What is the history of the Internet, and how has it changed over time?
There is a lot more information moving along the Internet now then when it was first built by the U.S. Department of Defense's Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) in 1969. That primitive version of the Internet was called ARPAnet. ARPAnet was built to help universities and researchers collaborate on projects and conduct research without having to be in the same place. In some ways the Internet hasn't changed much in its 30-plus years -- it is still a tool for communicating and sharing information. But now, the Internet is no longer just for researchers and universities; it is open to students, teachers, companies, and pretty much anybody with a computer, a modem, and an Internet Service Provider
All the different types of computers connected together on the Internet need a way to communicate with each other -- a common "language." There are many such Internet "languages" -- these are called protocols. Using standard protocols makes it possible for any computer that uses them to talk to any other computer that is also using the same protocol.
As mentioned above, the Internet was first built to share information and increase communication among universities and researchers -- for instance, so that professors could read each other's research papers. The researchers also wanted to talk about them with other researchers, ask compelling questions, get answers to questions they couldn't solve, and correct their colleagues when they were wrong. Not only that, they wanted to do all of this at any time of the day or night, and they didn't want to have to wait for their fellow researcher in, say, Iceland to be in her office. Naturally, the first Internet protocols were designed to serve these functions. To make sure they could communicate in these ways, the early Internet pioneers designed three protocols that we still use: e-mail, newsgroups
2, and mailing lists
3. These new tools made it possible for researchers to talk to each other all the time, and it made their research environment very dynamic. Not only could they read a colleague's paper, they could ask her questions about it!
Does this resemble the interactions that take place in schools or between teachers? Can you see how the Internet might be useful in a school environment, too? How many schools have access to an ichthyologist, geologist, or classical historian when students or teachers have a question they're stuck on? How many times have you struggled to build a lesson and wanted feedback from other, experienced teachers, with resources and suggestions? Have your students ever had classroom pen pals whose replies took so long that you were on a different subject by the time they arrived? The issues that teachers and students sometimes face are very similar to the problems encountered by the researchers who created the Internet.
It was the need to easily exchange research data that also eventually led to the development of the World Wide Web (WWW), a now-vast collection of linked, multimedia "pages" that can be viewed on the Internet. Scientists and professors wanted one program that would allow them to do all the things that the earlier protocols did separately -- so that one application could allow them to search for information, download it, discuss it with others, and view video or hear audio.
The Web has made the use of the various protocols like mailing lists, newsgroups, and other discussion forums easy: With a browser, you can do what early users had to use 5 - 6 different protocols to achieve. Collaborating across time, accessing up-to-the-second data, speaking with colleagues in distant countries, and viewing or hearing their latest projects and papers is easier, faster, and cheaper than ever before.
For more information about the history and growth of the Internet:
Computer Museums Internet History Site