems so easy now 😉

Adaptation of businesses to the new digital era

The case of the Encyclopedia Britannica, as discussed in “Your Digital Marketing Plan” by Mau Santambrosio and Patricia de Andrés (a book which I highly recommend), offers a poignant illustration of this transformation.

In 1990, the Encycloedia Britannica was a benchmark in its field. Its 32 volumes were priced around $1,400, and about 100,000 encyclopedias were sold annually in the United States alone. However, six years later, with the disconcerting arrival of the Internet and the major shift it brought, this figure plummeted to 3,000. Those years were challenging. The world was changing, and so too must their product if it was to survive.

In March 2012, after 244 years, the company announced the end of an era: it would no longer print the paper version of the encyclopedia. So, did they shut down the company? Not at all. They anticipated and were able to foresee that this moment could come, so by 2012, their printed edition represented only 1% of the business, and the company had been posting profits for 9 years. They spent those preceding years preparing for such a moment. This case is a great example to understand how complex and crucial adapting to the digital sector has been, especially challenging for such traditional companies with a well-established product as in this case.

As the late Umberto Eco said, “Today, with the Internet, we can know things that our ancestors took a lifetime to learn.” This encapsulates the essence of the digital revolution: it is not just about the technology itself, but about how it reshapes our access to information, our businesses, and ultimately, our entire way of life.

The Social Media Era

We could say that the history of social media begins in the mid-1990s with the creation of GeoCities, in which users were encouraged to create their web pages and place them in “neighborhoods,” where they would relate to users from the same neighborhood.

However, the story of social media as we know it today starts with sixdegrees.com, which is no longer accessible. Following the theory of the six degrees of separation, sixdegrees allowed its users to connect by invitation with other users, creating a community, and enabled them to send messages and see when they were online. It reached more than 1 million users, though it disappeared in the year 2001.

Then they evolved and new social networks appeared that came to stay, such as Facebook, which revolutionized the world; Linkedin, Youtube or Twitter (now X). Currently one of the most important social media platform is YouTube, where the first video was uploaded on April 23, 2005 and now we can watch billions of videos every day.

You probably already know the rest, and we may still have many more to discover. The social network of the moment, TikTok, has announced a new social network based on photos. Isn’t it amazing that new social networks keep appearing every year?

The rise of eCommerce in the history of the Internet

With the launch of the first iPhone by Apple in 2007, which facilitated internet access from a mobile device like never before, and the emergence of new technologies, eCommerce began to gain increasing significance. More and more businesses started to expand into digital commerce.

“There will be two types of businesses in the 21st century: those that are on the Internet and those that no longer exist” (Bill Gates, creator of Microsoft).

Amazon

It is worth mentioning the example of Amazon, currently one of the most powerful eCommerce in the world: created by Jeff Bezos, it started as an electronic bookstore in 1997 in the garage of his house in Seattle and with part of the capital provided by the Bezos family, it has become one of the most powerful online stores in the world, and with the dream of the founder of Amazon fulfilled: “To become the store of everything”.

Alibaba

Another giant in eCommerce, on the opposite side of Amazon, is the Asian empire of Alibaba. Founded by the Chinese linguist Jack Ma, who was inspired by the movie “Forrest Gump,” his company began in the year 2000 with a budget of $50,000 and a staff of 50 people. Today, as a conglomerate of companies including the notable AliExpress, one of the most visited webs in the world, Alibaba employs approximately 200,000 people.

But the global eCommerce landscape is not nourished by Amazon and Alibaba alone: over the past few years, true giants of online sales have emerged, such as eBay, one of the first dominators of the sector thanks to its C2C (consumer-to-consumer) model, the German Zalando, with a significant market share in fashion and accessories, or Alibaba’s Chinese rivals that are increasingly making their presence felt abroad, like JD.com.

Nowadays, anything can be bought, sold, or rented through the internet, whether it is food, cars, or even houses. This expansive reach into nearly every conceivable market segment underscores the transformative power of eCommerce and its role in shaping the future of retail and consumer behavior globally.

Did you enjoy the history of the internet?

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