New Wonder No. 5: The Internet

"Good Morning America" and a group of experts have chosen the fifth new wonder: the Internet.

The Internet may be the most enigmatic "wonder" of all. It reaches across time and space, and connects people from faraway places. It is vast and sprawling, and yet it gives each person his own private window to the world.

In just a few short years -- and it really is still in its infancy -- the Internet has revolutionized everything from commerce to education to dating.

The World Wide Web Is Just Part of the Internet

It may seem tangled, but the Internet and the World Wide Web (or simply the Web) are related but distinct.

The Internet is a global, public network of computers obeying the same rules -- thus the information superhighway analogy. It is physically made up of cables and satellites, and has many uses, including e-mail, online chats and -- the most popular -- the Web.

The World Wide Web is a collection of browsers, links and Web sites -- metaphoric destinations on the Internet superhighway. Simply put, the Web is accessed via the Internet.

When the Internet Was the ARPANET and the Intermesh

The first inkling of the Internet was a 1960s government project called ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network), which connected four Department of Defense computers in the event of nuclear attack.

We might have been researching on the Intermesh or The Information Mine (TIM) if the father of the Internet had stuck to his first instincts.

Instead, on Aug. 6, 1991, a British scientist named Tim Berners-Lee posted the existence of the "WorldWideWeb (WWW) project," despite his wife and colleagues' warnings that the name was "really stupid" since "www" takes longer to say than "the World Wide Web." They had a point.

Berners-Lee's childhood influence came partly from Arthur C. Clarke's short story "Dial F for Frankenstein." He recalls that fictional creation as "crossing the critical threshold of [a] number of neurons," and reaching "the point where enough computers get connected together," so that the whole system "started to breathe, think, react autonomously."

Years later, Berners-Lee's breakthrough was organizing, addressing and linking information in one giant web. He envisioned a collaborative Internet where families, universities, nations, and even the planet could share and work together.

In a 1997 interview with Time Magazine, Berners-Lee described the Web's growth as "an incredibly good feeling," and "a lesson for all dreamers -- that you can have a dream and it can come true."

Although Berners-Lee was later knighted for his innovation in 2003, he posted the Web for free and did not share in the bounty that others would find there.

Making Connections

"Star Trek" characters could transport themselves to distant places with a simple request of "Beam me up." Today, we only have to log on.

"Instant messaging and webcamming are just like being with him," said Amie Tugwell, the wife of a soldier deployed overseas.

Each night, she sets a seat at the dinner table for her husband -- or his image on the computer screen.

"The Internet has just been my lifeline," Tugwell said.

Teresa Christian, a 32-year-old woman from Virginia, met her husband on, even though he was physically half a world away in India. Before they met online, neither one had even been on a plane.

Creating Community

Social networking sites have been all the buzz lately.

MySpace and Facebook have seen exponential growth, as have many other niche online communities. came from the ashes of Sept. 11, 2001, and Scott Heiferman's belief that people needed community and support. His site urges people to gather around interests online and then meet offline, in person.

"Moms Meetups, pets Meetups, there's knitting Meetups and language Meetups -- whatever you can think of, someone's created a Meetup about it somewhere," Heiferman said.

More than 1 billion people use the Internet, according to Internet World Stats. That is one large neighborhood, getting more organized, polluted and interesting all the time.

You can troll the Internet and find the trivial, the obscene and the beautiful. Like art, technology seems to imitate life.

Internet Timeline

1971: First e-mail sent

1976: Queen Elizabeth is the first state leader to send an e-mail

1983: First colleges assign e-mail accounts to their students

1985: First customer logs on to AOL

1991: World Wide Web created

1994: Netscape browser released

1995: Yahoo hosts its first search; Microsoft releases Internet Explorer; eBay holds first auction; and, Amazon sells first book

1998: Google opens in a garage in California; the first blog community, Open Diary, launches

1999: MySpace launches; Napster created

2005: YouTube launches