From tiny dotcoms the mighty internet has grown
It's been 25 years since the first domain name, Symbolics.com, was registered. Rhodri Marsden remembers the small victories that have made web history
Published 10/03/2010 | 12:55
Monday will see the 25th anniversary of the registration of the domain name Symbolics.com. Granted, it's not particularly catchy, and to this day it's renowned for nothing other than being the first.
But it unwittingly became the eldest brother of a phenomenon that profoundly changed the world.
It's not clear exactly what prompted a Massachussetts software company to contact the US Department of Defence – which was, at that time, responsible for administering the internet – and ask for it.
It certainly couldn't have had any idea of the revolution that was to come – indeed, the world wide web was still more than five years away, and the internet was merely a network of computers used primarily for research purposes.
But Symbolics.com predated every other domain that we now type every day to shop, communicate, learn, entertain ourselves – even find partners.
1985 – Symbolics.com is registered, with Bbn.com and Think.com making up the first three dotcoms.
1986 – Xerox snapped up theirs in January, followed by IBM in March and Boeing in September. At this stage, the concept of using the internet for commercial purposes was still unheard of.
1987 – Apple, just as it was launching its groundbreaking SE computer, registered Apple.com in February – again, without much of a clue of its future potential. The 100th dotcom to be registered, Nynexst.com, is added to the list on 30 November.
1988 – Robert Morris, a student at Cornell University writes the first notable computer "worm", supposedly to gauge the size of the internet at that time (some 60,000 computers, as it turned out). He's convicted under the 1986 Computer Fraud and Abuse Act; today he's an associate professor at MIT.
1989 – The World becomes the first company to offer dial-up internet access to the American public. In March, Compuserve – an alternative dialup service – makes its first links to the internet, allowing the receipt and transmission of email messages. Still no web, though
1990 – The first search engine, Archie, is written by Alan Emtage, a computer science student at the university of Montreal, enabling users to locate material on public computers. On Christmas Day Tim Berners-Lee compiles the first webpage at the unmemorable URL nxoc01.cern.ch.
1991 – June sees the first use of the term "surfing" in relation to the internet by Brendan Kehoe, an Irish software developer. Two months later, Tim Berners-Lee introduces the internet community to the world wide web with a post on the alt.hypertext newsgroup.
1992 – With the web still in its infancy, Demon Internet is launched in the UK, with dial-up internet access for a "tenner a month" – an offer they stick to throughout the boom years of the internet. In the USA, 11 newspapers already have an online presence.
1993 – With the web's commercial potential recognised by Congress, control of the internet shifts from the US Department of Defence to the National Science Foundation.
April sees two big developments: on the 22nd the web's first "killer application" is released, the Mosaic web browser; and on 30 April, Cern – for whom Tim Berners-Lee had been working – renounces intellectual property rights to the web, ensuring it's free for all.
In September, AOL grants its customers access to Usenet, at the time the premier discussion forum online. Hardline geeks were appalled, but the web exploded in popularity, growing by a staggering 341,634pc in 1993.
1994 – Netscape, the web's first major browser, is launched on 13 October – the same day as Whitehouse.gov appears.
1995 – The year kicks off with the news that a cult website, Jerry and David's Guide To The World Wide Web, has chosen a more memorable name in Yahoo.com.
In April, Compuserve subscribers finally get access to the world wide web via its "Net Launcher" software – just in time to catch the christening of the first internet dating website: Match.com.
Geocities encourages us all to publish our own material on the web in June when it starts a free web hosting service; the following month Amazon opens for business.
Microsoft releases the first version of Internet Explorer on 16 August in a direct challenge to the by-now-dominant Netscape, and three days later the seamier side of the internet emerges when porn.com is registered.
On 3 September, eBay is launched under the name AuctionWeb, its first sale being a broken laser pointer for $14.83 to a man who "collects broken laser pointers".
1996 – In January Andrew Neil becomes the first voice to stream on the BBC website; by June, Radio 1 is being streamed live (albeit in very low quality).
The frantic scrabble for domain names shows signs of getting out of control, with tv.com changing hands for $15,000, while May sees the debut of Future Splash Animator; this will eventually become known as Flash and add a dynamic side to the web.
The summer brings two more firsts: Tesco starts online home shopping trials in the UK in June, while Hotmail – later to become the web's most popular email service – makes itself known to us on 4 July.
1997 – Two more future web giants are born in September. Craiglist.org, later to become synonymous with online classified ads, is registered on the 11th; four days later Google.com is snapped up by Sergey Brin and Lawrence Page to provide a home for their experimental search engine that's currently running at Google.stanford.edu.
December sees the first mention of the word "weblog" online – later shortened to "blog".
1998 – The first real-money online poker website, Planet Poker, is launched in January; The Independent in the UK makes its tentative debut on the web the following month with an accompanying advert reading "web designer wanted".
22 September sees the launch of Freeserve, a new British internet service provider offering access without a monthly subscription, instead taking a slice of revenue from phone charges; by the end of the year it has become the largest ISP in the UK.
Blogging kicks off in earnest on 20 October, with the launch of the first dedicated blogging site, Open Diary; this is followed next year by LiveJournal and Blogger.
1999 – Dancing hamsters are all the rage in January; Hampsterdance.com is one of the first internet memes, forwarded in either delight or disgust.
In June, an exasperated student unable to find free music online registers Napster.com, opening a can of worms that's still wide open over a decade later: illegal file sharing.
By now, everyone's trying to start up an internet business; 3 November sees one of the most notorious, Boo.com, launch its website after many delays; they're well on their way to burning through $135m of venture capital in just 18 months.
2000 – Sure enough, the soaring value of questionable internet businesses can't last; on 10 March Nasdaq peaks and the dotcom bubble begins to burst.
But it's not just investors that are gullible: in May the first major virus dependent on social engineering emerges from the Philippines: we seem unable to resist opening an email that says "ILOVEYOU". Friends Reunited, one of the leading lights of social networking, launches in June.
2001 – On 9 January Apple releases iTunes, later to become the web's major repository of digital music, and Wikipedia.com is registered three days later.
With feverish registration of domain names continuing, capacity is expanded on 27 June with the introduction of the .biz and .info domains – but it's dotcoms that everyone wants
2002 – The internet hits the news in February as blogger Heather Armstrong, aka Dooce, is sacked from her job after her employers get wind of her online activities. She won't be the last ...
2003 – The web and real life become increasingly intertwined; the first "flash mob", the brainchild of journalist Bill Wasik, occurs in Manhattan in May and receives much coverage both on and offline.
MySpace makes its first mark on the web in August; two years later it'll be sold to Rupert Murdoch for $580m.
2004 – Facebook is hot on the heels of MySpace, going online on 4 February – although it's initially called "thefacebook", and restricted to college mates of founder Mark Zuckerberg.
Google launch an email service, GMail, on 21 March, with a capacity of 1gb – causing consternation in its competitors, who only offer a meagre fraction of this.
With Internet Explorer dominant, the open-source program Firefox makes a quiet entrance on 9 November, but will later make real challenges to the might of Microsoft.
2005 – Youtube.com is registered on Valentine's Day; the first video – featuring founder Jawed Karim at San Diego Zoo – is uploaded on 23 April.
Google's expansion continues with the appearance of Google Earth, a collection of satellite photos of the globe, on 28 June, while in October the world of telephony sits up at the news that eBay are buying VoIP leaders Skype.
2006 – "Just setting up my twttr" becomes the first Twitter message posted on 21 March.
The real world has remained largely contemptuous of virtual worlds and alternative realities, but that changes on 1 May with the news that the first real-life millionaire has been created due to a business operating in Second Life. Four months later, Second Life welcomes its millionth resident.
2007 – On 26 February, Estonia becomes the first nation to allow online voting in its national elections; Google Street View launches on 25 May, causing an outcry amongst privacy campaigners and applause from people who like the idea of exploring the streets of New York from the comfort of their armchair.
The year ends with the launch of the BBC's iPlayer service – a huge step in the dismantling of rigid TV schedules.
2008 – Google's crawler indexes its trillionth page on 25 July. In October, the on-demand music service Spotify launches in the UK – a direct challenge to not only iTunes, but also the burgeoning community of filesharers, including those behind Sweden's The Pirate Bay.
2009 – Sure enough, on 17 April, The Pirate Bay's founders are sentenced to a year in prison after a much-publicised court case. They appeal.
Twitter and Facebook also make the headlines when they demonstrate their capability of rallying troops in causes as laudable as freedom of speech, and as frivolous as keeping Simon Cowell's protegé off the UK Xmas No 1 spot.