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.