Ten years of the net

Just a decade ago, the $3bn flotation of Netscape signalled the start of the mass internet age. Danny Bradbury explores how the web conquered the world – and changed our lives.

1995: BROWSERS AND PORTALS

On 9 August Netscape floats, ushering in a five-year dot.com boom. The $3bn flotation is the most spectacular in a series of commercial landmarks that includes the launch of Amazon.com (in July) and direct internet services from CompuServe (April) and AOL (October), which allow subscribers to the different services to exchange e-mails. But it is the mass availability of Netscape’s user-friendly browser (launched in 1994) that brings the internet to ordinary people with PCs and Macs rather than specialists with Unix terminals.

* Annual fee introduced for the registration of domain names.

* Microsoft starts giving away Internet Explorer 1.0 with its Windows 95 operating system.

* RealAudio launched.

* The Vatican releases a web site.

* AltaVista search engine launched.

1996: ONLINE TRAVEL TAKES OFF

Expedia and Travelocity launch their online travel services in the US. Pioneers of the internet phenomenon of “disintermediation” (cutting out the middleman), these sites pave the way for no-frills airlines such as Easyjet and Ryanair (which go online in 1998 and 2000 respectively) to sell their services at hitherto unimaginably low prices. The ease, flexibility and cost-effectiveness of internet booking has subsequently brought scores of once exotic locations within financial range of British travellers, transforming local economies around the world.

* Israeli company Mirabilis introduces instant messaging with its ICQ service.

* Yahoo floats. Company value hits $1bn.

* Netscape’s share of browser market peaks at 87 per cent. (Internet Explorer has 4 per cent.)

* Tesco begins Tesco Direct service.

* Ebay’s AuctionWeb receives its millionth bid and is renamed eBay.

1997: THE SHOP.COM BOOM

AOL’s subscriber base reaches 10 million (up from 5 million in 1996), while amazon.com records its millionth customer. The latter’s initial public offering (which raises $54m) highlights the potential of e-commerce. The scramble for web “presence” accelerates. Its importance had already been seen in December 1996, when Harrods won the right to use the harrods.com domain name from a cybersquatter who had tried to charge it £100,000 for the privilege. In January the business.com domain sells for $150,000. Two years later it sells again for $7.5m.

* NASA’s website receives 46 million hits when Pathfinder sends back pictures from Mars.

* First recorded use of the term “weblog” to describe an online journal.

* NASA’s website receives 46 million hits when Pathfinder sends back pictures from Mars.

* Members of online Heaven’s Gate cult commit mass suicide.

1998: RISE OF SEARCH ENGINES

Google, started by two Stanford graduates, initially serves 10,000 queries per day, but within a year is answering 3 million. Today it serves over 250 million per day – almost half of all US-originated queries – and indexes 8 billion pages.

* Online Drudge Report breaks story of Clinton-Lewinsky relationship. When the Starr Report into the scandal is released online eight months later, the internet has its busiest day ever.

* Launches of Egg online banking, amazon.co.uk, easyjet.co.uk and lastminute.com.

* Every nation in the world is online.

1999: FILE-SHARING

Student Shawn Fanning launches the Napster peer-to-peer service, enabling computers to share files directly with each other. Within months, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has begun legal action for copyright infringement. Further lawsuits follow, and, although its user base reaches 26 million by 2001, Napster dies out, selling its name to Roxio.

* SETI@Home service launches, using spare computing power on PCs worldwide to analyse radio signals from space for signs of alien life.

* BlackBerry launches in US.

* Melissa virus infects 1 million PCs worldwide.

* A list of MI6 agents is released on the web.

* Tesco launches online shopping.

* Egg launches UK’s first internet credit card.

* US Department of Commerce describes online sales as “a major indicator of [US] economic health”.

2000: THE BUBBLE BURSTS

AOL agrees $350bn merger with “old media” giant Time Warner. The Nasdaq new-tech share index peaks at 5,048.62. By the end of 2002 the index has fallen to 1,114.11 – and AOL/Time Warner posts a loss of $99bn. Time Warner drops AOL from its name the following year.

* The “I Love You” worm becomes the costliest in the history of the internet.

* Popbitch celebrity gossip website launches.

* The scientist Laurence Godfrey wins £15,000 in damages from Demon Internet for failing to remove “squalid, obscene and defamatory” remarks about him.

* Lastminute.com is valued at £800m on flotation.

2001: PORN, WORMS & VIRUSES

he web’s dark side asserts itself. Following the spread of the VBS/Loveletter internet worm in 2001, a spate of other worms are released including Sircam, CodeRed and Klez. Meanwhile, an FBI investigation into paedophile websites identifies 250,000 suspected users, including 7,200 in the UK. More than 1,200 people are arrested. Today there are 4.2 million pornographic websites – 12 per cent of all sites.

* Napster is banned from distributing copyrighted music.

* Apple launches the iPod.

* Microsoft launches Windows XP operating system, with its built-in support for wireless networking.

* Wikipedia starts.

* BlackBerry launches in Europe.

* Taliban bans internet use in Afghanistan.

2002: ONLINE RELATIONSHIPS

Friends Reunited began reconnecting old school friends in 2000, growing from 3,000 members in its first year to 4 million at the start of 2002. Meanwhile, a new generation of social websites including Friendster.com and EveryonesConnected.com develops the theme. Today there are more than 300 such sites, including Google’s invitation-only service, Orkut.

* Popbitch withdraws unfounded rumours about David and Victoria Beckham after the couple threaten legal action.

* Video of the murder of Daniel Pearl is shown online.

* Internet Explorer’s share of the browser market reaches 96 per cent.

* Internet’s global “population” reaches 428 million.

*Apple sells its millionth iPod.

2003: SOUND & PICTURES

Apple launches the iTunes Music Store, selling 20 million copy-protected tracks in seven months. Microsoft’s response – the MSN Music Store – isn’t ready until 2004, but research firm Forrester predicts that by 2008 one third of all music sales will be made online. Digital cameras outsell film cameras in the US for the first time.

* Kazaa, a file-sharing program, becomes the most downloaded software ever.

* Howard Dean’s internet-based presidential campaign threatens to revolutionise US politics (left).

* Wireless hotspots take off, freeing internet users from their desks. BT promises to establish 4,000 such hotspots across the UK by the summer of 2004.

* Recording Industry Association of America sues 261 people for distributing copyright music files over the internet.

2004: YEAR OF THE BLOG

Although the term “weblog” was coined in 1997, 2004 is the year the blog achieves critical mass. Salam Pax, the “Baghdad blogger”, becomes popular during the Iraq war, while in the US, Fox news anchor Dan Rather resigns after bloggers discredit one of his stories. AOL begins to include blogging tools in the latest versions of its software, while Microsoft launches its MSN Spaces blogging service. Today there are an estimated 14.7 million blogs, with a new one created every 7.4 seconds.

* Google goes public for $1.7bn.

* Cherie Blair is noticed using eBay.

* MyDoom worm becomes internet’s worst-ever virus.

* US film industry serves lawsuits against sites hosting BitTorrent-based files.

* The global online population reaches 934 million.

2005: ONLINE NEWS

Citizen journalists are now appearing daily, not just on the big news sites. Nowpublic.com and Scoopt.com offer people the chance to be photojournalists, while podcasting (a grassroots internet radio movement akin to audio blogging) is hugely popular after just one year. A report by the Carnegie Corporation shows that 18- to 34-year-olds in the US are twice as likely to use an internet portal as a printed newspaper for daily news.

* Skype Internet telephony service handles its ten billionth minute of voice conversation.

* Fraudsters send 19.2 million “phishing” e-mails in July alone.

* More than half of British internet subscriptions are through broadband.

* 87 per cent of the world’s e-mail is spam.

[Via: A top-secret forum]

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