10 Things You Should Know About the Internet

Written by Alex

“[The Internet] is not a truck. It’s a series of tubes.” – U.S. Senator Ted Stevens

Ah, the Internet: you use it every day for school, work or fun. In such a short period of time, the Net has grown into an essential every day thing that it’s hard to imagine life without it.

But how much do you know about the Internet? Did you know that you have the Soviets to thank for this wonderful invention? Or that despite the flack that he got for inventing the Internet, Al Gore actually did play a major role in the creation of the Net?

Here are the 10 Things You Should Know About the Internet:

1. Sputnik: Kick in the Pants that Launched the Net

In 1957, the Soviet launched Sputnik (Russian for “traveling companion” or “satellite”), the first man-made object to orbit the Earth. It was a big surprise to the United States, who feared that it was falling behind technologically against its Cold War enemy.

In direct response to Sputnik, President Dwight D. Eisenhower directed the Department of Defense to create the Advanced Research Projects Agency or ARPA in 1958. One of its research programs was headed by Dr. J.C. R. Licklider (or simply “Lick”), who convinced the U.S. Government to create a computer network, which would later evolve into the Internet.

Licklider, in his epic 1963 memo to “Members and Affiliates of the Intergalactic Computer Network” (Yes, that’s right – “Intergalactic”) explored the challenges in creating ARPANET, the precursor to today’s Internet.

So, who says war isn’t good for anything? The Internet is arguably one of the most important technologies that came out of the Cold War.

2. Before The Internet, There Was ARPANET

The logical map of the first 4 nodes of the ARPANET in December 1969, as sketched by Larry Roberts. (Image: The Computer History Museum)

In 1969, after Licklider left ARPA, his successors Ivan Sutherland, Bob Taylor, Larry Roberts and colleagues created the network that would later become the Internet. The initial ARPANET consisted of four nodes (or computers called Interface Message Processors, which would later evolve into routers) located in UCLA, Stanford Research Institute, UC Santa Barbara, and University of Utah:

First ARPANET IMP Log – CSK refers to Charles S. Kline, the very first person ever to login to a remote host via the ARPANET
(Image: The Computer History Museum)

The programmers in Westwood (UCLA – Ed.) were to type “log” into their computer, with the SRI computer in Palo Alto filling out the rest of the command, adding “in.”

“We set up a telephone connection between us and the guys at SRI,” Kleinrock recalled. “We typed the L, and we asked on the phone, ‘Do you see the L?’ ‘Yes, we see the L,’ came the response. We typed the O, and we asked, ‘Do you see the O?’ ‘Yes, we see the O.’ Then we typed the G, and the system crashed!” They immediately rebooted and this time, ARPANET sprung to life. (Source)

It would take a couple more years until ARPANET became popular. Indeed, in 1973, Bob Bell of Digital Equipment Corporation noted that the NET was a really busy place on Friday nights (well, geeks will be geeks!):

I remember hearing that there was an ARPANET “conference” on the Star Trek game every Friday night. Star Trek was a text based game where you used photon torpedos and phasers to blast Klingons. (Source)

3. Packet Switching: The Way the Internet Works

We won’t get too technical here, but the way information travels through the Internet is pretty neat. Take for instance, how data gets from point A to point B (say, the text and images from this webpage from the Neatorama servers to your browser). One way to do it is to open a channel from point A to B: data is transmitted in a dedicated circuit until all the data is transfered along the same path. It’s a pretty fast way to send information, but it comes at a high cost: a dedicated circuit has to remain open until the last bit of data is sent. This method is called circuit switching and it’s the system used by telephone companies.

In the early 1960s, Paul Baran, Donald Davies and Leonard Kleinrock, working independently, came up with a different way to send data. First, large chunks of data are divided into several small packets that are sent through the network. Each packet may take a different route to reach its destination. Once every packet has arrived, then they are re-assembled into the original data.

Packet switching may sound counterintuitive (it is slower than circuit switching and packets may get lost, thus requiring a re-send), but it has its advantages. For one, because there is no single path of communication, the packets can route themselves to avoid damaged or congested networks.

At the time, U.S. authorities were worried how a computer network would survive a nuclear attack, so when Baran proposed the packet switching method (he called it the “hot-potato routing” or “distributed communications” – it was Davies that named it “packet switching”), the military threw its support for the method.

4. TCP/IP: The Language of the Internet

In 1973, Vint Cerf (who is often called the “father of the Internet”) and Bob Kahn created the TCP/IP suite of communication protocols – basically a language used by computers to talk to each other in a network.

The TCP/IP protocol is so simple that, as an 1990 April Fool’s joke, D. Waitzman of the Internet Engineering Task Force proposed that pigeons be used to carry IP traffic!

A decade later, IP over Avian Carriers was actually implemented by the Bergen Linux user group. They released 9 packets over a distance of 3 miles and actually got 4 responses (that’s a packet loss ratio of 55% and a response time between 3,000 to 6,000 seconds).

5. Al Gore Actually Did Create the Internet. Sort Of.

“Remember America, I gave you the Internet and I can take it away,” joked Al Gore on the Late Show with David Letterman.

Okay, I was being cheeky with that heading. But here’s the story: During the 2000 U.S. Presidential Election, Al Gore took quite a drubbing for the claim that he “invented” the Internet. Problem was, Gore made no such claim. During an interview with Wolf Blitzer on CNN, Gore was asked how he would distinguish himself from others, and he replied:

During my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet. I took the initiative in moving forward a whole range of initiatives that have proven to be important to our country’s economic growth and environmental protection, improvements in our educational system. …

Though the term “initiative in creating the Internet” is vague, Gore did quite a bit of legislative work in creating a high-capacity national data network that is a significant part of the Internet. And don’t forget: though Gore didn’t coin it, he did popularize the term “information superhighway.”

For more, read “Al Gore and the Creation of the Internet” by Richard Wiggins.

6. Father of Spam: Gary Thuerk Sent the First Email Spam

Spamming is an old marketing technique – the very first spam was a dentist advertising his services via telegram in 1864. Then, as in now, people who got the unsolicited telegrams got really mad – some even wrote the local newspaper complaining of the advertising tactic. But when the paper reprinted the telegram, the dentist just got free publicity!

The first email spam was sent by Digital Equipment Corporation’s marketing manager Gary Thuerk in 1978 to 393 recipients on ARPANET. He was advertising the availability of a new model of DEC computers. The Wall Street Journal has an interview with Thuerk (along with a reprint of the original email):

From a marketing standpoint, the email was a success: About 20 people came to each of Thuerk’s open houses, and he estimates it led to more than $12 million in sales. But the email also earned Thuerk instant notoriety. “People started complaining immediately,” he tells the Business Technology Blog. Someone from the Rand Corporation sent him a letter telling him he broke the rules of the ARPANET, the Internet’s predecessor. (There was an unwritten rule that people wouldn’t use the ARPANET to sell things; Thuerk tells us he only promoted a product.) A major from the defense communications agency called Thuerk’s boss and made him promise that Thuerk would never send an email like that again.

Thuerk has embraced his place in history as the father of spam. It’s landed him in the Guinness Book of World Records, and he does promotional work for anti-spam companies from time to time. He says people have one of three reactions when they meet him: Some are excited to meet someone with an unusual claim to fame; some want to beat him up on the spot; and others just avoid him like the plague. (Source)

7. The Sexy Web: 12% of Websites = Porn!

Grandma’s reaction to 2 girls 1 cup. If you don’t know what this is all about, consider yourself lucky. Very lucky. [YouTube Link]

We can’t talk about the web without talking about porn. The amount of smut available on the Net and our appetite for it are astonishing. Here are some statistics on porn from Jerry Ropelato of Top Ten Reviews (who claimed that all of them come from reputable sources)

Pornographic websites: 4.2 million (12% of total websites)
Pornographic pages: 420 million
Daily pornographic search engine requests: 68 million (25% of total search engine requests)
Daily pornographic emails: 2.5 billion (8% of total emails)
Internet users who view porn: 42.7%
Worldwide visitors to pornographic web sites: 72 million visitors (monthly)
Internet pornography sales: $4.9 billion

Every second, 28,258 Internet users are viewing pornography
Every second, 372 Internet users are typing adult search terms into search engines

Statistics from GOOD Magazine:

35% of all Internet downloads are pornographic in nature
Every day 266 new porn sites appear on the Internet
“Sex” is the most searched word on the Internet
70% of Internet porn traffic occurs during the 9-5 workday
US produced 89% of all online porn

For more, check out Internet Pornography Statistics | GOOD Magazine video [a bit NSFW] on porn statistics

8. The Rise of the Blogosphere

Blogs (short for web logs) are regularly updated journal published on the Web. According to Technorati, there are about 112.8 million blogs on the Web right now, with 175,000 new blogs added every day. That’s about 122 new blogs a minute or 2 blogs a second!

The term “weblog” was coined by John Barger on December 17, 1997 to describe his website Robot Wisdom that “logged” the links he collected while surfing the Net – as such, his website got the distinction of being the world’s first blog*. (The contraction “blog,” which arguably became a more popular word, was coined in 1999 by Peter Merholz of Peterme.com who playfully broke up the word into we blog).

[*Note: yes, technically there are blogs that preceded Robot Wisdom, though they were never called “blogs.” For example, Justin Hall of Justin’s Links from the Underground (now defunct) started his website in 1994.]

Blogging became more popular in 1999, with the creation of hosted blog tools that made writing for and managing a blog easier (like Pitas.com, LiveJournal, and Blogger.com) Today, blogs have become mainstream – newspapers have ’em, corporations have ’em – and heck, even politicians have ’em.

So whatever happened to Jorn Barger, the world’s first blogger? Paul Boutin of Wired Magazine wrote about his encounter with Jorn, homeless and broke, on the streets of San Francisco:

Homeless and broke at age 53, [Barger] allowed the domain registration for robotwisdom.com to lapse and can’t afford to re-up it. He has abandoned his Chicago apartment and is staying on Andrew’s floor while he tries to get back on his feet. He’s looking for work – sort of. After a few hands-in-pockets attempts at small talk, we give up. I continue up the hill.

A few weeks later, I find out that Barger has recovered his domain – and Robot Wisdom pops back up online. I hunt him down for a pint at a local pub and he tells me he’s moving on, this time to Memphis. He says he avoids the need for a job by living on less than a dollar a day. “I was carrying a cardboard sign when we met that day,” he tells me. “I wasn’t sure if I should show it to you. I figured if things didn’t work out with Andrew I could pick up some change.” On his panhandler sign, Barger had written:

Coined the term ‘weblog,’ never made a dime. (Source)

9. Surprise! There’s a Third YouTube Co-Founder

Before there was YouTube, there was … a dating site called Tune In Hook Up?! Yes, that was the first version of YouTube that completely failed (Source: article by Jim Hopkins at USA Today, from where I shamelessly, um, co-opted the heading).

The YouTube we all know and love got started when former Paypal employees Chad Hurley, Steve Chen, and Jawed Karim wanted to share some videos from a dinner party only to realize that the video clip was too huge for email. Posting the video online wasn’t easy either – since video websites back then accept some but not all video clip formats.

So the trio went to create YouTube in 2005 – and a little over a year later, the website streamed 100 million videos per day and got 70,000 videos uploaded per day (roughly 1 per second). It was the fastest growing website in the history of the Internet. It was estimated that in 2007, YouTube consumed as much bandwidth as the entire Internet in 2000!

Hurley and Chen sold the company to Google for a cool $1.65 billion … so what happened to Jawed? He left active role at the company to be a graduate student in computer science before it was sold (but he didn’t leave empty handed – Jawed got about $64 million in stocks when YouTube was acquired by Google).

Oh, and of course: the first video clip on YouTube was uploaded at 8:27 pm on Saturday April 23rd, 2005. It was of Jawed himself (shot by Yakov Lapitsky) at the San Diego Zoo:

10. The Rise of Social Networking and Social Media

In a way, the Web is a big social network. Even before there was the Web, BBSes served as online communities where people chatted and collaborated. But the term “social networking” became a buzzword when it was reported in 2005 that MySpace had more pageviews than Google (Source).

But before MySpace, there was Classmates.com (launched in 1995) and SixDegrees.com (launched in 1997, dead by 2001). Afterwards, more successful websites followed: Friendster, MySpace, Orkut, LinkedIn and Facebook. And how successful were they? MySpace was sold to Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. for $580 million and Facebook is now valued in the billions of dollars).

There’s a social networking website for everybody under the sun: Like movies? There’s Flixster. Online games? Avatars United. Anime? Gaia Online. Books? LibraryThing and so on. (Wikipedia has a huge list of social networking sites here)

On the other side of the new Internet are social media websites. The term “social media” is kind of a hodgepodge (Wikipedia, blogs like Neatorama, and videosharing websites like YouTube can all be classified as social media). But all of them have one thing in common: they encourage active interaction and participation of their users.

An interesting subset of the social media websites are social news sites like Digg, reddit and Mixx. These user-driven websites let people discover and share content on the Internet in a social way: users submit and vote on others’ submissions to determine which links get featured prominently on the websites’ front pages.

But there is a darker-side to social media website. The “Digg Revolt” on May 1, 2007 (remember that?), over the AACS encryption key controversy illustrates how the “social” in social media can be a double-edged sword:

Photo: rtomayko [Flickr]

Digg.com has become one of the Web’s top news portals by putting the power to choose the news in the hands of its users. Just how much power they wield, however, only became clear Tuesday night, when Digg turned into what one user called a “digital Boston Tea Party.”

When the site’s administrators attempted to prevent users from posting links to pages revealing the copyright encryption key for HD-DVD discs, Digg’s users rebelled. Hundreds of references to the code flooded the site’s submissions, filling its main pages and overwhelming the administrators’ attempts to control the site’s content. (Source)

Ultimately, Digg admins capitulated to its users’ demands and stopped deleting stories with the forbidden codes.

Bonus: Internet ? World Wide Web

Most people use Internet (or Net) and World Wide Web (or Web) interchangeably – but in reality, they’re quite different:

โ€ข The Internet is a global system of interconnected computer networks – these computers exchange data (hypertext documents like the one you’re reading now, emails, file transfers, and so on).

โ€ข The Web is a system of documents linked via hypertext that is accessed via the Internet – so the Web is just a part of the Internet.

The Web was created in 1989 by Tim Berners-Lee (now Sir Tim Berners-Lee, as he was knighted in 2004 for his contributions to the Web) while he was working at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva, Switzerland. Sir Berners-Lee was just 34 years old at the time. (Photo credit: captsolo [Flickr])

Berners-Lee’s very first Web was a project called ENQUIRE (named after his favorite book: Enquire Within Upon Everything, a 1856 how-to book for domestic life). In 1989, Berners-Lee and Robert Cailliau wrote a proposal to CERN management about a global information management system to keep track of accelerators and equipments and for scientists to share data. Berners-Lee originally considered calling it “Information Mesh,” “The Information Mine” (which was turned down because the acronym TIM is his first name), and “Mine of Information.” He later chose “World Wide Web” when he was writing the code in 1990.

A client/server model for a distributed hypertext system, as proposed by Sir Tim Berners-Lee

By Christmas of 1990, Berners-Lee had put together the world’s first Web: a web browser (written in Objective-C, by the way), a web server (his NeXT cube computer) and a web page (yes, that would make it the world’s first web page – archived here on w3: Link). The first practical use of the Web was a CERN telephone directory, to encourage its employees to it!

World’s first web server: Tim Berners-Lee’s NeXT cube, on which he scribbled: This machine is a server. DO NOT POWER IT DOWN!

Photo: Robert Scoble [Flickr]

The Web is now huge: according DomainTools, there are currently over 103.6 million active domains (and over 348 million dead ones) on the World Wide Web. Last week, Google announced that it has indexed 1 trillion (as in 1,000,000,000,000) web pages (about 903,000 of which mentioned Neatorama ๐Ÿ™‚ ):

We’ve known it for a long time: the web is big. The first Google index in 1998 already had 26 million pages, and by 2000 the Google index reached the one billion mark. Over the last eight years, we’ve seen a lot of big numbers about how much content is really out there. Recently, even our search engineers stopped in awe about just how big the web is these days — when our systems that process links on the web to find new content hit a milestone: 1 trillion (as in 1,000,000,000,000) unique URLs on the web at once!

9 thoughts on “10 Things You Should Know About the Internet

  1. Candace

    Very interesting article.
    I’d heard most of this before, with the exception of the history of spamming. Who’d thunk it that a dental marketing campaign was the very first form of spam (even before computers were a remote possibility). Now it is so commonplace – my son even uses the term to apply to junk mail in the postal box.
    Great site, thanks for all the interesting content.

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