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The World of the Internet

The rapid advance of the Internet

If we look at the development of the world economy we see two spectacular changes: economic power shifting and digitization. Economic power is shifting from western industrialized countries to the emerging economies. The rapid, unstoppable advance of the Internet is leading to the digitization of societies and economies throughout the world. In this context, the term 'digital' refers not only to the Internet, but also to mobile communication technology, interactive television, and so forth.

There were over 3 billion Internet users, a figure representing about 30 percent of the world population, in the first half of 2015. Approximately 60 percent of these users were online every day. Just ten years earlier, there were approximately one billion Internet users, and ‘being online’ was still in its infancy. It is expected that in 2017, more than 3.5 billion people throughout the world will use the Internet on an almost daily basis, both professionally and in their private lives. The digital revolution that we are witnessing in the form of webshops, smartphones, social network sites and tablets such as the iPad will have sweeping social and economic ramifications in the years to come. That said, most businesses and governments have not yet fully capitalized on the advance of the Internet and the digitization of society. They are thereby likely to lose out on valuable opportunities both in the business world and for economic development and education.

The future welfare of many countries will greatly depend on the degree to which governments, companies, employers and employees are able to adapt quickly and flexibly to new developments and challenges in a world that is changing at an ever-faster pace. The digital highway is playing the lead role in this scenario. 

What is the Internet?

The Internet (or ‘the net’ or ‘the web’) is the world's largest public network of computer networks. The Internet allows many hundreds of millions of computers, owned by individuals, businesses, governments and other organizations, such as nonprofit organizations (NPOs), to communicate with each other. This communication is possible because the different networks are interlinked to each other. The smooth functioning of the Internet is facilitated by the Internet Protocol (IP), the main protocol that is used to relay information over the net. IP addresses – unique strings of numbers – allow computers in different networks to find each other and communicate. The overall system or network that is as such created is also referred to as the World Wide Web (www) or the digital or electronic highway. The introduction of wireless means of communication, such as mobile phones and laptops, moreover, has greatly extended the reach of the Internet.

Click here for an informative video about the working of the Internet.

Box 1 A short history of the Internet

The Internet dates back to 1969, when ARPANET was initiated in the United States. ARPANET was a network of university networks that later also connected military networks. In 1983, it started using a new protocol, TCP/IP as the network protocol (a combination of Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) and the Internet Protocol (IP). The introduction of IP is considered to be the starting point of the Internet in its current technical form. An IP address is a string of numbers that identifies a computer that is connected to the Internet and makes it visible to all other computers on the net. In a way, the computer's ‘phone number’. In 1991, two computer scientists, the Englishman Tim Berners-Lee and the Belgian Robert Cailliau, published the World Wide Web-project. For this, they had been developing protocols for communication on the Internet, involving the Hyper Text Transfer Protocol (http) and the Hyper Text Markup Language (html), the language with which websites are built.

The introduction of html and www made the Internet suitable for widespread use. Tim Berners-Lee is therefore regarded as the inventor or founder of today's Internet. The Internet became known to the general public only in 1994. That year, Pizza Hut became one of the first companies in the world to use the www for commercial purposes: its customers were able to order online. By 1996, the Internet was generally known, but the term was mostly used as a synonym for the World Wide Web. The web soon became established globally. The Internet is now a mainstream medium in most countries.

Various short summary videos on the development of the Internet can be found online, for those who are interested. The video by Melih Bilgil gives an especially clear explanation. In addition to this, Appendix 1 contains an overview of the main events in the history of the Internet in the period 1957-2012. It also features a number of short videos that explain certain developments in more detail. A comprehensive overview of the history of the Internet can be found here.

‘When I took office, only high energy physicists had ever heard of what is called the Worldwide Web... Now even my cat has its own page.’ Bill Clinton, President of the United States in 1996, during the announcement of Next Generation Internet initiative.