The Internet: then and now

The modern Internet turned 30 week. This post briefly compares the state of the Internet 30 years ago, with where it is today.

ICT, ICT Pulse, Internet. comparisonEarlier this week, 1 January to be precise, was the 30th anniversary of the formal adoption of the Transmission Control Protocol and Internet Protocol (TCP/IP), which is widely held as the launchpad of the modern Internet. Most of us might not have been aware of the existence of the Internet 30 years ago, and more importantly, the fact that it would transform the world in that relatively short time. This post briefly highlights some of the changes that have occurred with the Internet between 1983 and today.


World Wide Web

Then:  in 1983, the World Wide Web did not exist. Sir Tim Berners-Lee proposed in 1990 to use hypertext on the Internet, which was the foundation for other key protocols, which are still being applied today. Through his work, he developed critical elements of the World Wide Web, which broadened the scope and application of the Internet, allowing it to become mainstream. They included:

  • the publishing language, HyperText Markup Language (HTML)
  • the Uniform Resource Locator (URL)
  • the Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP).

Now:  Where would we be without the World Wide Web? We use the abbreviation “www”, to signify Internet addresses on the World Wide Web, which is usually preceded by “http”. In summary, it has made the Internet more user-friendly, which in turn has made it easier to access information, and even to develop websites and share content.


Then:  Email was successfully implemented in the early 70s, but would have had restricted availability among the population at large. It would be confined to discrete or connected networks, such as those used within governments, universities and large corporations, and would have had limited scope.

Now:  Worldwide, email has become a critical channel of communication thanks in large part to its efficiency, speed of communication and cost effectiveness. Although many consumers might not own a computing device or subscribe to the Internet, they might still have and maintain email accounts, as there are a number of websites that offer free email service.

Furthermore, the widespread use of emails, particularly in business and for formal communication, has led countries to amend their legal rules to recognise electronic communications and transactions.  Hence, depending on jurisdiction, emails are admissible as evidence in legal proceedings.


e-commerce, internet, ICT, ICT PulseThen:  Electronic commerce (e-commerce) as we know it today did not exist in 1983, although some of the foundational work had been completed by that time. Products would either be listed electronically, and separate arrangements would usually have to be made, such as calling via the telephone or faxing, to order the desired goods and to complete the purchase.

Now:  Through the introduction of SSL (Secure Socket Layer) encryption protocol in 1994, which is widely used to provide a secure channel for electronic transactions, plus the growth of consumer-oriented companies establishing a presence online from around 1995, the global e-commerce market is estimated at USD 1.4 trillion in 2011 (Source: Cisco). E-commerce facilities and the online storefront have transformed and are continuing to have an impact on retail business. Increasingly, businesses are adopting models that allow them to reduce their physical space and overheads (especially for stores) by engaging consumers, and ultimately securing sales, through virtual stores only.

Social media

Then:  Social media as we know it did not exist in 1983. However, early precursors to social media included user networks (usernets), bulletin board systems, and chat rooms, which were around from the 1970s, to Internet Relay Chat and Instant Messaging.

Now:  The Web 2.0 protocols to support social media were developed in the late 1990s, and began to gain a foothold in the early-2000s. As it currently stands, social media encompasses a broad range of features and capabilities including:

  • blogs, e.g. ICT Pulse
  • micro-blogging, e.g. Twitter
  • wikis, e.g. Wikipedia
  • social networks, e.g. Facebook, LinkedIn
  • podcasts, and
  • photographs/images and video sharing platforms, e.g. Flickr, YouTube and Vimeo.

As at 2012, it has been estimated that there are approximately 1.5 billion social network users globally (Source: Search Engine Watch). In the United States in 2011, 65% of Internet users used social networking sites (Source: Pew Internet), whilst in the Caribbean, almost 50% of Internet users were Facebook subscribers, as at mid-2012 (Source: World Internet Stats).

Technology and capacity

Then:  In 1983, the Internet that existed at the time would not necessarily have been built for speed. Those of us who had used dial-up Internet may remember connecting at speeds such as 14.4 or 28.8 Kbps, or even less. The data transmitted would have been relatively small, but it could still take a considerable amount of time (relatively speaking) to be successfully transmitted.

Now: Today, dial-up Internet has been phased out in many countries and the minimum accepted transmission speed across most of the Caribbean and in developed countries is 1 Mbps. Additionally, as the Internet has evolved, considerable volumes of data is being published online, or being made available via the Internet. In 2006, it was estimated that the data stored worldwide was 0.1 ZettaByte (1 ZB = 1 trillion GigaBytes). By 2011, the estimate had jumped to 5.3 ZettaByte, and by 2016, projections are that there will be 22 ZettaBytes of data (Source: Fortinet).


Then:  The Internet initially existed as a relatively small network of networks, concentrated in the United States, which comprised government agencies, universities, and eventually large corporations. Although there might have been scope for Internet access and use to grow among organisations, it would have been unlikely that residential customers would be able to afford and have the technical expertise to manage Internet connectivity.  More importantly, they might not have been to gain meaningful use of that medium, since at that time was not designed to be enjoyed by the average individual

Now:  As at 30 June 2012, over 2.4 billion, or almost 35%, of the world’s population, are using the Internet. Although there are still technology and economic barriers to access, pricing, along with access to and the availability of the Internet has improved considerably over the last 20 years, and many countries are employing various initiatives to encourage take-up by their citizens. Furthermore, through the explosive growth in the number and size of the networks that now comprise the Internet, considerable redundant or secondary routes exist, which means that it is highly unlikely that the entire Internet can be shut down.

Who do you think the Internet will look like 10 or 20 years from now? Take a guess and share your thoughts below…


Image credits:  Stuart Miles (