What is the internet?

To put it simply, the internet is a system of interconnected computers, known as computer networks, transcending both national and continental boundaries, spanning the globe. This network infrastructure enables information to be shared between all computers connected to it. It is within this interconnected computer infrastructure (or internet) that an enormous number of electronic documents are able to be accessed and viewed. The documents are linked to one another, so the user may effortlessly move from one document to the other. It is actually this linked web of documents that is known as the World Wide Web.

Earth at night

Earth at night. Picture credits: Nasa.

History

In the early 1960s, scientists experimented with methods in which data could be transmitted between computers. This technological research was commissioned at the height of the cold war, in order to find a way in which information could be securely transmitted between military bases, including missile silos, in the interest of national defence. This would enable communications to be maintained in the event of a large area attack.

US Titan II nuclear missile in a silo

US Titan II nuclear missile in a silo. Picture credits: The Titan Missile Museum, Pima County, Arizona, USA.

The first successful transmission of data was achieved using something called packet switches. Packet switching is the assembling of small blocks of data, referred to as packets. This technology was developed by British scientist Donald Davies.

Leonard Kleinrock

Leonard Kleinrock next to IMP1, the first node of the ARPANET. Picture credits: UCLA.

By the early 1970s, the research of American computer scientist Leonard Kleinrock helped develop one of the first packet switch networks, known as ARPANET, which proved successful in facilitating the transfer of information between computers located in various American universities. These early experiments and the technology used, evolved into the internet we know and use today.

Once the internet had been established throughout the existing network infrastructure of developed countries, members of the public were introduced to it for the first time. Most of these early users were students and staff of universities, with instructions of what the internet was and how to use it, being integrated into existing educational programs. According to research conducted by AT&T, the public internet traffic grew by about 100% during the early 1990s. Then, from ’95 to ’96 there was a giant growth spurt of about 1,000%, which then slowed back down to 100% in 1997.

Once launched, the internet started to establish itself among the percentage share of all two-way telecommunications. While during 1993, it is estimated that the Internet only carried about 1% of these transmissions, by the year 2000 it had reached 51%, and by 2007 over 97% of telecommunicated data was carried via the Internet.

By March 2011, it was estimated that there were over 2 billion internet users, which represents over 30% of the world’s population.