The 16 Greatest Moments in Web History

Birth of Domain Names to Successful Online Retailing

"127.0.0.1" doesn't sound as inviting as "home," and nothing draws a crowd faster than the promise of one-stop shopping. Our countdown continues.

7. URL Be Glad They Did

June 23, 1983: The domain name system is born.

Paul Mockapetris, one of the creators of the domain name system.
Thank Paul Mockapetris, Craig Partridge, and the late Jon Postel for the fact that you didn't have to type 70.42.185.10 to get here. Together they created the domain naming system, replacing numerical Internet addresses with English-language "domains" and introducing the nongeek world to joys of the backslash key.

Instead of having to memorize a 12-digit number for every host they wanted to visit, users could simply type the machine's name and domain. Servers set up across the network would then translate the words into numbers.

On that June day 24 years ago, a DNS packet first crossed the network and elicited a response, Mockapetris reports in an e-mail note. "That's my best estimate," he adds. "Nobody thought it was important, so no cameras were present or plaques made."

Back then--eight years before the introduction of the World Wide Web--a few hundred machines were connected to the Net. Today more than 130 million are. Without an easy-to-use naming scheme, the Web as we know it would not exist.

6. Geeks Bearing Gifts

March 15, 1993; 1:11 a.m. CST: The graphical browser is born.

Mosaic plaque.
Marc Andreessen and Eric Bina were just geeky grad students at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. (Try saying that three times fast.) But when they announced that the first beta of their Mosaic browser for X Windows was available for download, they never realized the huge impact it would have on the development of the Web.

The change didn't look all that dramatic. Instead of opening images in a new window, Mosaic displayed them embedded inside text. But Mosaic's smart simplicity caught on, and versions of Mosaic for other operating systems soon appeared.

Roughly a year later, Andreessen teamed up with Silicon Graphics' Jim Clark to form Mosaic Communications Corporation--which later changed its name to Netscape. Microsoft licensed NCSA Mosaic code for use in Internet Explorer 1.0. The browser wars had begun--and with them, a mad race to turn static Web pages into multimedia extravaganzas.

5. For Whom the Bell Tolled

July 16, 1995: Amazon.com opens for business.

Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.com.
It's fitting that the site once billed as "the world's largest book store" is so rich with stories about its founding. For example, there's the legendary cross-country drive from Manhattan to Seattle where founder Jeff Bezos tapped out the business plan on his notebook while his wife, Mackenzie, drove. Or the story that Bezos was originally going to name the site "Cadabra" (as in "Abra Cadabra") until a friend convinced him it sounded too much like "Cadaver." Or the converted garage in Bellevue, Washington, that served as Amazon's first headquarters; it featured a potbellied stove and three SPARC workstations rigged with a bell that would ring every time Amazon recorded a sale.

According to Amazon's official timeline, the first bell rang for Fluid Concepts & Creative Analogies: Computer Models of the Fundamental Mechanisms of Thought. Fortunately, the site evolved beyond nerdy titles to encompass virtually anything that can be bought or sold, including virtual goods such as downloadable music and videos.

From its regional distribution centers to its affiliate programs, Amazon revolutionized commerce both on and off the Net. And in January 2002, the site even started turning a profit--making it one of the few stories of Net pioneers to have a happy ending.

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