I was recently moving the last remaining NetGrafx web client from my web servers to a new host facility when at some point I realized that I had been using the Internet (including it's pre-cursor, the Arpanet) for 25 years almost to the day. I had used internal corporate networks before 1984, but it wasn't until a I was on a customer upgrade at Stanford for DEC that I got to use the Arpanet for the first time in "real life" and not in a lab setting (which I had already done a few times at DEC). One of our tapes got munged during travel, so we connected through the Arpanet into servers we had back in Massachusetts & copied the missing files via FTP.
As I was thinking about this, some random observations:
...prior to 1984, before my first exposure to the real "internet", there were plenty of commercial and free computing services publishing content similar to what later happened on the web, but -all- of this content was available via a computer modem. As long as you had a computer terminal, you could hook up an $800 1200 baud high-speed Hayes modem dial into a computer "bulletin board" service - a set of software you could run on a personal computer, hook up a modem bank to, and share text and "live" discussions with other users. But it was only text. (My favorite at the time was TBBS aka "the Boston Bullet".)
...AOL started as an outgrowth of the Atari gaming community, expanded to Commodore 64 and 128 computers, ultimately becoming one of two large dial-in content services, the other being Compuserve. But both were kind of outgrowths of the computer bulletin board culture.
...in 1984, you could print out the names and locations of all the systems connected to the internet (the arpanet at the time) on about 3 sheets of paper.
...in 1984, TCP/IP had just been accepted as the "new" standard inter-networking protocol used by all the systems connected to the arpanet in favor of the slightly older packet switching protocols developed in the 70s.
...in 1984, FTP, Email, and Telnet were pretty much the only applications that were generally in use by systems connected to the Arpanet. HTTP and then HTML (world wide web) didn't evolve until 1990 and1991.
...in 1993 the first generally used web browser - NCSA Mosaic - appeared allowing companies with "web servers" to "publish" data on the internet (as it was now generally being called). An explosion of internet use happened at this point followed quickly by new web browsers, notably Microsoft's Internet Explorer in 1995. By 1999 it was the most popular web browser. The fundamentals of Mosaic got partially used by Netscape, but is now the basis for the "Firefox" web browser.
...in 1993 and into 1995, web pages were gray in color, with text, and photos or graphic images kept to a minimum. Compare that with today's practically unlimited extensions and platforms like cell phones, into airport monitors (that flight info you see in the airport is basically an application-specific web page), into appliances, you name it.
...in the early 90's PERL was the only programming language you could use to extend a web page into a form to capture information from a user. PERL had been released on UNIX systems in 1988 as a scripting language, and was perfect for use in the new world of internet publishing (the world wide web). You could make a pretty cool animation by writing a PERL script to rapidly read single images for display one after the other!
...Shockwave was introduced in 1996 to the web, allowing animation to be developed and embedded into web sites.
...All the way through the 90's we had to sell web sites. Many business owners right up until the 2000's still didn't get the use of the web, now considered a de facto business requirement.
...Many people today mistakenly call the internet "the web". They may say something like, "I emailed you on the web" resulting in blank slightly inquisitive looks from old farts like me who have to interpret what you meant.
...in the 2000's we started to see a rapid increase in network security breaches, corporate spying, credit card fraud, and even subtle international technology attacks. I had the opportunity to assist the United States Secret Service identify traffic from a credit card fraud ring based in Moscow with connections in London, Paris and New York based on database attacks one of our clients started having.
...by 2004, social networking sites like MySpace were evolved, with cool features like being able to extend the environment by customizing your own web pages within the context of the overall system.
...today, web applications on the internet are used to control large utilities, household items like appliances and lighting, radio and television networks, and there are even web applications that control other web applications.
All this in the space of 25 years... but since the web, the last 15 years have totally altered the human experience. Crazy.