The Internet just turned 25-years-old, a milestone in what's arguably the most revolutionary invention of our time. From archaic dial-ups and angsty Myspace profiles, to viral YouTube videos and celebrity Twitter feeds, the last quarter century has been quite the ride. It is interesting, however, that billions of internet users visit countless websites each day, and very few of them understand how content arrives at their screens. As the internet celebrates this landmark age, I thought it would be interesting to review the fascinating history of its evolution.
In 1989, computer programmer and "father" of the web, Tim Berners-Lee, proposed the use of hypertext as a way of recording large amounts of data. He wanted to make this information accessible to a network of professionals, each of whom were in different locations. His idea was a success, and the web was born.
The web -- not yet worldwide -- enjoyed a few quiet years of infancy because it was unavailable to the general public. This changed in the early 90s, when it became available to everyone -- free of royalties. Web hosting emerged in 1991, and a meager 130 websites existed by 1993. The rest is history.
How Exactly Does All This Happen?
Every bit of data on the Internet is stored on servers. The client-server model emerged in the 90s, as the web grew into adolescence. This was essentially the landing space for shared information -- the place where Berners-Lee imagined his network of individuals would store their information.
Entire computers were dedicated to functioning as servers. As technology advanced, they were built with greater capacities and were designed to work more efficiently. There was eventually so much information shared via the Internet that telephone lines were required for users to stay connected. The era of telephone business signals and screechy log-ons had begun.
The web lived as an ornery, rebellious teen at this point, and the system proved both expensive and inefficient. Connectivity was easily lost -- not to mention time-consuming.
The Rise of Hosting
Web hosting companies began to emerge to help remedy these issues. Much like the name indicates, web hosts offer digital space for entities to store and share information. The host manages data organization, provides internet connectivity to the rest of the web, and monitors traffic. Popular host services eventually expanded; they also assisted with hardware and acted as Internet service providers, web designers, and technical assistance specialists.
Over the years, web hosts have been called upon for assistance with marketing services and products, connecting socially, sharing news, networking with colleagues and distributing photos of kids and cats -- among other things. As security vulnerabilities began to emerge, the hosting industry has undergone a rapid evolution to adjust, introducing new features, upgrades, and enhancements in a never-ending battle with would-be hackers.
The turn of the century brought greater technological advancements, and Internet use became rampant. Email became a reliable, realistic means of communication. Technical knowledge was not required to navigate the web, either. Online advertising boomed; teens settled into MySpace; chatting took place via AOL instant messaging, and eCommerce changed the world of consumerism. These days, the "cloud" enables servers to work together and combine resources, making the entire system much more cost-effective and manageable.
The web and its co-conspirator, the Internet, are still far from adulthood. Berners-Lee has identified a variety of areas that could be improved. Most of the world has yet to be connected to the Internet, for instance. There is some speculation regarding the use of drones to provide connectivity to remote areas of the world.
Berners-Lee is even rallying for an Internet-related Bill of Rights. Because cyberspace has become an environment unto itself, Berners-Lee believes that human rights within it should be recognized and protected. Some of Berners-Lee's ideas for online rights include affordable access for everyone, safety and security, freedom of expression and non-discrimination.
Considering the astonishing magnitude with which the web has grown since its birth, it's difficult to imagine how much it has yet to reveal. In all likelihood, web characteristics will continue to evolve in concurrence with the changing needs of consumers, the economy and even electronic devices themselves. It's only a matter of time before smartphones, laptops and tablets are considered items of the past, and dynamic new Internet-connected tools emerge.
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