The Internet is a network of computers that allows users at various locations to exchange information with one another. It consists of hundreds of millions of computers in over 100 countries. Not operated by any one business or government, although heavily censored by governments in countries such as China, it is a cooperative venture in which many companies, organizations, and individuals choose to participate by making their computers part of the network.
The Internet’s beginnings are traceable to a project called ARPAnet that was begun in the 1960s by the U.S. Department of Defense. Government and academic researchers collaborated to develop computer-to-computer communications using a new technology called packet switching. Packet switching is a means for chopping data into a series of data packets or chunks–like breaking up a long letter into individual pages and sending each one separately. Each packet is like a letter with “to” and “from” address labels. Packets are passed along by computers in the network until they reach their destination and are reassembled. Each packet might take a different path through the network to its destination, bypassing areas that are damaged or temporarily in use for other transmissions.
Each computer connected to a TCP/IP network has a unique internet protocol (IP) address. This is a numerical address (such as 22.214.171.124) that other computers use to identify it. In 1984, domain names were introduced to make the network more user-friendly. A domain name (such as uscongress.gov) is the word equivalent of an IP address. A network device called a domain name server converts domain names to IP addresses. In 2010, computer network experts warned of a looming shortage of unique Internet Protocol (IP) addresses that could strangle Internet traffic in 2011. For companies in the United States, IP addresses are parceled out by the American Registry for Internet Numbers (ARIN). Robust Internet growth, especially with the numbers of attached devices (each requiring a unique IP address when online) means that by the end of 2010, less than 1 out 20 IP addresses remain available for assignment.
E-mail (electronic mail) was developed in the early 1970s and went on to become one of the most popular uses of the Internet. Other applications that are widely used include file transfer, real-time broadcasting and communications (including chat rooms), electronic bulletin boards, newsgroups, and game-playing. Each of these applications has a protocol or agreed-upon set of rules for data transfer that allows it to take place. The World Wide Web makes all of these applications accessible through one interface, which is provided by a Web browser such as Explorer or Safari.
In August 2010, sociology and communication researchers at both the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne and Cornell University released analysis of a study of online communications, specifically the creation and character of networks that create viral phenomena (posts, images, videos, or links that are disseminated quickly and broadly via Internet-based communication and social networking services). An objective of the study was to measure the relationship between online size and influence, as measured by the act of passing along information. The research study focused on behavior on the Twitter social network, an online communication and social networking site that allows an author (site host) to post online or send via short message service (SMS, or “text”), “tweets” or short messages of 140 characters or less that are then read, and possibly reposted (“retweeted”) by network of people who subscribe to that author’s site (“followers”).
The networking capability allows messages to be quickly transmitted throughout branching chain of individual Twitter networks. Predictive and data analysis algorithms measured and relied on follower attributes, such as the follower’s record of activity, and sampled 22 million link-containing messages or tweets over a 300-hour period during September 2009. The data gathered indicated that the character of the audience, rather than the size of an audience, is more closely correlated to the creation of online viral phenomena.