I was recently asked on an IRC channel to describe the difference between the Internet and the World Wide Web. It turned into a lecture of sorts, and while it's not 100% accurate factually, I figured I would probably want to refer to it later, and it might be interesting to a wider public. If you want the real deal straight from the horse's mouth, go read How the Internet Came to Be. One of the people involved in the conversation quoted below suggested I post it here. And so I did:

<katiedid> I need some help explaining the internet to my mom
<katiedid> Specifically, the difference between the internet, the world wide web, and so on
<katiedid> I'm trying to explain how IRC is different from WWW
<katiedid> For her, "The web" and "The Internet" are the same thing
<katiedid> She uses the internet all the time
<katiedid> She just doesn't really understand how it works
<freelancer> The internet is a huge network that connects computers all over the world. It can be used for any number of services. One of these is the world wide web, which is used to display web pages. Another is IRC, which is used for chatting.
<Kliment> It all started when the US military was in a panic over the threat on nuclear war back in the cold war.
<Kliment> They were afraid that if several communication hubs were to be bombed, they would be unable to communicate.
<Kliment> So they commissioned ARPA, an organization that coordinates research funding for the military, to build them a network that would be indestructible.
<Kliment> And the ARPA people came up with a solution where several computers (that were gigantic, expensive and scarce back then) would be connected with leased telephone lines.
<Kliment> And where short discrete messages would be passed along from computer to computer.
<Kliment> So that even if one direct line were to be destroyed, as long as there was some path the messages could take to the destination they would get there.
<Kliment> This infrastructure expanded, and the military really loved it, because even outside nuclear war conditions they were really annoyed of their phone lines intermittently failing.
<Kliment> Later on, major research universities also joined, because having more links in the network made the network even more resistant to failure.
<Kliment> Several research groups had been experimenting with networks of similar type, and all these networks were finally joined together in the early 80s, forming the Internetwork, later abbreviated to Internet.
<Kliment> At that time, email was already in existence, in the form of messages that were copied from machine to machine periodically.
<Kliment> This was the primary use of the internet at the time.
<Kliment> Later on, a more efficient way of transferring large files was invented, called file transfer protocol.
<Kliment> After this, in 1990, the IRC protocol was invented, which was a way of communicating in real time with a group of people using text.
<Kliment> (I might have this year wrong)
<Kliment> Later on, in 1991, the Gopher protocol came along, which was a method of retrieving documents by name.
<freelancer> The RFC is dated 1993, but it was probably invented before that
<Kliment> A lot of information rapidly became available on gopher sites, anticipating the popularity of the web.
<Kliment> In 1993, the hypertext transfer protocol (http) was invented, which is where the web as we currently know it originates.
<Kliment> Now, all of these protocols describe the content of the messages being passed around in the network, and the way the messages are passed around is still essentially the same as the original ARPA-NET.
<Kliment> But what we put into them has changed.
<Kliment> With email, all they contained was the address it came from,the address it went to and the message itself.
<Kliment> (I am oversimplifying a bit)
<Kliment> And as the network grew and more engineering students with too much time on their hands got access to it, more and more ways of using this network were invented.
<Kliment> Things built on other things.
<Kliment> People started using email not just to share research findings but also to arrange dates, exchange jokes, find friends, share random ideas.
<Kliment> You can see that people have invented so many things to do with the web that it's now the primary and most important use of the internet.
<Kliment> IRC was invented by people who got tired of waiting for emails to go back and forth.
<freelancer> God bless them
<Kliment> The web came about when people were tired of typing in gopher addresses that they saw on a gopher page and wanted a way to somehow magically link from one page to another
<Kliment> And this is where we are now.
<Kliment> In a time when the web is so comprehensive that most people using the internet don't even see the other services.
<Kliment> But it's really incredible to think that none of this existed back when Katie was born.
<Kliment> It's a remarkably recent thing.
<Kliment> But the internet as a network has existed for many more decades.
<freelancer> Nor when I was born. And yeah, quite remarkable. And quite impressive. To think that I can push a button here (in Sweden), and less than a second later someone in the US can read this message.
<freelancer> Amazing.
<Kliment> And while ARPA drove it to start with, this is an example of true international cooperation.
<katiedid> Kliment, you explained it wonderfully. She sends many thanks.
<Kliment> It's a thing where everyone involved benefits from everyone else being there.
<katiedid> Who was the first to commercialize the web?
<katiedid> Like AOL and such
<Kliment> Well, depends.
<Kliment> In that time, there were many BBS-like services.
<Kliment> Compuserve, AOL, Prodigy.
<Kliment> At some point they all realized that there was something of value in this whole "internet" thing.
<Kliment> At first they offered dial-up access to email.
<Kliment> To do this they had to connect to the network that was then operated by the National Science Foundation.
<Kliment> In the early 90s, the commercial service providers caught on, and they started selling internet connections to the broad public.
<Kliment> I believe it was AOL that first did this.
<Kliment> But I know it happened massively in 1993.
<Kliment> And everyone else quickly caught on.



<katiedid> Is there a way to answer her question "So who runs IRC?"
<Kliment> Yes, there is a way.
<Kliment> IRC is divided into networks.
<Kliment> All users on an IRC network can communicate directly with each other.
<Kliment> Each IRC network is composed of servers.
<Kliment> The servers are all connected directly to each other in a chain.
<Kliment> So server A is connected to server B, server B is connected to server C etc.
<freelancer> Chain? Not a mesh?
<Kliment> freelancer: Not a mesh. This is why we have netsplits.
<freelancer> Good point
<Kliment> The people who own the servers on a network know each other.
<Kliment> And they agree with each other to run a network together.
<Kliment> Some organizations have their own IRC networks, where all the servers are owned by the organization.
<Kliment> But most networks are decentralized.
<Kliment> This network for example runs on four servers, one in Dallas, one in Hartland and two in Boston.
<Kliment> It was started by a bunch of friends who got together and thought to do this.
<Kliment> There are also gigantic global networks with orders of magnitude more users and hundreds of servers.
<Kliment> IRCnet for example is a network with 43 servers and over 80000 simultaneous users.
<Kliment> This network has a bit under 1000 users.



<Kliment> As for who runs the web, this is more complex.
<Kliment> Given an internet connection, you can connect to any computer in the world directly, in theory.
<Kliment> Any of those computers could be running a web service.
<Kliment> So in theory, all machines on the internet could have a web site on them.
<Kliment> Most don't.
<Kliment> But what this means is that essentially any computer with a fast internet connection can have a website on it.
<Kliment> So it's more interesting to ask who runs a specific web site.
<Kliment> A large number of websites are run out of hosting services.
<Kliment> These are mainly companies, and they will put your website on their computers for a fee.
<Kliment> Then it's their responsibility to make sure the internet connection to those computers is working and that the computers themselves keep running.
<Kliment> Many universities and internet service providers offer this as a service as well.
<Kliment> Some people run websites out of their homes, but having a computer always on is a nuisance.
<Kliment> This is essentially how it works

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