THE BLOG
09/11/2014 08:59 am ET Updated Nov 11, 2014

10 Fascinating Ideas That Changed The Internet

1. The idea of the Internet was born in Belgium. In 1891 Belgian bibliophile, Paul Otlet, conceived the Mundaneum, a comprehensive collection of the world's published knowledge, all linked through index cards. As the Mundaneum grew, Otlet put his mind to new technologies that would help manage the annotation of these documents. In 1935, he described his vision for a télé photographie, an electronic telescope which could transmit any document in the world to a television screen, "thus in his armchair, anyone would be able to contemplate the whole of creation or particular parts of it."

2. The Internet was actually born outside a biker bar in Silicon Valley. In the early 1970s, several packet-switching computer networks existed. Robert Kahn and Vint Cerf had the idea of joining them up. To do this, they would need a common set of rules, they called these rules the Internet Protocol Suite. One of these networks was a packet radio system that operated out of a converted bread van operated by students at the Stanford Research Institute. On 22nd November 1977, parked outside a bar called Zotts, the van successfully sent a message to London via Norway and back to California by satellite. It travelled 90,000 miles in two seconds.

3. The first web browser allowed websites to be navigated in a linear fashion. When Tim Berners created the first web-page, he also invented the first web browser. This web browser was a browser-editor, it could be used to create pages as well as view them. It also allowed visitors to follow links sequentially, in an order determined by the author.

4. The technology that underpins WiFi was invented by a Hollywood actress. Hedy Lammar, star of Samson and Delilah, was previously married to an Austrian arms dealer. A recurring subject of conversation with his fascist customers was how to stop the enemy from jamming the signal of radio-guided torpedoes. Jewish-born Hedy, with a secret love of science, quietly set her mind to coming up with the solution. She fled to America, where she shared her ideas with the US Navy.

5. The first web celebrity was a coffee pot. In 1991 at Cambridge University's Computer Laboratory, students tackled a problem that had previously proved beyond the world's most brilliant minds, how to avoid fruitless trips to the coffee pot. Step forward Quentin Stafford-Fraser and Paul Jardetzky, who set up a camera opposite the coffee machine and wrote a program that captured images every 30 seconds. No longer would their fellow students make the journey to the coffee pot in vain. Two years later, the coffee pot went online, becoming an international sensation overnight.

6. Pepperoni and mushroom with extra cheese. The first thing purchased on the Web was, you guessed it, a pizza. PizzaNet, Pizza Hut's website, allowed customers in Santa Cruz, California, to order online. It was the first ecommerce site.

7. Hey you, get off my cloud. On 24 June 1993, Silicon Valley garage band Severe Tire Damage performed the first live concert on the Net. Their 152 x 76-pixel live stream used half the available bandwidth of the entire internet. The following year, the Rolling Stones broadcast their Voodoo Lounge tour over the Net using the same technology, the Internet Multicast Backbone. STD decided to open up for them -- without asking. Mick Jagger called them 'Furry Geeks', but he also went on to say the surprise opening act was 'a good reminder of the democratic nature of the internet.' Well said, Mick.

8. Humans are still good for something. The Turing Test, devised in 1950, tests a machine's ability to exhibit behaviour indistinguishable from a human. Fifty years later, Luis von Ahn turned his thoughts towards how the Turing Test could help prevent spam. His idea was to get users to identify a distorted sequence of letters. He called his invention a CAPTCHA, for Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart. Sometimes a CAPTCHA has two strings of distorted letters rather than one. The second is a RECAPTCHA. Von Ahn has partnered with the Internet Archive, a non-profit organisation that scans books and puts them online. When its scanners find a word they can't read, it is turned into a RECAPTCHA. When enough humans decipher it consistently, the result is added to the text. Every day, about 200 million CAPCHA's are deciphered and millions of words are digitised.

9. Twitter stems from a courier company Jack Dorsey set up as a teenager. He wrote some software that constantly reported where couriers were and what work they're doing and realised he wanted that same thing for his friends. When he discovered text messages, he saw that it was the perfect platform for his updates programme. SMS would restrict his service to 160 characters, 140 if you reserved 20 for the user address but so what? Status updates were short and punchy anyway. Twitter was born.

10. Tim Berners-Lee vision for the web, is a World Wide Mind. This may sound far-fetched but it's already happening in small pockets across the Web. Take Facebook. People and applications interact to create an ever-smarter pool of knowledge. It is learning and interpreting our behavior. Facebook is thinking. The same is true of Amazon, Ebay, Twitter and many other websites. But like the physical world, this knowledge is locked away in silos. By sharing this intelligence across an open network, we could take a giant step closer to realizing the Semantic Web. A Web that thinks is a crazy thought but this future is not too far away. And it is not dissimilar to vision a Belgian bibliophile had in 1935.

Jim Boulton is the author of 100 Ideas That Changed the Web.

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