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15 moments that shaped the internet

The internet turns 52 this year with no grey hairs in sight. Talk about ageing well!

It’s given us half a century of delight and distraction with online shopping, instant communication, viral dance moves, memes, and more – forever changing the way we live, work, and play.

So, in celebration of the invisible information superhighway, we’ve picked out a list of its pivotal moments. Follow along on our nostalgic stroll through the internet’s history and, in the comments below, let us know which events you think we’ve missed.

1936: H.G Wells predicts the ‘World Brain’

Perhaps best known as the author of ‘The War of the Worlds’, futurist H.G Wells foresaw the advent of the internet in a 1936 collection of essays: “The time is close at hand when any student, in any part of the world, will be able to sit with his projector in his own study at his or her own convenience to examine any book, any document, in an exact replica.”

And that wasn’t the only prediction of Wells that came true – he also anticipated genetic engineering, lasers, and Meryl Streep as the next James Bond. Okay, maybe not that last one.

1969: ARPANET is switched on

In an event that is widely regarded as the web’s ‘first breath’, Leonard Kleinrock and his team succeeded in sending the first computer to computer message from UCLA to Stanford on September 2, 1969. The intended message was the word “login” but only the first two letters made it through before the system crashed.

1971: Birth of the computer virus

Written by Bob Thomas of BBN Technologies, Creeper was a self-replicating program that copied itself to computers connected to the ARPANET to display the message: “I’m the creeper, catch me if you can!”. It was eventually caught by Reaper – the first antivirus program.

1985: The first domain name

Symbolics.com was registered on March 15, 1985. Since then, over 359.8 million domain names have been registered – including Voice.com, which was sold for a record-breaking $30 million in 2019.

1991: The World Wide Web begins

Tim Berners-Lee, a British scientist working at CERN, invents the “World Wide Web” as an easy way to share information. Though we often use the “Internet” and the “Web” interchangeably, they don’t actually refer to the same thing. The Internet hosts the Web, which was Berners-Lee’s breakthrough.

1990: Online searching gets easier

While many of us spent our days at university avoiding lectures and frequenting the pub, Alan Emtage developed a software called Archie, which was the world’s first search engine. Clearly the guy you wish you had for your final group project.

1992: “Surfing The Internet” is invented

Jean Armour Polly coined the phrase in an article for the Wilson Library Bulletin, a monthly magazine for professional librarians. You can still read the original online here.

1994: First Online Order

A large pepperoni, mushroom, and extra cheese pizza from Pizza Hut is ordered online, becoming the first transaction on the Web. No word on how many have been ordered since (but we think it’s at least 5).

2001: Wikipedia opens to the world

The beginning of the end for encyclopedia salesmen. Wikipedia launched with its first edit on January 15, 2001, and fast became the go-to source of information. By 2006, the site had published over 1 million articles.

2004: Facebook makes (a lot) of friends

Before it became a platform for your distant family members to comment on your profile picture, Facebook began as a way for college students to connect with people at the same school. It went live on February 4, 2004, and gained 1,000 registered users in its first night.

2007: Apple reinvents the phone

With 91% of internet use conducted through mobile, we couldn’t have a greatest hits list without mentioning smartphones. The birth of the modern smartphone began in 2007 on a stage in California as Apple CEO Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone. It was a revolutionary design, swapping a stylus and keypad with a touchscreen.

2009: The Labor Government announces the NBN

The aim was to replace the nation’s ageing copper network with optic fibre to give Australian’s everywhere a fast, future-proof connection. Here at iiNet, we’re proud to be named Australia’s Best NBN Provider for 3 years running.

2014: The ALS ice bucket challenge

The ice bucket challenge was a phenomenon in the summer of 2014 in which people filmed themselves dumping a bucket of iced water over their heads in order to promote awareness for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). More than 17 million people posted photos online and over $100m was raised worldwide in a 30-day period. A great example of the internet as a force for good.

2019: ‘Influencer’ joins the dictionary

The internet has even changed the way we speak. ‘Influencer’ is a term used to describe individuals with a large following on social media. Other words in the dictionary that originated online include ‘selfie’, ‘srsly’, ‘LOL’, and ‘OMG’.

Today:

As of November 2020, there were 4.66 billion active internet users worldwide – almost 59 percent of the global population.  Ask any of them what life would be like without life would be like without the net and the answer will likely be either ‘unimaginable’ or ‘very, very boring’. We think both apply.

49 comments

  1. Jean says:

    I first used the internet in 1974 in Adelaide

  2. I coded and published the original Peach Tree Gallery website back in March 1995. Since then it has changed a lot but its still going strong. It has originals and prints of my paintings for sale and promotes my painting workshops in both Perth Western Australia and Thailand

    Michael Malone and Michael O’Reilly the founders of the iiNet helped me by giving me free webspace.

    The original domain was peach.asn.au but later this changed to PeachTreeGallery.com and JeremyHolton.com

    For many years the website was listed in the National Archives of Australia

  3. Marcello Pittau says:

    I first used the internet in 1996, I was somehow able to get my dial up modem to commect at 33.6kbps, 25 years later, iinet have turned up the knob way past 11, or maybe it’s 15? and I almost have Gigabit internet speeds over my fibre to the home flavour NBN are averaging a maximum of 940Mbps. Yes, that is not a missing decimal point… the number is correct.

  4. Tony Shanahan says:

    Snopes.com :
    “The first known use of “OMG” as an abbreviation for “Oh my God” was in a letter sent to Winston Churchill.”
    So it seems Winston was an “influencer” well before that term hit the screens.

  5. Think you have covered the last 50 years in your blog. The computer and internet is reasonably new to me and I am in my 70’s so I guess I’m an old dog learning new tricks.

  6. I think you have covered the last 50 years with your blog, but I am only a newbie with computers and internet. I am in my 70’s so I guess you might call me an old dog learning a new trick.

  7. Ron says:

    Once I had two large cupboards in my hallway. One filled with records,CDs and cassettes. The other contains my life’s photos and home movies , now all that is kept on a device thinner than a cigarette and not much bigger than the packet and a lot healthier what a revolution

  8. Malcolm Thorburn says:

    We used a computer bureau service (CSA?) to process shipping statistics at Harbours & Marine in Queensland around 1976. I would dial up and then place the telephone hand piece in rubber cups to connect. I think they call that cloud computing now.

  9. Meg B says:

    Thank heavens no more dial-up. The sound of it still sends all sorts of stress sensors off in my body.
    Jo, the good biscuits are always in the boss’s private fridge.

  10. Love it ,keeps me in touch with family . And World. News ?

  11. dave cooper says:

    I have to wonder how the Egyptians built the pyramids, the Romans the aqueducts or the druids the Stonehenge, without Google or a computer little one a slide rule… the human race must have been quite intelligent once.
    maybe all this hi tech has just made us ‘dumbdown’ a bit.

  12. Rakesh says:

    Nice to read ..have a Nice day.
    Rakesh
    Wa
    Aus.

  13. Jim Hart says:

    I think maybe Symbolics.com was the first commercial domain name. Considering the internet was initially for educational and government use, were there earlier .edu and .gov domains, or did they use a different address system?

  14. Megan M says:

    My husband and I connected to the net in 1996 and were one of the early customers to join Shopfast, which eventually was taken over by Coles. There I was sitting in our storeroom / office taking ages to view and select items and process our order. But we saved a general list and just edited this which made it faster as everything was so ssslllloooowww with dial up. Then a few days later our groceries would arrive and we’d pay via EFTPOS on a remote terminal standing out in our back yard where the delivery guy could get a signal! By 1998 our eldest son was using Jump Start for Toddlers on our Mac . We were early adopters. I even was on ANZ Bank’s pilot internet banking project in 1999 – 2000 doing transactions and testing the system. The screen was black and basic but it worked. I got $50 voucher for my efforts! Love the amazing things we can see, do, hear and share on the web.

  15. Paul says:

    You forgot the story of when iiNet started out of a garage in Trigg

  16. Josh says:

    Thanks for the bit of history.

  17. Steve says:

    Who remembers “Net Meeting”? Black & white video via dialup modems & less than 10MB of RAM running windows 95! It worked! Nowadays we apparently need 10GB just to boot up the latest operating systems. Talk about bloatware & unnecessary bells & whistles.
    There were also satellite weather maps being received on Tandy Color Computers which were fully expanded to 64Kb RAM.

  18. Peter says:

    I remember learning to use our first IBM 0.68 GB memory Windows 95 computer, it was totally foreign , the guy who sold it to us staying to give us a short lesson and us writing down how to use Netscape to search for websites on the internet We have come a long way since then and now the internet is just a very important part of our way of living.

  19. Bas Gintings says:

    Yes, the internet has changed the way we do things.
    However, my disappointment is that the country or the suburbs have been divided into the LUCKY and the UNLUCKY Suburbs with some have optical fibre connections and others stuck with the aging wire connections with limited speed achievable.

  20. Joy Ringrose says:

    I went on the internet in late ’95, not long after the boys who started Netspace had come out of the bedroom where they started it (no lewd references please – this was business), and had an office over a shop in Camberwell, Vic. The business was rapidly expanding and they were keeping up really well. Later they were taken over by iinet – a smooth transition to our service today. I never changed servers and still have my original email address. Am I the company’s longest-time (as opposed to oldest) customer??

  21. Great artical and a tribute to the marvellous times we are living in…
    However I’ve learned that with every upside comes a downside …. I’m sure somewhere it is waiting to bite our legs, probably a price worth paying?

    Have a nice day…

  22. The story of iiNet started long before Michael started hitting a keyboard in Trigg, WA.

    I joined Ozemail back in 1994 and still have my old @ozemail.com.au address. I guess I would be one of iiNet/Ozemail’s longest continuous customers. In recent years, iiNet has tried to close my @ozemail.com.au address down. Shame on you! It would be like pulling down one of the pyramids to create a car park.

    As to life without the internet, well we managed for millenia without it, I am sure that we could again if needed, but most of the softer young would have to go out and learn how to face real people.

  23. Earl says:

    For two or three hundred thousand years, we were hunter gatherers. 12000 years ago, the agricultural revolution. 250 years ago, the industrial revolution. 30 years ago, the digital revolution.
    Quite the exponential curve.

  24. John Hart says:

    Becoming involved in the Computer Based Messaging Service in 1986,(50/75 bps with ‘mailboxes’) I joined Ozemail in 1995 and have retained my original email address.

  25. Tony Fendt says:

    I’m an original ozemail customer from somewhere around 1994 and still have my ozemail address. Generally have had great service from all previous owners of ozemail … but one thing, no customer loyalty bonuses!

    Prior to that using an IBM PS2 Model 30 computer running DOS I participated in a consumer purchasing research program, scanning barcodes of weekly grocery purchases and then uploading data back to their server each week at a defined window using the first commercially available modem … it was that slow and cumbersome!

  26. Mike Hore says:

    While I’m in my 70s I’ve been working with computers since the 1960s – when computers filled whole rooms and were less than 1000th of a mobile phone of today. We’ve come a long way in a short time. In 1992 while the WWW was being invented I was out at Numbulwar in Eastern Arnhem Land, and to get online I had a dialup modem, and I had to use expensive dinosaurs like CompuServe and GEnie to get connected. At least they let me prepare stuff offline to save precious online time. I’m not shedding any tears at their departure.

  27. Karen Nash says:

    We are mature age too, and have very much enjoyed discovering and using the internet since late 1994. Before that, we originally had a TI99 computer run off a cassette recorder. Later on, we joined Ozemail from at least early 1994 if not before. We are still with iiNet because we simply have to keep our old email address. I was distressed at reading Craig Forster’s post, saying he had been pressured into giving up his ozemail email address, but had NOT weakened and given in. Thank Goodness! We will NEVER surrender!

  28. Claire Kelly says:

    Ahhh Dial-up. The beloved handshake screeching. And let us not forget “get off the phone, your father needs to send an email” followed about two years later by “get off the internet, your mother needs to make a call”.

    I have that sound as my ringtone on my phone, and it’s always interesting to see everyone over 35 shudder at the sound.

  29. Gerald Sabel says:

    In 1973 I got my first computer which was a Radio Shack 16K keyboard plus upgrade to 64k with 2 8″ disk drives, a printer and screen. This had an audio output to a tape drive for extra storage.The software was included being Visicalc, an accounting programme., after programming Visicalc as aI then purchased a 33kbs/s telephone modem in the early 1980’s wages programme and I was able to pay staff with a direct phone link to our local bank branch. I then upgraded to the first IBM/Microsoft desktop and transferred Visicalc to MS Excel all provided by and included in the first Windows programme. Excel and Word has not truly changed much over the years apart from Microsoft removing it from Windows and charging $ for our pleasure. Once 56k modems came available in the 1990’s I was able to using MS Skype and or other software to have voice communication with family in Australia from our home in South Africa. Even postage stamp video was possible and after migrating to Australia I designed my first webpage for my South African company being able to be an online consultant. This Web page has not changed much since 2005so the world wide web has been and remains the greatest power in the establishment of most all countries being connected (not always a benefit) and the world becoming a “GLOBAL VILLAGE”. Too much information can be extremely dangerous to users and allowing Big Brother to invade evey aspect of human privacy, not to mention pornography distribution, gambling, money laundering, cyber crime and much much more. There is no end to what has and is now possible. I am 82 years young.

  30. Lynne Ring says:

    I was working in Deniliquin in 1980 when our office got a Faximile machine. It took quite a few minutes to get 1 A4 page to print! I have also have an original @aapt e-mail from back in the late 90s.

  31. Sam Di Bartolo says:

    Amazing read … reminds me how old I’m getting … I pretty mush remember it all !! LOL

  32. Norm Johnston says:

    I was managing a computer network in the 1980s, we were using DECnet as we were using DEC Microvax computers. When I heard of the WWW in 1991 I downloaded the source code in Fortran from CERN, where its inventor was working, and compiled and loaded it onto our system. We were using the WWW on text terminals.

  33. Ju says:

    It was 96/97 first computer Commodore 64. soon came the secnod one a Gateway running DOS and windows 3.11 delivered in the cute black and white cow spotted boxes. With it dial up. and with the whole family standing behind me we connected to the local college, send a msg, holding our breath…… we jumped when we actually got a msg back! We felt like living inside a star trek movie! lol Then of course came emails…. all that while the dial up connection kept breaking down or you couldn’t get on because too many people were already using it.. so frustrating but we kept on …… and yes, computers still manage to be frustrating…

  34. AEnone McRae-Clift says:

    In my early fifties, I purchased a Commodore 64 from our local post office! It was slow, confusing and had a floppy disk which was a complete mystery to me. I progressed through living in three more states, buying half a dozen more up to date computers, acquiring many email addresses from many different providers.
    These days, in my 83rd year, I have an mini, a laptop and an iPhone. For some years now, I’ve been with iiNet and have nothing but praise for their friendliness and good service. Pity I can’t say the same for the NBN…darn those old copper dinosaur wires!!!!
    Thanks, iiNet and I love your young man on the ads – he always looks so cheerful! Please let us see more of him

  35. Werner says:

    In the 80’s I was proudly sending “emails” (text only) via the bulletin board based Fido network, all that using a 300 baud modem. Downloading the messages one could read them as they scrolled up the screen …

  36. Johanna Lagerwey says:

    And how this oldie appreciate our IT savvy grandson!!

  37. daniel simpson says:

    I had a commodore 64 in the mid eighties with a modem that would plug in its back called a “Vital” link and into the copper phone line. This would access a Vital bulletin board of information, very basic.
    Also had an ozemail account and wondering if I am able to recall it??

  38. Klaus Felsche says:

    Compuserve – being able to do some useful things (like connecting to Sabre to make flight reservations) with a 300 (or was it a 2700) baud modem.

    Using the WWW in the 80s and early 90s was very different – any commercial activity was frowned upon. I cannot recall when all of that changed.

  39. Jason says:

    I suspect if you are reading stats from various sites that record histories of certain things

    we had internet as early as 1983 bbs was ali but kicking with the old rotary dials

    we didn’t really the as we know it today until win 95 came out

    by 1991 we were at the stage of token ring networking by 1995 we could of has bas-10t, by 1996 10/100 by 2000 10/100/1000

  40. Reading all these comments certainly brings back memories. I bought my first ‘real’ computer, a Dick Smiths Electronics 8088 in 1986. It cost me nearly $4,000!!! That was nearly 20% of my annual salary as a military officer. I then bought a massive 20MB hard drive for another $2,000 a few years later and fitted it myself. In those days there were no technicians. We did everything ourselves from installing new chipsets, modems, hard drives and even motherboards.

    New computers are not made to last (similar to just about everything). It is all about replacement rather than maintenance and retention. So much for striving for a better greener world. At least us 60(+) never threw things away or left them for rubbish collection if they were a few years old. We recycled and repaired. Nowadays, people just want new every year or so. Do the young really care for the planet?

    Anyway, enough ramblings from an old man. I have really enjoyed reading this thread. I am a loyal Ozemail/iiNet fan and always will be.

  41. Tony Preston says:

    I would have thought the first email would have been a moment to remember. In mid 90s I remember as IS Manager informing management in general that emails would be a very important thing for the future and received a lot of flack for it. Not in my lifetime was one reply.

  42. John Houterman says:

    I first used the internet on my second hand Dell laptop with the fantastic hard drive capacity of 1.4 GB! I’m glad I started IT in the 90’s as I’m in my late 70’s now and still do all my own computer assemblies and repairs. Too bad that I never managed to code well enough (Arthritis in fingers) but I have enjoyed computing from day 1.

  43. Graham says:

    Kevin Rudd wanted fibre everywhere, and Malcolm Turnbull agreed, but, unfortunately, Tony Abbot got in and said “Nah, we don’t need that” and caused the mish-mash we have today. If you don’t do it right the first time it always costs more to fix it later.

  44. Allen Powell says:

    I had to privilege of getting on the World Wide Web around 98/99 and I remember the sci-fi sounding dial-up noise well , like “Lost in Space” or Dr Who . Anyway, we weren’t on the great “all you can eat landline” , so every connection cost us the price of a phone cal .Not very interesting , I hear you say , so in all the excitement of being a New by on the Net , we racked up over $300 on our phone bill , because of connection issues , those were the days !

  45. Peter Shaw says:

    My first computer was an AMSTRAD PC1512 purchased in February 1987. It had an 8086 8 MHz processor, 512 KB RAM with twin 5.25 inch disk drives, running under MS-DOS Version 2 or 3 I think. All this “super” power for around $2300 which was quite expensive even then!
    I opened an internet account with iiNet around 1998 and still have a copy of their “Internet Guide” (Windows Version) published in November 1996 and sent to customers. It contained tips on using Eudora and Netscape email applications as well as IRC (Internet Relay Chat).

  46. Nelma Burns says:

    I was given the computer I bought for our son when he went to Uni, in 1997 and told our son I didn’t even know how to switch one on. I was in Singapore at the time and he said he would give me a one-hour lesson on my return. He did and I have never looked back. Phone calls were $3 after 7pm each night so if I needed instruction I would phone him and have a $3 lesson. I was aged 57 then and now at 80½ I use it every day and even use it via my mobile phone. The HP computer I now use I bought on April Fools Day nearly eight years ago, and it never misses a beat. I prefer to use the PC’s keyboard as I was a touch typist before then.

  47. Chris Richer says:

    In 1997 we were video calling from South Autralia to my son studying at Cambridge. I found some obscure software in the US and we set up using a camcorder plugged into video cards at each end. Modem was probably 115k. The video worked fine but gave audio priority. The internet kept his mother very happy.

  48. OLivia Coombe says:

    My son and I have been with Adam internet stared in Adelaide, since 1998 approx and that story belongs in here some where

  49. Arthur Baker says:

    No mention of google, which changed everything?

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