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  • Writer's pictureMaría Belén Gómez

Internet, initially a military network

How it began

It all began in 1969 with the creation of a foolproof communication standard: TCP/IP. This standard divides messages into packets that move in all directions before being reassembled when they arrive. This idea was developed on behalf of the Pentagon during the Cold War and has had a fruitful and exponential development. Since the 1950s, the U.S. government has been considering how to protect the state apparatus against a possible Soviet nuclear attack.

The solution came from the Rand Corporation, THE Cold War think tank. In 1964, a researcher named Paul Baran proposed the creation of a communications network, without a hub. If the network had had a central hub, so to speak, where all decisions were centralized, the Soviets would surely have aimed enough missiles at it to destroy it.

Therefore, it was proposed to create a series of nerve centers, all the same and interconnected, so that the network would continue to function even if several of them were destroyed.

Initially, the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) of the U.S. Department of Defense funded the first parts of this decentralized network, which was to connect researchers from universities, industry and the Department of Defense.

Thus, in December 1969, ArpaNet was born, consisting of four switching centers (three in California and one in Salt Lake City).

A network becomes scientific

Originally, the network was to allow Arpa researchers to perform serious calculations remotely, using software that they did not have but that their colleagues on the other side of the country might have on their computers.

However, in the 1970s, researchers connected to ArpaNet found a new use for the network. They began corresponding with colleagues about their research. As friendships developed, the network was used to exchange personal tips, right down to the latest jokes about Richard Nixon (then President of the United States).

As early as 1972, the first e-mail list was created: SF-Lovers, about science fiction. The playful character of the emerging network explains much of the current popularity of the Internet. For the first time, machines had a human face.

Soon the good news spread. North American universities gradually joined the network, each becoming a single hub (node) and giving researchers the opportunity to publish their work on its file transfer protocol (FTP) directory.

Over the years, Arpa gradually lost control over the development of the network. Researchers from all NATO countries joined their U.S. colleagues. In 1983, ArpaNet was separated from the rest of the network, which was renamed the Internet, International Network or Interconnected Network. From then on, it was the US National Science Foundation (NSF) that funded the so-called backbone, the spinal cord of the network. Gradually, other agencies, such as NASA or research institutions in other countries, and even companies, such as AT&T, connected their own communication networks to this backbone.

The network boom

Internet as 300x200 - Internet - What exactly is it? A definitionIn the 1990s, the Internet was introduced to the general public through a user-friendly system: the World Wide Web (WWW). The number of host computers on the network doubled every year until 1994, before growing exponentially in 1995. In the meantime, Mosaic and then Netscape Navigator, the first browsers, or more rarely viewers, appeared. The general public took over the Web. Search systems appeared, notably Yahoo! and then Google.

Millions of computer users equipped with modems discovered that they could retrieve the information they wanted with a simple click of the mouse. Like television, with a multitude of programs for all tastes, the Web seems to have no limits. Initially limited to American academics, the web has grown steadily. The Internet and the World Wide Web have become a new computing standard that did not exist before. Not content with offering the world the largest library of texts, sounds and images in history, they became the implicit support for many futuristic applications: video telephony, e-commerce, multi-user games.... Nobody had foreseen such an explosion and many specialists agree that they have never seen anything like it.

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