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History and timeline of the World Wide Web's evolution

It's as though the World Wide Web has been with us forever; but it was around March of 1989 that Tim Berners-Lee published a paper call Information Management: A Proposal, that detailed how the World Wide Web would operate. 

But there were plenty of other players involved well before Berners-Lee whose ideas and invention provided him with many of the components of the World Wide Web we commonly use today.

The following is a very brief history, statistics and selected evolutionary highlights of the Internet and World Wide Web to date; gathered from dozens of sources and cross-referenced where possible for accuracy.


The U.S. Department of Defense launched the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) which developed a rudimentary Internet in the 1960's - what the WWW rides on. It's interesting to note that ARPA came about due to perceived threats relating to the Cold War. This Department of Defense project would evolve into ARPANET in the years to come and be made accessible to all.


Leonard Kleinrock at MIT publishes the first paper on packet switching theory in July 1961. Douglas Englebart developed NLS - an online hyperlinking system - and also invented the mouse; an essential tool that wouldn't gain popularity until nearly 20 years later. I seem to remember reading something that back in the 60's, a mouse system would set you back around half a million dollars :). Ted Nelson coins the term "hypertext".


Ray Tomlinson developed the first electronic mail system. Bob Kahn and Vint Cerf develop the TCP/IP networking protocols which are still the workhorses of the Internet today. Ethernet was also developed during this decade.

 The first spam message was sent by a DEC marketing representative to a slew of ARPANET addresses in 1978.


The Domain Name System (DNS) was introduced in 1984. DNS translates domain names into IP addresses and vice versa. It was also in 1984 that Apple launched the first personal computer.

Fidonet, the first dialup network to connect personal computers, was established in 1983.

Tim Berners-Lee published a paper call Information Management: A Proposal, that detailed how the World Wide Web would operate in 1989. He creates a hyperlinked database system for use in connecting databases across a closed network.


Berners-Lee coined the World Wide Web term. It was actually the name of the browser he created. The first Web server and Web page at nxoc01.cern.ch was also trialed late that year; but it was only accessible via invitation. nxoc01.cern.ch was later renamed to info.cern.ch, which is still active today.


Berners-Lee web server and browser was made publicly accessible after making this announcement and other servers began appearing around the world. 


By the end of 1992, there were about 26 publicly accessible sites available on the World World Wide web.

Surfing the Internet" is coined by Jean Armour Polly.


Marc Andreessen and Eric Bina release the first version of the Mosaic browser. This is the first browser to support the display of images. 

The first image based banner ad is also sold during this year by Global Net Navigator (GNN) which was the first commercially supported web publication. HotWired soon follows by selling a banner ad placement on their site, a copy of which can be viewed here.


The world's first search engines, Web Crawler and Lycos, are launched. Jerry Yang and David Filo publish "Jerry's Guide to the World Wide Web" online, which will evolve into Yahoo. The first version of Netscape Navigator is also released.

The first secure ecommerce transaction is reported to have occurred Aug. 11, 1994. The product was the CD "Ten Summoner's Tales" by Sting. The Fraunhofer Society release the first software MP3 encoder called l3enc.

The first banner ad appears on HotWired.com


The first audio streaming service is released - RealAudio, Jeff Bezos launches Amazon.com, eBay launches, Craig Newmark founds Craigslist and Internet Explorer 1.0 is released. On October 24, 1995, the FNC passed a resolution defining the term Internet.

PHP's predecessor, PHP/FI, which stood for Personal Home Page / Forms Interpreter was created by Rasmus Lerdorf during this year.

1995 also saw the first pop-up ads come into existence; much to the joy of marketers and horror of many surfers :).

The Internet has 16 million users worldwide.


Larry Page and Sergey Brin begin work on BackRub, the precursor to Google. Yahoo hits the stock market. Amazon.com launches a book store and the world's first online affiliate program. A quarter of a million sites are reported to exist.

The first recorded mention of phishing occurs on January 2, 1996.

The Internet financial boom begins.


The word "weblog" is first used by Jorn Barger and Macromedia acquires FutureSplash which is re-released as Flash 1.0.

The domain name, google.com was registered


Google.com is launched and America Online buys Netscape Communications. By this time there were approximately three quarters of a million commercial sites on the world wide web. PayPal was founded in late 1998 by American Peter Thei. 

The V.90 56Kbps modem standard was approved Sept, 1998. In May/June 1998, the first primitive DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) tools are developed.

The first comparison shopping site, MySimon, is launched and Goto.com introduces Pay Per Click advertising.

The Internet has 147 million users worldwide.


The first massively multiplayer role-playing game (MMRPG), EverQuest, is released. The term "blog" is coined by Peter Merholz. Napster is also launched during this year.

Netscape's reign is over and Microsoft's Internet Explorer has almost 100% of browser market.


The NASDAQ peaks in March - and then begins to dive, heralding the commencement of the infamous dot-com bubble burst. Some of the high profile companies who went bust over the following 12 months included GovWorks.com, Kibu.com, Go.com, MVP.com,, Boo.com, eToys.com, Flooz.com, Kozmo.com, Pets.com and Webvan.com 

Inktomi states the indexable web now surpasses 1 billion pages. ICANN finalizes new TLDs which are .aero, .biz, .coop, .info, .museum, .name and .pro 

10,000,000 domain names have been registered early in the year and there are 20,000,000 web sites on the Internet by late 2000.

TamingTheBeast.net is launched under its own domain after being hosted on free ISP space for nearly 3 years ;).


Apple launches iTunes. The fallout from the dot-com bubble burst continues to thin out the herd of high-flyers, banner advertising prices crash, putting many smaller companies dependent on ad revenue in a precarious position.

Wikipedia is launched

The Internet has 500 million users


Mozilla 1.0, which will eventually evolve into Firefox, is released. At that point in time, Internet Explorer has a 95 percent share of the browser market.

Technorati, a blog search engine is officially unveiled with 12,000 weblogs indexed. As of the time of writing this in September 2006, Technorati currently tracks 54 million blogs.


MySpace is launched, which then rapidly grows into the world's largest social networking service. The term "Web 2.0" was coined and defined in a conference brainstorming session between O'Reilly and MediaLive International.

Google AdSense precursor launched in March of 2003.  At that point, deals were negotiated with high traffic site owners directly; smaller publishers were not accepted into the program.

The term "splog" is coined to describe spam blogs that were created to boost the search engine rankings of sites they linked to. Splogs would be better known later for existing purely to to generate revenue through contextual advertising.

Yahoo acquires Overture.

Instant messaging (IM) is generating five billion messages a day


The first version of Firefox is released and soon becomes a serious contender to Internet Explorer's stranglehold. Google undergoes IPO via Dutch Auction format.

Facebook is launched

The role of blogs becomes increasingly mainstream.


Jesse James Garrett coins the term AJAX and YouTube.com launches.

Google launches blog search, but Technorati is still entrenched as the blog search leader.


Social networking sites and services sprout up like adolescent acne and the term "Web 2.0" becomes a mantra :). 

Twitter was founded in March 2006 as a research and development project.

According to MessageLabs, the global ratio of spam in email traffic rises to 64.8% of all global email.

There are approximately 92 million Web sites.


The term "bacn" comes into usage. Bacn refers to the many email alerts received by subscribers and members of social networking services that threaten to inundate their inboxes. 

Spam now comprises 90% of all enterprise email.

Netscape announces the browser will no longer be developed or supported from February 1, 2008

Google celebrates its 10th birthday

1.1 billion people are using the Internet and women now outnumber men online.

120,000 new blogs are being being created globally every day


China now has the largest online population in the world

over 162 million Top Level Domain Names (TLDs) were registered up until the end of the first quarter of 2008

Google’s launches new entry into the web browser sphere - Google Chrome

According to Nielsen Online, 79% of US consumers have made an online purchase in the last 6 months.

Over 100.1 million web sites were in operation as of March 2008


The Internet now has 1.5 billion users and there are over 100 billion live web pages.


It's been quite a rocket ride for the Internet after a slow ramp up until 1991. While the World Wide Web began as a tool to aid physicists, like many other revolutionary inventions, it actually had its roots in the military in terms of having a ready made conduit on which to be relayed. It's nice to see that tax dollars spent on defense can actually wind up creating something other than tools to kill humans.

As for the argument that many purists put forth about the Web never being intended for commercial purposes; I  like to quote Tim Berners-Lee, the recognized father of the WWW who said:

"Buying books from Amazon.com and stocks from E-trade is not all there is to the Web. Neither is the Web some idealized space where we must remove our shoes, eat only fallen fruit, and eschew commercialism." (From the book - Weaving the Web)

I've often wondered how Mr. Berners-Lee really feels about his creation. If I was in his shoes, I'd certainly feel rather overwhelmed at how quickly my invention had transformed society. I certainly tip my hat to him - it's provided me with a means of communicating with the world, a career and a successful business.

Given how far the web has come in such a short time, the mind boggles as to how it will look in even just 5 years from now.

Michael Bloch
Taming the Beast
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