The tool that fuels today's information revolution is the Internet - a patchwork of farflung, interconnected computers run by governmental agencies, universities, research laboratories and a collection of large and small businesses. Professional associations and the trade media also are developing sites to experiment with information transfer.
The Internet was conceived during the Cold War 30 years ago by U.S. Department of Defense planners searching for a communications system that could survive a nuclear attack. In the early years, navigating the Net required detailed knowledge of machine language, the backbone that runs the network's many servers and routers. Many arcane tools, including file transfer protocol (flp), gophers and archies, were developed to search and retrieve the Net's increasing array of data.
Still, most users had to expend immense effort to access, retrieve or upload all the available information. The Internet also lacked a graphical interface at a time when most users were familiar with Windows.
Since then, the Net has undergone major transformations. In 1990, Tim Berners-Lee and Robert Cailliau, researchers at the European Particle Physics Laboratory, created a system for distributing reports, data-bases and graphical research across the laboratory's global computer network, regardless of the platform used (i.e. UNIX, PC or Macintosh).
Within a few years and with the help of increasingly efficient Web browsing software and easier, less costly access due to increased service providers, the World Wide Web has evolved into the largest single networked information system of files, text, still and video images and sound clips ever devised. Many major search engines (Yahoo, Lycos, Web Crawler, Alta Vista) also are now available to assist surfers.
Currently, several major information systems research firms estimate that hundreds of thousands of Web sites exist worldwide, with more than 2,000 sites being added each day - a tenfold increase from 1995. Still, the network is really in its infancy; indeed, many of the Web's commercial opportunities have yet to be discovered.