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The Birth of the Internet

The World Wide Web, Web Browsers, Early Search Engines And Directories

Before there were Internet search engines, there had to be an Internet to search. The first way to link computers was to run physical cables between them. The Internet, literally a network of networks, began in the 1960s with the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET). This U.S. Department of Defense linkage of computers used packet switching (as opposed to circuit switching) to share information. The ability to network computers at that time was largely a way to share expensive technology. But it was also, as the Defense Department discovered, inefficient to continue translating information into different computer languages or to leap from terminal to terminal because the different computers couldn't “talk” to each other.

Once ARPANET was established, computers could easily communicate, even if they ran on different systems and languages, by breaking the message into packets and “shipping” them via a protocol: IP (Internet protocol) and TCP (transmission-control protocol). The packets are then sent out over phone or cable lines or via satellite, and the computer receiving them is able to reconstruct the message.

But ARPANET, later known as the Internet, wasn't a searchable database until the invention of the World Wide Web by Tim Berners-Lee in the late 1980s, a service that became available to the public in 1991. These earliest search tools were not designed to search the World Wide Web because the World Wide Web did not yet exist.

Tim Berners-Lee, the son of two English mathematicians from Manchester University who together built one of England's earliest computers, became a computer programmer himself and invented the World Wide Web in 1991. Berners-Lee created a computer program using hypertext (the links that we use today to automatically cross-reference other documents) to make sharing information easier. His prototype, which he designed with Robert Cailliau, was called ENQUIRE. He continued working on the idea of connected information for years, looking for ways to join ideas together by “hyperlinks.”

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