Digital Marketing - a Practical Approach 3e : home

A BACKGROUND TO THE INTERNET

from: Digital Marketing a Practical Approach 2nd edition

Although it is not necessary for practitioners of online marketing to be given a full history lesson on the development of the Internet, a basic introduction to its history and how it works will help the new online marketer to implement a digital marketing plan. Contrary to common misconception, the Internet was born of military - not academic - parents. Although many universities took up use of the fledgling technology at the end of the 1960s, research into what became the Internet began a decade earlier when Cold-War era American leaders, fearing that a limited nuclear attack on the USA would disable conventional communications systems, instigated the ARPANet (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network) project. The system's development as a simple medium of character-only communication continued throughout the 1970s until an Englishman, (now sir) Tim Berners-Lee, developed his 'rules for the World Wide Web' in 1980. Further technical advances were made in the 1980s including the development of the Transfer Control Protocol (TCP), Internet Protocol (IP) and the Domain Name System (DNS) - all of which are cornerstones of what we now know as the Internet. Still academia-centric throughout this period, it was not until the early 1990s that the technology moved into a more commercial environment - not least with the 1991 release of the World Wide Web - and some business leaders began to recognize the potential of the new medium of communications.

PRACTICAL INSIGHT
The web, email and the Internet - misconceptions

In both technical and practical terms the Internet is the parent of the other two. In other words, the Internet is made up of the world wide web and email. The world wide web and the Internet are not the same thing. Email is not part of the world wide web. The Internet is not an element of either the world wide web or email.

The 1993 launch of the first web browser - Mosaic - meant that the general public now had easy access to the web. Although a number of commercial websites appeared during this time, few really appreciated the web - indeed, scepticism ruled the day, with many condemning the Internet simply as a fad that would go away. In the opinion of many - myself included - the real birth of the commercial web was in October 1994 when 'Wired' magazine's online edition, Hotwired.com, featured the first online banner advertisement (for AT&T). While 1995 and 96 saw great commercial steps forward for the Internet in the USA (Amazon.com was launched in 1995), the rest of the world was slower in its uptake. Although the northern Europeans - including Scandinavia - were at the forefront of outside-USA adoption, it was 1997 before businesses - and significantly, governments and the EU - really took it seriously. Even then there was a long tail of uncertainty - with some major brands and house-hold names not even having a website until closer to the end of the 1990s. The end of the old century and the beginning of the new millennium saw a kind of 'Internet fever', with every news medium featuring web-related stories of some kind in every bulletin or edition. This culminated in the frenzy of ill-conceived investments in 'dot-com' businesses - and their inevitable failure, the so-called 'dot-bomb' era. But despite the highly publicized crashes of web-based ventures, the value of the Internet was obvious, and the doom mongers' predictions of its demise were well off the mark. As with the history of the Internet, it is not necessary for the online marketer to know all the scientific and technical aspects of the medium. However - if only to prevent programmers and other techies baffling them with science, the marketer should at least have an inkling of how the thing works.

What follows is a very rudimentary version of what happens when you go online.

1 The website is hosted on a computer (server) that holds it in the form of a program code until it is requested by a user.
2 When the user either types a URL into a browser or clicks on a hyperlink, a request is sent from their computer - via an Internet service provider (ISP) - for the files that make up that website to be delivered.
3 The elements that make up the website are sent - in 'packets' - to the requesting computer. Note that it is the 'packets' element of the communication system that satisfied the ARPENet military requirements. Essentially - and is still the reason why the Internet rarely fails and delivers quickly - the transmitted message is broken down into its component parts and each is tasked with finding its own way to the destination. The Cold War scenario was that standard single-line methods of communication could be easily broken by an atomic explosion. With the Internet there is no single-line, so if a packet hits a blockage it simply keeps looking until a clear route is found.
4 The packets arrive at the destination they are re-formed to make the complete message - which users see on their screens as a web page.

Of course - despite its complexity - online, this all happens in fractions of a second.

For an excellent pictorial demonstration of how the web works, see the BBC's SuperPower: Visualising the internet and Hobbes' Internet Timeline 24.


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