40 years of the internet

As the internet hits 40, we trace its early origins, look at its anarchic development and consider where it might be going in the future.

"The NGOs have made a contribution that no one recognises there would have been an internet without but it would have been a different internet. They had the drive to break down the garden walls a and create a park that makes a differ sort of internet."

Walled garden

By the mid-1990s, services such as AOL and Compuserve were popular and were offering advanced bulletin board services where people would dial-in and leave message on bulletin boards, discussing a wide range of topics.

Martin O'Neal from independent tech consultancy Corsaire reminisces about one called Cix. This was one of the most popular ones in the UK though it was actually based in Banaglore, India.

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"People would dial-in and chatter on forever." he said. He actually laments the passing of these specialised services and believes that the wider internet hasn't necessarily made discussion forums better in fact, far from it.

"The kind of environment will never been seen again. Part of the reason was that it cost money, and was not free. You had to jump through hoops to use it." As such, O'Neal said, the quality of the interaction was much higher.

"Any fool can use [the internet] now, and the advice you get is poor there's a very high signal to noise ratio," he said.

"There were a lot of academics and journalists [on Cix]. It's not so much that they were experts, but they already had to work for the privilege of being on there, so they wouldn't waste their time. There was a cost of entry, it wasn't really open it required an element of tech geekiness it wasn't open to your mum."

Another with strong views on those days is John Cunliffe, chief technology officer at Ericsson. "In terms of what normal people would think of the internet there was CompuServe and AOL," he said. "They were less transparent they tried to solve problems for the users, rather than being a transparent pipe."

Building on the net

Cunliffe highlights what most people would agree was the step change for the internet the introduction of the web browser. In 1990, Tim Berners-Lee linked TCP/IP, the DNS system and hypertext to create the World Wide Web.

Marc Andreessen built on this and created Mosiac, the first popularly used web browser, which introduced the visual aspect on the internet that is now so ubiquitous that the average users conflates the two things as being one and the same.

However, Cunliffe has some reservations about the way the internet has developed, in no small part a consequence of the free spirit, or some would say anarchic way, the network was put together.

"I would have liked to have seen more work done on user authentication, which would probably help us now deal with spam and illegal file sharing," he said.

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