This article was originally posted in August 2014, and updated in August 2021.
In 1989, Tim Berners-Lee proposed a system of interlinked virtual documents to be accessed over the internet within a browser – and so the World Wide Web was born. It took him and his team 2 years from proposing the concept to uploading the world’s first web page. For a system that was in its infancy just over two decades ago, the WWW has advanced at lightning speed and changed life in the western world. It’s made the world bigger and smaller at the same time – opening up access to information that had previously been the reserve of libraries and experts.
This democracy of information has revolutionised industries such as retail, publishing, gambling and music. It’s spawned entirely new business sectors and jobs. Politicians have risen to the top and dictators have been toppled thanks to the social media networks that connect people around the world. Its inherently open foundations have created a veritable playground allowing those with an idea and a little nous the opportunity to make their millions or even billions. It’s been the 21st century’s version of a gold rush complete with its bust and boom periods.
So in recognition of World Wide Web day we’ve taken a trip back to its very beginning and looked at what key events, applications and businesses have helped to shape the web that we know today.
Before the web there was a net – ARPANET
Without the internet there would be no web. The internet describes the networking infrastructure that connects computers together, upon which Berners-Lee and his team created their information sharing model known as the World Wide Web. The internet was born out of ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network); a network which allowed for grouping of transmitted data into blocks, called packets, to allow computers to communicate with each other. It replaced the traditional circuit system which was used to connect telephones, for example. ARPANET was developed for use at universities in America and was funded by the US Department for Defence.
The first hack – Robert Morris’s worm
Robert Morris was a 23 year old American student who was arguably the first person to breach internet security. He created a computer worm which was responsible for slowing down the operations of many of the 60,000 computers connected to the internet at the time. Morris claimed he ‘wanted to count how many machines were connected to the internet’. The first notable instance of black hat hacking, the term given to incidents of security violation motivated by nothing beyond ‘maliciousness or personal gain’, was in 1994, when unidentified individuals broke into the US Air Force’s main command and research centre in order to access classified information.
Great security arrives – SSL
Developed by Netscape, Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) is an encryption format that forms the backbone of all secure transactions on the web. As the internet grew in popularity, communication security became a key area for concern. Chief scientist at Netscape, Dr. Taher Elgamal, wrote the basic algorithm for SSL Version 1.0 in 1993. The latest incarnation, now known as Transport Layer Security (TLS), is widely used in applications for web browsing, email and instant messaging.
A platform is developed for rich media – Flash
Adobe Flash is a multimedia and software platform used to add streamed video, audio, adverts and interactive multimedia content to web pages. It is used widely and is available as a plugin on all major web browsers, however more recent developments such as HTML5 (see below) look to be overtaking. In 2011 Adobe announced they would not be developing Flash for mobile devices.
Number of internet users 1994: 44.4 million
Search as we know it is born – WebCrawler and Lycos
WebCrawler was the first search engine to allow users to search for websites using any word appearing anywhere in the text of any page on the site. Several tools for searching the internet had existed before this became the standard, but the first to gain real commercial success came later in the same year with the creation of Lycos.
Michael Loren Mauldin created search engine and web portal, Lycos, as part of a research project while at Carnegie Mellon University. It became the most visited online destination worldwide by 1999, with a presence in more than 40 countries. Currently owned by Indian marketing company, Ybrant Digital, Lycos still operates a search engine and has mail, video, social and chat functionalities.
Online retailing emerges – Amazon.com
The world’s biggest digital retailer, Amazon, was started by Jeff Bezos as a humble online bookstore back in 1994. Over the past 20 years the business has diversified to sell electronics, clothing, food, toys, homewares, furniture and more. The site was initially named Cadabra but was changed to Amazon in 1995 as it was feared that the original name was too phonetically close to ‘cadaver’. In 2007 Amazon released the Kindle, its own e-book, and in 2011 moved on to create a tablet, the Kindle Fire. More recently the company has moved onto smartphones and television services, releasing the Fire Phone and the Amazon Fire TV set-top box in 2014. In 2013, Amazon employed 132,600 staff and made $74.45bn in revenue.
A new coding language opens up new possibilities – Java
Appeared in 1995
Java is one of today’s most popular programming languages, and many desktop and mobile applications, such as live chat, light boxes and the majority of Android apps depend on it in order to function. It was developed in 1995 by James Gosling at Sun Microsystems, Inc., a company that sold computers, computer components, software, and information technology services.
Consumer to consumer selling – eBay
Founded September 1995
eBay is an online marketplace founded in 1995 by Pierre Omidyar. The first item sold was a broken laser pointer, for which Omidyar was astounded to receive nearly $15. On contacting the buyer he discovered that there could be a market for almost any product; a theory that was confirmed over the following months, when traffic to the site increased to an extent that Omidyar was informed he would need to upgrade his internet service to a business account. eBay is now a multi-billion dollar business operating in more than 30 countries.
Email for the masses – Hotmail
Launched July 1996
Sabeer Bhatia and Jack Smith launched one of the first web email services from California in 1996. It was considered unique in that it allowed users to access their mail via a browser from anywhere in the world. The name was chosen as it contained the letters HTML (referencing the markup language – see HTML5 below). Hotmail was sold to Microsoft in 1997 for $400m and became the most widely used email service in 1999, with more than 30m active users. It was upgraded to outlook.com in 2012 and in 2013 reportedly had 400m active users.
An internet and business giant is born – Google
First workspace set up in 1998
Google creators, Larry Page and Sergey Brin met at Stanford University in 1995. They teamed up to create an internet search engine, originally called BackRub, with their mission being ‘to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful’. Google, a play on the word ‘googol’ – the mathematical term for a 1 followed by 100 zeros – came into being in 1998 when Page and Brin set up their first workspace in a garage.
New payment methods arrive – PayPal
Founded June 1998
PayPal was created in 1998 by financial company, Confinity, as an online alternative to traditional payment methods. It rapidly grew in popularity in 2001 due to its use on auction site, eBay, which a year later opted to purchase PayPal for $1.5 billion. In 2014,, PayPal operated in 203 markets and had 148m active users.
Structure and protection is improved – ICANN
Founded September 1998
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers is responsible for domain names; unique identifiers related to the namespaces of the internet. The domain name system (DNS), serves as a huge digital phonebook for computers, services, and other resources connected to the Internet. ICANN continues to operate today as a non-profit corporation which develops and maintains policy on this expansive naming system.
The browser wars begin – Microsoft Internet Explorer 5
Released March 1999
IE5 was a web browser created by Microsoft and running on Windows. Microsoft spent over $100 million per year in the late 90s, with over 1000 people working on IE by 1999. IE5 achieved over 50% market share by early 2000 and 80% by 2001, overtaking other browsers such as Netscape. However Microsoft encountered multiple lawsuits worldwide as other browsers such as Netscape and governments deemed their bundling of IE with its other software as a breach of antitrust laws. Microsoft eventually lost the lawsuits but the settlements were largely regarded as a slap on the wrist.
Media pirates build a treasure island – Napster
Napster was created by teenage students, Shawn Fanning and Sean Parker, and was designed as a free file-sharing service primarily used for music sharing. It grew rapidly in popularity, gaining 57m users at its height. However in 2000 Napster ran into legal difficulties over copyright infringement, and cases brought by the Record Industry Association of America, rapper Dr Dre and metal band Metallica caused the company to cease operations and eventually sell to Roxio. It now operates as a paid subscription music service run by Rhapsody.
Number of internet users 2000: 412.8 million
The bubble bursts – The dotcom bust
1997-2000 saw huge and rapid rises in equity value of technology and digital companies thanks to growth in the Internet sector. Vapourware businesses, i.e businesses built on the idea of a product or service that wasn’t yet built, popped up everywhere. In a trend that was in line with previous boom and bust cycles, over enthusiastic investors bet on businesses with sparkling claims based on hyped up projections in a sector they knew nothing about.
In March 2000 stocks began to fall with the judgement on the Microsoft anti trust case viewed as the main catalyst for the dramatic fall of the NASDAQ in April 2000. The next 12 months saw multiple well established and new dotcoms disappear. The crash caused the loss of $5 trillion in the market value of companies from March 2000 to October 2002.
Search becomes profitable – Google AdWords
By 2000 Google had established itself as the most popular search engine in the world, and began to branch out into advertising. AdWords allows paid-for listings surrounding the natural search results, and has become the centre of many a digital marketer’s universe. It began as a monthly subscription, for which Google would set up and manage campaigns on behalf of companies. The self-managed service quickly followed, and Google set up its Advertising Professional Program to certify users who completed AdWords training. It is estimated that Google derives at least 96% of its revenue from paid ads.
Amazon creates value for customers – Amazon Market Place
Amazon Marketplace was designed to make it easy for third parties to sell used, rare and collectible products on the same page where Amazon.com sells the item new. This side-by-side placement ensures qualified buyers looking for a product will be made aware of a used, rare or collectible item at the same time they find the new item. This is something that Amazon realised the customer was demanding and believed this model would continue to see growth- how right they were. Just 6 months from launch, over a quarter of a million unique Amazon.com customers had already made at least one purchase from Amazon Marketplace
Democratisation of knowledge – Wikipedia
Launched January 2001
Wikipedia is a collaboratively edited online encyclopaedia, containing 30m articles in 287 languages. Created by Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger in 2001, its name is a portmanteau of the words wiki (Hawaiian word meaning fast) and encyclopaedia. Wikipedia amassed over 8000 articles in its first 8 months of operation, and at its peak had 1800 new articles added each day. It is a non-profit organisation and can be accessed online for free.
A revolution for a reluctant music industry – Apple iTunes
Released January 2001
iTunes is a media player and library used to download and play audio and video files. Originally named SoundJamMP, iTunes got renamed when it was purchased by Apple in 2000. It was further developed by its original creators and was released the following year, with a revised version coming out 9 months later to coincide with the release of the first iPod music player. Users are able to purchase songs and store and play them in a personal library.
The social web emerges – Myspace
Launched August 2003
Myspace is a social networking service launched in August 2003 in California. Founded by Chris DeWolfe and Tom Anderson, it was sold to News Corporation in 2005 and subsequently to Specific Media LLC and singer, Justin Timberlake, in 2011. At its peak Myspace was the most popular social networking site in the world, even achieving more US visitors than Google in June of 2006. However after Facebook was created and began to grow in popularity Myspace started to fall out of favour, and by June 2014 had reduced its staff from 1600 to just 200.
Launched February 2004
Mark Zuckerberg founded social networking site Facebook, originally named The Facebook, with his Harvard university roommates in 2004, making it available to fellow Harvard students only. As popularity grew Facebook was opened out to include other universities and, eventually, the general public. The site allows people to build a personal or business profile through which to share photos, statuses and messages with their friends and followers. Zuckerberg remains the primary owner of the business, which was valued at $104bn in 2012 and had amassed 1.23bn active users by early 2014.
Number of internet users 2004: 1.026 billion
The world on your screen – Google Earth/Maps and Android
In 2005 Google launched Google Earth and Google Maps, using satellite imagery and aerial photography in order to create a virtual globe accessible via the web. They can be used in a variety of ways, most commonly for directions, route planning and locating local amenities or businesses. Google Earth has been downloaded well over a billion times, and in 2014 Google Maps was the world’s most popular app for smartphones.
15 minutes of fame becomes possible for anyone with a recording device – YouTube
Founded February 2005
In 2005, three former Paypal employees, Chad Hurley, Steve Chen, and Jawed Karim, branched off together to create video sharing site YouTube. Registered users are able to upload and share TV clips, music videos, video blogs and other video clips on the site, which can be viewed by registered or unregistered users. Less than 18 months after the first video was uploaded, YouTube reported that 65,000 new videos were being uploaded every day. In 2006 Google acquired the company for $1.65bn. In 2014, 60 hours of video were uploaded to YouTube each minute, however, as of May 2019, more than 500 hours of video were uploaded every minute.
Social gets chatty – Twitter
Founded March 2006
Founders Jack Dorsey, Evan Williams, Biz Stone and Noah Glass held a daylong brainstorming session to come up with Twitter, the name for which was inspired by the word’s definitions: ‘short bursts of inconsequential information,’ and ‘chirps from birds’. The social network/microblogging site allows users to write updates of 140 characters or less and share with followers. The site grew extremely quickly, going from 400,000 tweets per quarter in 2007 to 65m tweets every day in 2010, continuing to grow to around 500 million a day in 2020. Twitter is especially popular on mobile, with 60% of tweets in 2013 coming from mobile devices.
Number of internet users 2010: 1.992 billion
In October 2010 founder of Instagram, Kevin Systrom, posted the first photo on the platform which was designed to share pictures and videos. When it launched as an iOS app, it gained 25,000 users in just 1 day and in 2 months they had 1 million users. Fast forward to 2019 and 1 billion people were using this app every month.
A new standard for web design – HTML5
Standardised December 2012
HTML5 is a core technology markup language used to create online content. Developed by the Web Hypertext Application Technology Working Group, it is the 5th revision since standard HTML was created in 1990. HTML5 was designed to offer better cross browser support and less necessity for additional plugins, and was built with consideration for being able to run on low-powered devices such as smartphones and tablets.
Apple Pay – A new payment method
Apple Pay is Apple’s mobile contactless payment service. The program launched in 2013 in the US and since then has been adopted in over 50 countries.
The internet can now be worn – Google Glass
Google’s latest major development is the release of wearable technology, namely Google Glass. Worn on the face like glasses, Google Glass shows information in a similar way to smartphones and allows users to communicate with the internet with voice commands.
Google Glass allows for virtual reality to be brought into the real world, which has various implications that will impact on digital marketing. Glass will enable more data to be captured on individuals, and more information to be presented to them relevant to where they are and what they’re doing. It’s the next level in connectedness.
Number of internet users 2016: 3.408 billion
282 million selfies
Popular in 2016
A craze that became more and more popular with the rise of the internet and social media, particularly Instagram, the selfie is a slang word for self portrait. It was chosen as the word of the year in 2013 and by the end of 2016, more than 282 million selfies had been shared to Instagram.
EU’s General Data Protection Regulation – GDPR
This tough new privacy and security law affects any organisation who targets or collects data from people in the EU and will give harsh fines to those who violate its standards. More and more people are entrusting their data with cloud services and breaches are happening more frequently, so this regulation signals Europe’s firm stance on data privacy.
A world record was set when a picture of an egg went viral. The @world_record_egg account was created and posted a single picture of an egg, saying” Let’s set a world record together and get the most liked post on Instagram. Beating Kylie Jenner (18 million)! We got this.” And they did have this. Within 10 days they beat the record and it has amassed over 50 million likes to date.
TikTok- the most competitive social platform?
Stable release 2020
TikTok is a social media platform for creating, sharing and discovering short videos that feature dancing, comedy, singin and more. Around in some form since 2016, TikTok was created in China by ByteDance and originally called Douyin. ByteDance later acquired another platform, Musical.ly (where musers could share 15 second lip sync videos) and it eventually closed that app, but merged some of its features into Douyin. In 2018 the global version of Douyin was released… Tiktok. And it had its stable release in 2020. TikTok is available in 155 countries and in 75 languages and is now estimated to have over 1.1 billion active users.
World Wide Web Day
WWW Day is celebrated in August each year, as a nod to the first time that the Web was available to users: 23rd August 1991. Modern life has been immeasurably shaped and transformed by the internet; people are able to trade, communicate, read, learn, travel and more in just a few clicks. We can access a world of information and media from the comfort of our own homes or remotely while out on the go. The web has evolved vastly in its 31 years and has unlimited possibilities for the years ahead.
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