The First Website and The First E-Mail

Let’s take a step back first. The original concept of the internet was to connect university and government researchers in order to make it easier and less expensive for scientists to collaborate on projects, share data, and remotely access each other’s computers. Interconnecting Computer Networks is what the internet stands for. The first development was carried out by the United States Department of Defense in the 1960s. Originally, it used ARPANET  (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network) to connect Stanford Research Institute, the University of California at Los Angeles and Santa Barbara, and the University of Utah.

The ability to send mail electronically—via email—is critical to this collaboration. Ray Tomlinson, a computer engineer, sent the first e-mail message to himself on another machine in the room in 1971. If that isn’t enough of an anticlimax, he can’t remember what he said. He believes it was QWERTUIOP or something similar. (That’s what you get when you type across the top row of a keyboard.) Tomlinson was working for a company that had been hired by the US Department of Defense to build ARPANET at the time.

He was experimenting with the concept of an electronic messaging programme, which at the time could only send and receive messages between people who were using the same machine. So sending a message to another machine via ARPANET… even if it was in the same room… was a big deal. Tomlinson also invented the @ symbol, which is used to tell a computer where to send a message.

ARPANET’s best feature was e-mail, which gained popularity in the 1980s and early 1990s, along with newsgroups. That is, until Tim Berners Lee, an English particle physicist and computer scientist at the European Organization for Nuclear Research, or CERN, in Geneva, Switzerland, discovered a way to share more information among research teams.

(CERN is the world’s largest particle physics research facility.) It is where physicists investigate the composition of matter and the forces that hold it together).

On August 6, 1991, at 2:56:20 p.m., Tim Berners-Lee published the first Web page. Unfortunately, this site is no longer accessible, but CERN has a comprehensive history of the World Wide Web on their own Web site, as Berners-Lee and his colleagues’ work is regarded as one of their greatest achievements.

Berners-Lee proposed the World Wide Web concept in 1989, and it was realised within two years. His contributions are numerous, but the four most important things he created are:

  • The very first Web browser
  • HTML-Hyper Text Markup Language, the coding system for documents.
  • HTTP- Hypertext Transfer Protocol, the way computers communicate with Web sites.
  • URL-Uniform Resource Locator, the way we address things on the Web.

On December 12, 1991, Paul Kunz, a research scientist at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC) near Palo Alto, California, launched the first North American Website. It had three lines of text and two hyperlinks—not much to brag about. Others, however, were quick to pick up on the concept. After the first browser, Mosaic, was introduced at the University of Illinois in 1993, the Web spread faster than anyone could have imagined. There were 130 Websites by June 1993. There were 10,000 servers by the end of 1994. There were more than 1.4 billion unique Web sites in 2003, just ten years after Mosaic. Looking something up on the internet or sending an email is now an automatic part of most children’s lives. However, this technology has completely altered how people communicate with one another.

“QWERTUIOP” may not have been the best way to kick off the e-mail revolution, but there has been no turning back since that first message.

A little fun fact…

A group called Foundation Technologies has figured that the time it took various technologies to reach 50 million people was:

Telephone- 75 Years

Television-13 Years

The Web-4 Years

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