Truth, lies and bytes: Uncover the story behind who invented the internet

Lisa Hyman
LH
Lisa Hyman
Nov 18, 2019

Over the past two decades, the internet has become a pervasive part of our lives. From checking the weather to wishing your cousin happy birthday, practically every aspect of our lives is entwined with the internet. 

For such a large machine, not a lot of people know who, or what, is in charge of the internet. Who invented the internet and who is pulling the strings behind the curtain? 

Well, as it turns out the internet is (thankfully) not “owned” by any one person. Historically, the web has had a “live and let live” approach to its contents, access and use. 

But just like a motion picture, there is a lot going on behind the scenes. Let’s take a look at the setting and cast of characters running the show. 

The creation of a land of Oz

The internet is a boundless, intangible cloud of all the content that exists on the World Wide Web. Like the land of Oz, the internet can be a fantastic paradise upon first arrival. There’s more to read, see, do and learn than Glinda the Good Witch can shake her wand at. 

Who invented the internet? Well, contrary to popular belief, it wasn’t Al Gore, though he did play a large part in passing legislation and campaigning for connecting people — specifically schools — across America. 

The birth of the internet was a combination of efforts among mathematicians and scientists. Bob Kahn and Vint Cerf are recognized as the “founding fathers,” but they worked with teams of talented people to develop the ARPANet. 

ARPANet and the yellow brick road

In the late 60’s, The Advanced Research Projects Agency Network, known as ARPANet, had a hand in the  research and development of “internet protocols,” i.e., the transfer of information across a network. ARPANet was a research initiative by the U.S. Department of Defense. So, does this mean the military invented the web? Not really. 

Without the massive undertaking of connecting the country via phone lines (which would later evolve into DSL, fiber-optics and cable internet), the web as we know it today would not exist. This “yellow brick road” provided a path for millions of people to get online. 

Nowhere is this more clear than looking at the jump in percent of U.S. households with a computer from 1984 to 2016. 

Statistic: Percentage of households in the United States with a computer at home from 1984 to 2016 | Statista
Find more statistics at Statista


Access to the internet is key, but let’s face it, this yellow brick road doesn’t reach everyone. An April 2019 report from Microsoft revealed over 162 million Americans still don’t have access to high-speed internet. . And there are a relatively small number of corporations who collectively own the lines, such as AT&T, Comcast and Spectrum. Luckily, thanks to the Telecommunications Act of 1996, no single company can monopolize the total internet framework.

The government and the Wizard of Oz

Have you ever wondered how you get the results you receive when you search online? Does it seem like the powers that be want you to “pay no attention to that man behind the curtain?”

In America, the government does not control the internet (which is not the case for other countries, particularly China). In reality, there are two main entities responsible for most of the structural bones of the internet. One is very familiar and has become synonymous with searching the web. But the other is one you probably don’t know.

Google

Google revolutionized the way we search, and therefore access, the vast info on the web. Google’s Page Rank algorithm will show you what they have calculated to be the most relevant results. Their 2007 launch of Universal Search began including news, images, video and other sources of content. 

How much does this matter? Well, in early 2019, studies indicated that over 71% of searches ended by clicking on a page one result from Google. This means when you search “dinosaurs,” you are going to see what Google’s algorithms deem to be the most relevant, popular results about dinosaurs. 

Likewise, if you’re searching for a new car, you are getting Google’s judgement on the cars most suited to you. However, keep in mind that savvy marketers know how to leverage the Google ranking formulas too. 

ICANN

ICANN, or the The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, has been the main player since 1998. They organize domain names (i.e., website names) and do a lot of complicated, behind-the-scenes actions to maintain stability within the structure of the Web.

Lions and tigers and bears, oh my! 

Now that we’ve dispelled some myths about the origin story of the web and who invented the internet, the only question left is who are all these other people online? Pay attention to who else is on the internet because these other travelers influence the web in a big way. If you need help navigating your path, check out our tips for deducing bogus information from real reports

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