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The 1990s

The 1990s will forever be remembered as the decade when the world came online. In the early years of the decade, the Internet was growing steadily, though few people had access to it. Still, people began to hear about the "Information Superhighway" that would change their lives. During this time, Tim Berners-Lee, a researcher at CERN, developed a new tool for sharing information on the Internet using hypertext that he called the World Wide Web. The first Web page was launched on Aug. 6, 1991. The Web soon made it possible for users to easily travel from place to place on the Internet, sharing text, images, and multimedia files. Soon the Web caught on in broader society. Hundreds of millions of people came online to surf this new digital frontier. Entire new industries sprang up (and in some cases crashed back down) as humanity embraced the biggest technological breakthrough since the Industrial Revolution. The Information Age had arrived, and the world would never be the same.


The World is Online and Caught in the Web

Credit: © CERN


The Tools to Untangle the Web

The growth of the Web helped expand the Internet out of the academic arena and into the rest of society. The trouble was, as more and more people and sites came online, the amount of information online grew tremendously. How would people navigate this new and chaotic place?
To address these problems, NSF supported several projects to help untangle the web. One of the first was Mosaic, a breakthrough web browser that was the forerunner of virtually all modern browsers. Other initiatives included developing search engines to find information on the Web, as well as tools to keep Internet traffic flowing smoothly despite its rapid growth, and ways to keep networks secure from hackers, viruses and other threats.


Credit: Courtesy of the National Center for Supercomputing Applications and the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois


Public-Private Partnership Pays Off

The decisions made by NSF back in the 1980s to shape how NSFNET would operate and grow were crucial to its growth in the 1990s. NSF made it possible for thousands of new users to join the Internet each month. Private companies did not need permission to link into the Internet–they just did it, and this allowed it to grow quickly, yet still operate smoothly.
Similarly, the structure laid down by NSF allowed networks in other countries to link into the Internet easily. The Internet became a world-wide phenomenon.


Credit: Donna Cox and Robert Patterson, courtesy of the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) and the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois


New Industries, New World

With the NSFNET structure providing a stable platform and the World Wide Web providing an easy way to share data on it, the commercial side of the Internet grew in ways that were unimaginable just a few years earlier.
The Internet allowed computing power to transform the world in ways that would not have been possible if these computers remained unlinked. Businesses became much more efficient because information could be found and transmitted easily, products and payments could travel over the web. Every business soon had a website and was looking for ways to move its operations online.
People could shop online, talk to friends, research diseases and dozens of other innovations. News and entertainment media were transformed as consumers began getting their news, art and entertainment online.


Credit: NSF


NSF Decides (Some of) its Work Is Done

With the success of the World Wide Web and the explosive growth of the Internet, it was clear the Internet was here to stay. Keeping with its original vision, NSF decided that the Internet no longer needed public support to operate–private sector entities had found it profitable to build and expand the Internet's infrastructure.
In 1997, NSFNET was decommissioned, and NSF awarded a contract to Network Solutions to assign domain names on the Internet.


Credit: NSF

Credit: Photodisc Blue, Getty Images

NSF Looks Ahead

Although NSFNET was decommissioned in 1997, NSF continued to support technologies that helped make the Internet what it is today.



Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations presented in this material are only those of the presenter grantee/researcher, author, or agency employee; and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.