We use the internet every day. Before we dive into conversations about navigating the rich resources you can find online, it’s helpful to understand what these terms mean and where this all came from.

If a 5-year old child asked you: “What is the internet?” how would you describe it?

This can be challenging, because we may not think about how the internet works, and many of us take the internet for granted. To keep it simple, the internet can be described as a very large network of computers that communicate with each other in standardized ways, so information can be shared efficiently and effectively.


In 1969, the first version of the internet was created and set up as a network (called ARPANET) between four “nodes”: UCLA, the Stanford Research Institute, UC Santa Barbara, and the University of Utah (Mack). A student programmer named Charley Kline sent the first message over ARPANET on October 29, 1969.  The simple message  “LO” was supposed to be “LOGIN”, but the system crashed after the “O” (Norman).

To learn more about these early days of the internet, watch this short video [4:56] featuring Leonard Kleinrock who led the effort:

Note: This video is auto-captioned. Accurate captions are available at the Amara version. Use the text transcript if you prefer to read.

What is ARPANET? ARPA stands for Advanced Research Projects Agency. NET is short for network. ARPA was part of the U.S. Department of Defense.

From these humble beginnings came new ways to share information and communicate. In 1971, we had the first email message and saw the creation and international expansion of more networks, which prompted a standard for the networks that was released in 1983 (McDowall). This eventually led to the establishment of the Web, which was released by CERN (the European Council for Nuclear Research) in 1993 and led by Tim Berners-Lee (Greenemeier). Therefore, while the terms are often used interchangeably, the internet is separate from the Web: the Web can be simply described as an application that runs on the internet, facilitating a way to standardize and share information from the internet.

A need emerged for platforms to display information on the Web known as browsers; today, Google Chrome, Mozilla’s Firefox, and Microsoft’s Edge are three popular browsers. A need also emerged for  tools that could index and search information within the Web, or search engines; today, these include Google, Yahoo!, and Bing.


Greenemeier, Larry. “Remembering the Day the World Wide Web was Born.” Scientific American, 12 Mar. 2009.

Mack, Eric. “The Internet Was Born 50 Years Ago with a Nonsense Message.” CNET, 29 Oct. 2019.

McDowall, Mike. “How a Simple ‘Hello’ Became the First Message Sent Via the Internet.” PBS News Hour, 9 Feb. 2015.

Norman, Jeremy. “Charley Kline Sends the First Message Over the ARPANET.” HistoryofInformation, 2020.


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Introduction to College Research Copyright © by Walter D. Butler; Aloha Sargent; and Kelsey Smith is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.