The Internet and Written Communication

Kenneth M. Crosby

Early Computer Networks

User Base

A mainframe connected terminal

Early network communications between computers were often restricted geographically due to physical restrictions on the network and line usage costs. There was a significant hurdle in technical knowledge and cost of equipment to get on the network. Users at this time were primarily businessmen, bankers, researchers/students, and the military. The most common multi-user network setup at this time was provided through the use of terminals connected to a central computer. This network of terminals allowed sharing files, text based chat, and the exchange written messages.


Patch network

The Semi-Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE) built by IBM linked over 20 computing hubs across the US. It established communications between radar outposts and counter-attack aircraft allowing real-time interaction in the event of a national threat. SAGE helped to pioneer large networking in terms of geography and user-group size. It also made an impact in hardware development with its graphics consoles. Each was equipped with a large screen, user interface peripherals, built-in telephone, and... ashtray.

In 1964 IBM debuts its SABRE reservation system developed for American Airlines. The SABRE system networked over 2,000 terminals in 65 cities to a mainframe capable of delivering flight data in under three seconds. This was the birth of online transaction processing and is still the model for modern travel systems and websites like Travelocity.

December 9, 1968
Douglas Engelbart's Mother of All Demos

Douglas Engelbart

Engelbart's presentation at the Fall Joint Computer Conference demonstrated many of the base functionalities we see in modern computers. Intuitive navigation, graphics, windows, hypertext, word processing, the computer mouse, real-time collaboration, and more were shown in his 90 minute presentation. It was a glimpse at the future of computing.

Internetworking: The Need For A Unified Network


While thousands of computers were connected and sharing information at this time there was a major problem. They weren’t all on the same network. This inability to communicate with one another limited the size of online communities. The next technological hurdle was to network the networks. The research of Robert Kahn and Vinton Cerf at DARPA resulted in the creation of an “internetwork” protocol that allowed different networks to communicate with one another. The end result of their work, TCP/IP (Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol), would later be used to connect the two networks of Stanford and UCL in 1975. In November of 1977 it would be used again to connect three separate networks in the US, UK, and Norway.

Rise of The Bulletin Board Systems (BBS)


Networked computers had become more and more common with the birth of microcomputing and dial-up modem technology. The result was the formation of small communities in this new internetworked world. And, like any other community there was a need to communicate. The first public dial-up BBS was birthed during the Great Blizzard of 1978. While snowed in Ward Christensen and Randy Suess came together to create a communication platform modeled after a cork board their local computer club used to post information. These text based boards allowed users to speak publicly or privately through the BBS system. The 1980s would see an increase in data transfer speeds and commercialization of network technology. This meant more users and more data beyond simple text communications, spelling an end for the BBSs and their limited capabilities as the 1990s arrived.

Birth of The Internet

TCP/IP? Yes, Please!


The US Department of Defence declared TCP/IP to be the standard for all military computer networking in March of 1982. In January of 1983, TCP/IP replaces the Advanced Research Projects Agency network (ARPANET) and becomes permanently active. The next major push for TCP/IP was spread into the commercial market. The Internet Advisory Board (now, Internet Architecture Board) held a workshop in 1986 promoting TCP/IP. The three-day event was attended by over 250 representatives from the computer industry and helped to start larger corporations the likes of IBM, AT&T, and Microsoft in adopting TCP/IP over their own internal protocols. With major industry leaders onboard with the new network protocol the world-wide-web was less than a decade away from becoming a standard for basic computer systems.

CompuServe Goes Public


The ultimate factor in dial-up internet replacing the old BBS networks was the ability to contact multiple resources around the world through only one connection. Unlike the BBS where you had to place multiple calls and could initially connect to only one at a time, dial-up internet service providers allowed users to multitask on the internet, download data and continuing to surf the web simultaneously.

The first online service offering internet connectivity was CompuServe, in 1989. While access was limited initially, it offered e-mail services, thousands of forums that would replace the BBSs and become the predecessors to today's plethora of online discussion sites. Dial-up would begin the formation of the mass of online communities, files, and information that would form the world-wide-web.

Hello, World!

The First Web Browser/Editor

In December of 1990 programmer and physicist Tim Berners-Lee completes three months of work prototyping the “WorldWideWeb.” This consisted of a server, web browser, URLs, HTTP, and HTML. He envisioned a web of useful information linked together that would grow as people created content.

Berners-Lee with the help of volunteers adapts his browser for use on common platforms (UNIX, Mac, PC). With the distribution of the browser to multiple platforms the Web takes off. Berners-Lee’s creation was now out of his hands.

The World's Largest Community

Chris Dlugosz

By the end of 1996 the Web would have 36 million active users. In 2000 that number would be 360 million, and by 2010 over 2 billion people would be online.

Enter Web 2.0

Web 2.0

The web had largely been a passive user experience during the 1990s. It was consumed much like TV or Radio, with content being produced by providers. This was largely in part to the lack of editing capabilities previously found in the early Web. With the advent of Web 2.0 sites were beginning to find ways of allowing user interaction. Wikis, blogging, commenting, video and photo. The internet erupted into the cacophony of shared media, links, and status updates it is today.

Where We Are Today

Today, the internet allows us to keep up to date with the latest news from around the world. Everything from earthquakes, the stock market, and celebrity feuds, to cute pygmy goats playing soccer. We can upload videos and photos of birthdays, weddings, nights on the town, or indulge in some selfie sharing. All of this can be commented on, liked, reshared and added back to the infinite scroll of information. Data can be shared in seconds.

We no longer live in a world of letter writing where multiple thoughts are organized and poured out into pages. We can proceed thought by thought and not have to wait for a response in most cases. Written communication on the network can allow for instant gratification with no need to compose a day or even weeks worth of information into a single narrative.

Even with the ability to transmit sound and video instantly we are writing more than ever. In the course of a day we send over 6 billion text messages, 100 billion emails (not counting spam), make 28 billion Facebook status updates, 3 billion Google searches, 300 million Instagrams tagged, and 600 million tweets are composed. [top]