What would your workplace be like if you didn’t have the Internet? Instead of doing a quick Google search for your presentation, you’d have to travel to the library and spend hours researching through books. Instead of advertising your products online, you’d reach a much smaller audience. Instead of sending emails and chatting online with clients, you’d have to send mail-which wouldn’t arrive for days.

The Internet has changed the way we do business, allowing us to reach more people and information quicker than our ancestors could have ever dreamed. The Internet’s beginnings started out small with a simple motivation-communication.

Early Beginnings: The Telegraph

The notion of the Internet began in the 19th century with the telegraph system. Like the Internet, the telegraph system relied on the concept of submitting data between two devices.

When inventors created computers, they also developed technologies that would allow for data communication between two machines. However, this communication was not possible without a physical link between the computers.

Then J.C.R. Lacklider proposed the idea of an Intergalactic Computer Network. He noticed how inconvenient it was to switch computers and terminals each time he wanted to contact someone, and he thought about how much simpler it would be to connect all the terminals. His idea would eventually lead to the Internet’s development.

But before the Internet could become a reality, engineers needed to develop a concept called packet switching. With packet switching, a system breaks down data into “packets,” sends the data, and then re-assembles the packets into the original file.

Birth of ARPANET

ARPANET is considered the principle precursor to the Internet. Researchers first tested it between UCLA and the Stanford Research Institute in 1969. Researchers on one end began to type the word “login” while researchers on the other end watched the letters appear on their screen. The system crashed after the “G” was typed, but the problem was soon remedied.

By 1972, 23 computers were connected to ARPANET. The system soon incorporated electronic mail, or email. Computer scientist Ray Tomlinson chose the “@” symbol to split up the sender’s name and the network name in an email address.

Birth of the Internet

ARPANET paved the way for two researchers, Bob Kahn and Vint Cerf, considered the creators of the Internet. Their research led to the development of the Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP), which allows data packets to get where they need to go without getting lost along the way.

Now computers could exchange information effectively, and the Internet was born. The Internet got its name from the term internetworking. Symbolics.com became the first registered website domain in 1985. Now, just 20 years later, there are millions of websites-actually, half a billion, according to a 2012 survey.

While you might not have heard of Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn, you may have heard the myth that Al Gore invented the Internet. In reality, Gore claimed he “took the initiative in creating the Internet”-essentially saying he had passed legislation to support the new technology. Vint Cerf has publically thanked Gore for his political support for computer communication.

Birth of the World Wide Web

Many people think of the Internet and the World Wide Web as one in the same, but this isn’t true. At first, there were several competing systems. Invented by Tim Berners-Lee in 1989, the WWW is clearly the most widely used Internet system used today.

What makes the WWW so effective? A few things:

  • The openness (anyone can contribute for free)
  • The hypertext system (simple, one-directional links)
  • The URL format (locates a website within the network)
  • HTML (a standardized system to describe web pages)

For the WWW to work, you need a web browser, a software application that retrieves information. The first web browser, WorldWideWeb, was only available on high-cost systems. Mosaic was one of the earliest and most popular web browsers and has inspired modern browsers like Firefox and Internet Explorer.

The Future of the Internet

From JavaScript to modems, inventions have continued to make the Internet easier to use. One of the biggest changes to the Internet has been the introduction of fiber-optic communication. Instead of electrical transmission, optical fibers send information through pulses of light and can handle many separate channels. Fiber-optic Internet could increase signal strength and speed.

Colocation is yet another invention that could increase the Internet’s effectiveness. With colocation, companies house their servers in a professional datacenter. This is helpful for businesses with a large network; the colocation service keeps their network fast, reliable, and secure against cyber-attacks.

Next time you load a website or send an email, remember how much the Internet helps you every day. Feel gratitude for the people who have worked to make the Internet a possibility and for the IT professionals who keep your business’s network up and running.