Internet Growth: Over 1 Billion Served And Where It All Began

Several news outlets today picked up reporting on the semi-official website odometer over at The hoopla? The World Wide Web finally reached the plateau of 1 billion websites. When you consider that the total human population of the earth is about only 7 billion, that means there’s now one website for every seven people on earth. Wow.
I’ve long felt, and still feel, that when future historians reckon back upon 10,000 or so years of known human history, the development of network connectivity will represent a massive peak on the escalatory path of advancement. We’ll be a remarkable generation because we lived in the time of this invention – a technological wonder that connected a mankind tired from a long and bloody 5,000 years of walls, fences and isolation. Really, when you look across the span of known human history, where would you rather be than right here, right now? Credit that to computer connectivity.
The news outlets today were quick to point to Tim Berners-Lee and his infinitely famous proposals during 1989-90 at CERN that laid out the process of how to develop the World Wide Web and how to populate it with websites and how to navigate it with a browser. Genius.
But I’ll be frank: I’m a roots sort of guy, and I plainly feel, and I think history will ultimately judge that 10:30 pm, Oct. 29, 1969 marks the dawn of our new epoch. That’s the exact time and date when the first network connection occurred over the ARPANET between Boelter Hall room 3420 at UCLA and the Stanford Research Institute (SRI) in Palo Alto, Calif. UCLA sent the message “login” to SRI. SRI received L and O, then the system crashed.
If you watch Star Trek, here’s the analogy: CERN was where they eventually built the Enterprise. SRI was where Zefram Cochrane successfully tested the first warp drive.
And SRI is absolutely hallowed ground. I made a pilgrimage there last month. It was a Saturday. Sunny and 75. Two other cars sat empty in the parking lot.
It’s a bit haunting, to say the least: To stand and look at the very site where the world’s first true network was born. I certainly looked out of place – a technology pilgrim alone with a camera – and security apparently thought so too, because a golf cart quickly whipped out from around the corner.
“Can I help you?” the young guard asked.
I told him I just wanted to walk the site, that “It all started here” and I wished to take a moment in my life to think on that and have some physical connection to the place – the bricks, the doors, the pistachio trees.Stand
“That’s really cool that you know the history,” the guard replied, and I took that to mean not too many other folks do. He recorded my name and address, we talked some and off he went. I tarried a bit longer then departed for my next destination (Xerox PARC – another hallowed-ground story altogether).
But there was one particular feature of the SRI campus that haunts me still. I carry the image with me as a reminder of the power of what we invent. To the side of the main entrance is a concrete ramp, partially overgrown, that rises from the parking lot but ends abruptly in weeds near a weathered, white iron fence. The fence spans the length of a beautiful grass courtyard and paddock.
When you stand at the path’s beginning and look up at the now-gated paddock, you realize: The path is a sign of different times, when workers could arrive and walk directly up into the campus to create their technology that would change the world. The fence, now, is a stark reminder that despite such world-changing connective technology, we’re still not that far removed from a history and a century defined by walls, fences and barbed wire.