The Birth of the Web


By Valerie Lynn

This article originally appeared in print in the Cypress Creek Business and Professional Women’s Newsletter in 1999. It was then published on and is reprinted here.

Not a day goes by when I am not assailed with news on the latest and greatest development occuring on the World Wide Web. My mailbox – never sacred ground – passively accepts printed junk touting the newest web site of a business that I never cared for in the first place. The food I purchase from the grocery store comes packaged in advertising material listing the lucky company’s URL (Uniform Resource Locator) along with a perky request to “visit” their site. Even my television set acts as a hawker for some “cool site” that I must, without a doubt, “check out” if I am to remain up with the times. Indeed. It may appear to us that the Web sprung up out of nowhere, sunk its teeth into our wallets and refuses to go away. Only part of this is true. The World Wide Web is exists as a component of a much larger infrastructure known as the Internet. This Internet has, comparatively speaking, been a long time in the making.

In 1957, the Russians launched Sputnik and the U.S. found itself in the unenviable position of “second place” in the race for space. Fueled by cold war concerns, President Eisenhower created the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) which was charged with improving the military’s use of computer technology. Twelve years later, the Agency produced ARPANET. ARPANET was the first Wide Area Network (WAN) and consisted of “links” between computers in California and Utah. Designed for the military, this experimental network is largely responsible for developing the technology upon which our current Internet is based. One example of this technology is TCP/IP (Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol), which grew out of ARPANET.

It should be noted that while ARPANET was developed for the U.S. Military, many of its designers and developers were from the academic community. Use of ARPANET was restricted to the Military, and its designers found themselves lacking an effective means of communication. Fifteen years after the start of ARPANET, the National Science Foundation, in conjunction with IBM, MCI and the University of Michigan, launched NSFNET. Access to NSFNET was granted to Military, Academic and Government Agencies with the sporadically enforced restriction that use be limited to educational endeavors and non-commercial research. By 1988, the NSFNET was the preferred network – the Internet had arrived. ARPANET, slow and cumbersome, hobbled along for two more years and quietly shut down.

Commercial use of NSFNET began in 1991. It wasn’t until 1993, however, that the general public had access to the software of the World Wide Web. By this time, the Internet supported Email, as well as File Transfer (FTP). Telnet – the ability to use a remote or distant machine – was in full swing and people were “chatting” in real time using a program called Internet Relay Chat (IRC). Netnews was available, and the “Web” made its debut. The Internet, on its NSFNET “backbone” supported all of these functions which contributed to data “traffic.” In June 1993, approximately 43% of the “traffic” on the Internet was due to the transfer of files (FTP); netnews, email and telnet accounted for the second largest percentage of traffic. With only 130 Web Sites, Web traffic comprised a mere 0.5% of backbone usage. When the National Science Foundation stopped running the backbone in June, 1995, these figures were drastically different. Vying for first place in the traffic war was FTP and the Web. The transfer of files accounted for 24% of backbone traffic while the use of the Web accounted for 23%. The number of Web Sites had climbed to 23,500. Email, telnet, IRC and netnews collectively comprised the balance of the traffic figures.

It is estimated that at least half of the Web sites on the Internet are commercial sites. The number of Internet users, approximately 40 million strong, has doubled every year for the past eight years. It is expected to double again this year. I sometimes wonder what President Eisenhower would say if he could see the spawn of ARPANET. Perhaps his only response would be, “Come visit my homepage at!”


The Quintessential History of the Internet *** makes history come to life with his engaging writing style, humour and grasp of the subject matter. Be forewarned: the article is lengthy. Bookmark it – it is well worth it.

An Internet Timeline Albeit a bit technical for the novice, Robert Zakon presents a well-organized and well-linked timeline.

Internet Background and Basics A good, well-rounded site consisting of links to Search Engine basics and reviews, a History of the Internet, Communications Protocols, Internet Service Providers and more.

6th Georgia Institute of Technology Graphics, Visualization and Usability Center WWW Survey Offers raw data, text summaries and graphs of Internet demographics.

Matthew Gray of the Massachussetts Institute of Technology has compiled statistics on backbone usage over the last several years.