The history of things provides enjoyment for some of us. We have no idea who lit the first fire, crafted the first wheel or just who in the seven hells invented Monday mornings. Happily, the things that happened on the internet tended to stay on the internet. Below are a few of the internet firsts.
The First Email
In 1971, the ARPAnet ( Advanced Research Projects Agency Network) was taking its first baby steps towards enabling us to see cat videos and pictures of naked celebrities. Back then, it was the first large computer network and it was created out of military need since there were few research computers, many researchers in need of them and they were all geographically separated. At least that’s what former ARPA director Charles Herzfeld says.
Working for ARPA was programmer Ray Tomlinson, the man who came up with the idea of sending messages between different computers. A program called SENDMSG had been around for ten years and was used to deliver messages to another person on the same computer. At the time, Tomlinson and his group had developed an experimental file transfer program called CPYNET. The merged functionality of these programs gave birth to the first (test) email, undoubtedly containing “qwertyuiop” and”asdfghjk”. The first “for real” email contents are sadly lost but they did contain instructions on how to use the “@” sign.
The First Spam Email
It wasn’t long after ARPAnet that some guy figured out he could use it to advertise for free. On May 3, 1978, a marketer for the Digital Equipment Corporation called Gary Thuerk sent a message to a few hundred of the 2500+ members of the ARPAnet.
As you can see, he used it as a means to advertise a new computer and operating system called DECSYSTEM-2020 and TOPS-20. He felt that his announcement was relevant to his recipients but if only he knew what a monster he had created.
Gary and his technical associate spent a few days working on the message. They had the clear disadvantage of not knowing any Nigerian princes. Despite that, they managed to spark the interest of some users.
The strong negative reaction meant that the problem of unwanted messages would be held off for some years but not nearly enough.
The First Website
The first site on the World Wide Web went live a little over 23 years ago, on August 6, 1991. Its creator was CERN researcher and computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee and on it he explained what the Web was and where it came from.
He envisioned a place that held publicly available information and an active community sharing and expanding its contents. It was initially aimed at the High Energy Physics community but has since spread to virtually every other area. Berners-Lee encouraged others to post and write software of their own and help increase the Web’s use and functionality. “Now the web of data and indexes exists, some really smart intelligent algorithms (“knowbots?”) could run on it. Recursive index and link tracing, just think…” were his words. We take Google for granted today but things weren’t always this easy. Speaking of which:
The First Web Search Engine
Although the first tool to search the web ( Archie) came in 1990 via computer science students at the McGill University in Montreal, it wasn’t until 1994 that the first “all-text” search engine was launched.
It was called WebCrawler and provided users with the option of full-text search on any page of any website, a standard for all search engines today.
The First Picture Ever Posted On The Internet
Every second there are about 1300 pictures posted on Instagram only. Some speculate the total number of pictures on the internet numbers trillions. And to think I don’t even have a Facebook profile photo. Regardless of the current magnitude, it all started with one picture.
Les Horribles Cernettes (The Horrible CERN Girls) was a parody pop group comprised of CERN employees. As their name suggests, they had a targeted audience of physicists and their hits included: “Liquid nitrogen“, “Collider” and “Daddy’s Lab” among others.
In 1992, following their show at the CERN Hardronic Festival, colleague Tim Berners-Lee asked them for a few scanned photos of the band. He wanted to publish them on that new contraption of his.
More to come.