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Education's Role in the Development of the Internet

The seeds that were planted which ultimately led to the creation of the Internet and the World Wide Web, came from an organization that was formed in the United States after the USSR launched Sputnik in 1957. Sputnik was the first man-made satellite to be placed into earth orbit. In response to this perceived threat to the United States, an organization called the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) was formed under the Department of Defense. One important thing that ARPA did was to initially fund and start the research of the technology that would eventually lead to the global computer communications network we know of as the Internet. Thus the precursor to the Internet initially had a purely military purpose. Fortunately decisions were made during the subsequent development of this communications network that were key to its evolution toward a much broader purpose. For instance, the idea and ultimate decision in 1967 to provide a system independent interface to the ARPA computer network (ARPANET) that could be used by any computer system, provided for an open architecture for the Internet network from the very beginning.

By 1981 several universities used ARPANET and were able to benefit from its capabilities because they used it in their research work through the Defense Department contracts they had obtained. Other universities were also aware of the ARPANET and it's advantages but were not connected because they were not doing research for the Department of Defense. In order to obtain the advantages of such a broad based computer communications network for general academic research, a proposal was made to the National Science Foundation and funding was obtained to initially link three universities together for the purpose of general academic research communications. The universities were Wisconsin-Madison, Purdue, and Delaware. This network was called the Computer Science Network (CSNET). By 1982, there were 24 academic sites connected, and by 1984 there were 84 sites connected. Eventually more than 180 academic institutions and tens of thousands of users were using CSNET. One of the most important legacies of the CSNET though, was the introduction of the National Science Foundation to the Internet, which led to the development of the National Science Foundation Network (NSFNET).

In 1984 the first TCP/IP wide area network became operational when the National Science Foundation constructed a university network backbone for NSFNET. The term "Internet" started to be used for networks that used the TCP/IP communications protocol (from "IP", which stands for "Internet Protocol"). Thus, it was at this time that the true impact of academic and research implications of such a network was recognized. The Internet was used exclusively for this purpose for the rest of the 1980's. In the late 1980's a similar network used by European Academic institutions (EUNET) changed their protocol to use TCP/IP as well, thus enabling them to tie in to the fast developing "Internet" in the US.

In recognition of the fact that the "Internet" network was growing beyond its initial focus on research, in 1991 the NSFNET officially changed their "Acceptable Use Policy" to allow commercial use by "research arms for-profit firms when engaged in open scholarly communication and research".

Also, in the early 1990's the HTML page formatting language was created and paved the way for the creation of the World Wide Web as coined by CERN which was a particle physics laboratory in Switzerland. They created the concept of the World Wide Web because they needed a better way of facilitating the sharing of information among researchers. The first website was launched by CERN in 1991.
A copy of the first website can be viewed by clicking here: The First Web Site .

On April, 30, 1993 CERN announced that the World Wide Web would be free to everyone. The creation of the browsers, Mosaic and later Netscape that could read HTML and produce a formatted page on a user's computer screen lead to more public interest in the technology. The use of the Internet and the World Wide Web for widespread commercial purposes did not happen until 1995. Thus you can see Internet's roots and major innovations that led to the fantastic technology that we have today were for educational purposes, and even though a large segment of the World Wide Web is devoted to commercial purposes now, the Internet is ideal for education on the broadest scale that mankind has ever seen.

For more information about the history of the Internet and the World Wide Web and its potential as a wonderful tool for education and research, you can refer to the following websites.

  • This is the Internet history page for the Internet Society which has served as the international organization for global coordination and cooperation on the Internet, promoting and maintaining a broad spectrum of activities focused on the Internet's development, availability, and associated technologies.

 The Internet Society - List of Websites that Document the History of the Internet


  • This is the "About" Web page for the World Wide Web Consortium (know as W3C ®) which describes the World Wide Web as "the universe of network-accessible information, the embodiment of human knowledge... Through the use of hypertext and multimedia techniques, the Web is easy for anyone to roam, browse, and contribute."

 W3C - World Wide Web Consortium - About the World Wide Web Including Its History

  • The Living Internet Website has in-depth pages about the Internet's history, design, use, advanced use, important features, security issues, help resources, and references to additional information.

 The Living Internet Website

Using a website or Web page to help in the process of educating someone is a purpose that works naturally within the structure and of the World Wide Web. Knowledge cannot be easily represented or understood using a linear structure. The way humans think is represented more like the structure of the World Wide Web than that of a printed book or journal. One idea naturally leads to another and there are many connections and viewpoints that need to be reviewed and studied before one can begin to become educated on a given subject.

A man named Vannevar Bush first came up with the idea for the hypertext structure of the World Wide Web in an article called "As We May Think". In part 6 of his article in a 1945 article in the Atlantic Monthly, "As We May Think" by Vannevar Bush , he describes a device that could be made to help us organize and access the growing amount of information that mankind has gathered. He says in the article "It operates by association. With one item in its grasp, it snaps instantly to the next that is suggested by the association of thoughts, in accordance with some intricate web of trails carried by the cells of the brain." He felt like he should name such a device, so he gave it the name "Memex". He defined a Memex as "a device in which an individual stores all his books, records, and communications, and which is mechanized so that it may be consulted with exceeding speed and flexibility. It is an enlarged intimate supplement to his memory." From this idea, and the work of many others in the development of computers, connectivity infrastructure, standardized communication protocols, and hypertext formatting languages (HTML, XML, etc), and various kinds of software, including browsers and tools that allow the development of Web pages, the World Wide Web was "born" in 1989 and has had an immeasurable impact on civilization and education.

For more detailed information on hypertext and its history check out Bill Kennelly's Story of Hypertext .

There are various guidelines for using hypertext. You want to use links, for instance, to present various aspects of what you are writing about but you have to be careful in supporting the topic of your Web page and to aid your website visitor in learning without getting them tangled up. It is called a web for various reasons. Yes, a web more accurately represents the way people think and hyperlinks support effective teaching and educating, but if not used properly, your visitors can become entangled in the web, loosing their bearings, and maybe even wrapped up in a concept or website, totally loosing the thread that you were leading them along as the teacher or educator. In most instances you will want visitors to stay at your website longer, and be compelled to return when they take a hyperlink detour. Both staying longer and returning to your website increases the odds that the purpose of your website will be met. (to sell products, services, candidates, yourself, or to just continue with topic of whatever you are trying to explain or teach.

This nature of the Web needs to be understood and taken into account when your website is being designed and maintained. As explained above, the "web" metaphor for the network of all the nodes on the internet network is very accurate. People browsing the Web can also become entangled and end up not even finding your website because it is not optimized in various ways to help them find you. Even if your website is just what they are looking for. When they do get to your website, they need to be able to easily find what they are looking for, use hyperlinks for a detour here and there or to learn more about a certain idea or concept, but they need to easily be able to get back and should feel compelled to want to come back and continue on your website. We have found, for instance, that a good website menu structure, helps visitors more in finding information than just providing an internal search engine for your website. If your website is very complex or has a myriad of products that you offer, then a well thought out structure, coupled with a search methodology that fits your needs is ideal.

Odyssey Consulting Corporation
113 Overton Ridge Circle
Weatherford, Texas 76088
Voice 817.594.3516 Fax 817.594.2710


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