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The internet is just getting started

If you think the internet is cool, or that everything that can be done has been done, you ain't seen nothing yet. It's just getting started.

The internet is 40 years old (started in 1969).

The first half of those 40 years... websites didn't exist. Everything was email and file transfers, and text... no graphics.

The web is 20 years old (born March 13, 1989).

The first half of those 20 years... the web was so slow most people didn't find it useful. There were so few computers on the internet, that if you draw a graph of internet growth you can barely see the number of computers connected to the internet in 1991 (and, yet, at the time we thought it was HUGE!).

Fast internet access is about 10 years old.

Broadband (speeds fast enough to be useful for audio and video) has only been widely available since around 2000.

Google is only 10 years old (born September 8, 1999).

Before then to find a website you had to ask your friends or go to a websites that paid people to come up with lists and lists of websites that people might find useful.

The interactive web ("Web 2.0") is only 5 years old.

AJAX is what lets websites be interactive, like the ability to scroll the map in Google Maps. Before then websites were rather static. Your read a web site, you didn't play with it. You could fill out a form, click on links, and some websites were generated dynamically (like, but nothing as interactive as Google Maps, games, or Facebook. Websites that use "AJAX" only started appearing in 2003. That's when Google Maps and other highly-interactive sites sprung up.

YouTube is only 2.5 years old (born Feb 15th 2005 but didn't really take off until early 2007).

YouTube and other video-sharing sites took off about 2.5 years ago. It took that long for a lot of people to have fast internet access at home. 2007 is less than half of half of half of half of the history of the internet!


In 40 years we've gone from a text-based, email system that was slow and difficult to use to a fast, fun, interactive, full-video system!

Imagine what is next:
  • As internet access becomes pervasive (usable anywhere we are, via our cell phone), new ideas and applications are springing up like crazy. With cell phone GPS, websites can provide useful information wherever we are. Movie listings know what the nearest theater is. Wikipedia could list every page that mentions what you are looking at!
  • Augmented Reality is a new concept where you view the world through a video camera and internet-based information services add information. It could recognize that you are looking at a person and it will remind you what their name is. Or, when you see your friend Joe it will tell you "That's Joe! He hasn't returned that think you loaned him!"
  • More and more applications are moving to the web. Web-based wordprocessors and spreadsheets let people collaborate on the same document, at the same time, over long distances! People are writing books together and they've never even met!
  • Some day we might access the internet without the use of a computer. Just a connection directly to our brain.

The next 5 years will have more innovation than the last 40! Imagine what things will be like in 40 years!

One more thing...

When my father was born (1932), plastic hadn't been invented. There was bakelite, but not what we consider plastic today. In his lifetime cars have gone from all metal to mostly plastic. When I was born (1968), the internet didn't exist. Communicating using computers was unheard of. The things that are being invented today will make science fiction movies look like cowboy westerns. You think I was kidding about the direct connection to our brain?

Related links:

P.S. For the geeks:

I mostly wrote about the last half of the internet's history. Let's talk about the first half. The first half there was no World Wide Web. The first half of the first half (20 years) there was no DNS. One person maintained a file called hosts.txt and it was copied to all other machines periodically. You called or emailed a person to request adds, changes, and deletions. The first half of that (10 years) there wasn't even TCP/IP. There was NCP, the predecessor to TCP/IP. TCP/IP was deployed in 1981. There was a day when everyone turned off NCP and turned on TCP/IP (could you imagine doing that today?). The first half of that (first 5+ year), there were so few computers on the internet, it was still considered a lab experiment! The first half of that, most scientists that studied computer communication didn't know that packet-switched networks (instead of circuits... like the phone system) existed. Then again, there were nay sayers about packet-switched network for a good long time. in 1995 Bob Metcalfe predicted the internet would collapse by 1996!

P.P.S. If someone could draw any of this in a picture or wants to put it into a video I'd love to help!

(Thanks to Peter H. Salus for pointing out some of these facts.)

Posted by Tom Limoncelli in Ideas

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9 Comments | Leave a comment

Wow! What a dose of perspective!
I read the "for geeks" section even though I knew I wouldn't understand it. And I didn't. However, I was still impressed by the magnitude of the realizations being made by people better informed than I. :)

"Google is only 10 years old (born September 8, 1999).

Before then to find a website you had to ask your friends or go to a websites that paid people to come up with lists and lists of websites that people might find useful."

Oh give us a break. Yahoo, Lycos, Infoseek, Altavista... there were plenty of search engines around before google.

Similarly before AJAX, dynamic web content was done using Flash and Java (I wrote the first commercial Java applet sold in the UK in 1995).

Yes, stuff today is prettier, easier, faster, more comprehensive but these are still evolutions, not revolutions. I'm waiting for the next revolutionary application.

Google: When google started search was "done"... and yet, google brought new life to it by being (1) fully automated, (2) much faster.

AJAX: Yes, Flash and Java did interactive sites, but badly. Really... what good site was ever done as a Java applet?

We can talk about definitions of evolution vs. revolution the next time we're hanging out together. Obviously we disagree.

I found this overview refreshing and intriguing -- I just hope the economy and energy situations improve so we'll ALL have the ability to CONTINUE to enjoy and use the Internet. Thanks, Tom, for putting this article together.

When google started out automated fast searches already existed; AltaVista was the previous "big" one. Google's primary fame to claim when it started was the comprehensiveness of the index (that, indeed, was AltaVista's claim before that). To the end user, google was just the latest in the line of "best" search engines to use. Yes, google had clever backend technology to drive it, to scale it, to produce relevant results and this clever technology has allowed them to remain "best" but saying this stuff didn't exist before hand is just wrong.

IMHO, Java mostly died for web applets because it required programmers. This is why Flash won that fight; any graphics designer could use Director to create flashy web sites. Very few (zero?) equivalent tools existed for Java. And there were plenty of sites that did use flash. Obviously, as a new tool, it was initially used for "toys" (and online shopping catalogs) but that was just a sign of market immaturity.

Remember, I worked in the web industry between '95 and '99, when it was starting up in the UK, so got to see all this first hand.

The article is very carefully worded to be about when something was popular, widespread and/or successful, not when something was absolutely first.

You are making one of those "no, such-and-such was first" arguments that never end until Godwin's law kicks in. The Palm Pilot wasn't the first PDA, but it was the first successful one. Google wasn't the first search engine, but it was the first fast/automated/whatever one. The iPhone wasn't the first smartphone/webbrowsing phone, but it was the first that was popular enough to be a household name. AJAX wasn't the first interactive web site technology, but it was the first widespread one.

If you really want to get nitpicky, you should also point out that my article is invalid about the broadband claims. You could purchase a T3 if you were super rich, so any claims that broadband was widely available in 2000 must be useless. You should also correct me about my father's birth year... which in the first drafts was listed incorrectly.

What would be more productive than comments would be a competing article. Why don't you write an article that has the dates and products that you consider accurate. I'll gladly link to it as a alternate view.

YouTube is 4.5 years old. February 15th 2005 is a little over four and a half years ago.

Jim: Good point. I updated the article... it wasn't popular until about 2.5 years ago.

Don't forget that there are a ton of things waiting to be written and made popular that don't even depend on new or complicated technology! Twitter could have been written fifteen years ago and have almost all of the functionality it has today.

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