The 16 Greatest Moments in Web History

From a blog about a stained blue dress to the day Larry met Sergey, these are the pivotal moments that made the Web what it is today.

Mobile Packets to the Web Itself

Parts of a log-in is better than none, as ARPAnet researchers discovered. And a Christmas present from snowy Geneva in 1990 remains a treat for everyone today. Here are our top four Web moments.

4. LO! and Behold

Before the Web was born, there was simply the Internet, and before the Internet came ARPAnet. Though plans for ARPAnet had been brewing since the early 1960s, it wasn't ready for prime time until fall 1969--and even then things didn't go exactly as planned.

Late on the evening of October 29, Professor Len Kleinrock linked a mainframe computer at UCLA to one at the Stanford Research Institute over a dedicated phone line. To test the connection, Kleinrock had arranged for students at UCLA to transmit the word "LOG," after which the computer at SRI would respond with "IN." Researcher Charley Kline managed to send the L and the O, but before he could send the G, the system crashed. (Some things really haven't changed all that much.)

The next attempt was successful, but "LO" marks the moment the Internet sent its first word--as significant an utterance as Samuel Morse's "What hath God wrought?" or Alexander Graham Bell's "Watson, come here, I need you."

"Morse and Bell were a hell of a lot smarter than we were," Kleinrock noted in a 2004 interview. "They knew they were doing something of historical importance. We were just engineers, trying to do a good job."

3. When Sergey Met Larry

Back in 1995, when cofounders Sergey Brin and Larry Page met at Stanford University, they didn't like each other much. But by January 1996, they were collaborating on BackRub, a graduate project analyzing how back links could be used to improve search results.

By early 1998, they had set up a data center in Larry's dorm room and begun shopping the BackRub concept around. (One of the first people to pass on the offer was Yahoo's David Filo, who is probably still sore from kicking himself.)

In September 1998, when Google Inc. opened for business inside a Silicon Valley garage, the Web entered its second phase. Unlike thousands of now-dead dot coms that preceded it, Google proved that you really could give stuff away and still make a profit. By allowing Net users to determine where pages ranked in Google results, the search engine was arguably the first Web 2.0 application. Its 2004 IPO spurred a rebirth of investment in the Web--and some 1997-style deja vu--that shows no sign of slowing. And in June 2006, the Oxford English Dictionary made it official, adding "google" to the lexicon as a verb meaning to search the Web for.

2. Day One of Irrational Exuberance

Sure, Netscape Navigator was good, but Netscape's IPO created the dot-com frenzy. On that fateful summer day in 1995 the company's shares zoomed from US$28 to US$75 before settling back down to US$58 at the session's close.

The Netscape IPO inspired a flood of other public offerings, including Yahoo (April 1996), Amazon (May 1997), eBay (September 1998), and some that are best forgotten (Pets.com, anyone?).

At the time nobody had any idea how these companies would make money--and most of them didn't, leading to the dot-com crash in 2000. But by then, Netscape as we knew it was gone, too: Famously "crushed" by Microsoft in the browser wars of the late 1990s, it was acquired in November 1998 by AOL Time Warner. The name lives on in an open-source browser and a site that's just another way onto the AOL portal.

More important, the Netscape offering put the Web on the map--and into the consciousness of millions of people who cared not a whit about technology but loved to dream of endlessly skyrocketing stocks.

1. World Wide Wonder

Stop us if you didn't see this one coming. The greatest moment in the Web's history has to be the instant of its own creation. On Christmas morning 1990, Tim Berners Lee and Robert Cailliau of the CERN research lab in Geneva communicated with the world's first Web server--presenting all of us with a Christmas gift that keeps on giving.

According to the Living Internet site, Berners Lee originally developed a hypertext system to keep track of the hundreds of projects, software, and computers in use at CERN's High Energy Physics department. Using a NeXT computer, Berners Lee developed a rudimentary browser in the fall of 1990. He and Cailliau then created the first Web content: the CERN phone directory.

The following August, Berners Lee unveiled his creation to the world (or at least, to the portion of the world that logged on to the alt.hypertext newsgroup). By the end of 1992, the Net hosted 50 web servers. By the end of 1994, that number had grown to 2500. The Big Bang had already begun.

The earlier development of the Internet gave us the infrastructure computers needed in order to communicate, but the Web provided the Net's most important cargo--what today amounts to more than 135 million Web sites, connected by rat's nest of hyperlinks and growing at a steady 5 percent per month, according to Netcraft. No aspect of our lives remains untouched by the Web. The fact that you're reading this on your computer screen--not on paper--says it all.

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Daniel Tynan

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