30 years of the .UK namespace and a home for Britain onlineAugust 7, 2015 2:11 pm
In fact, the story of why we have .uk, not the .gb that some Americans tried to insist we use, is a significant part of the story of the internet as a whole!
It all began with ARPANET – widely considered the precursor to what we know today as the web – which the US government pushed to be developed in the shadow of the cold war to maintain communications in the event of a Soviet missile strike. ARPANET was a decentralised network of research and defence contractor computers across the country, but it took around 4 years before it began to expand outside of US territories. In fact, the hand-drawn diagram (right) from 1969 shows that the ARPA Network consisted of just four nodes at the end of that decade!
In the early days of the net, ‘high speed’ lines were running at around 10 kilobits per second; that’s kilobits, not kilobytes or even megabytes, but kilobits! In 1973, Peter Kirstein’s research team at UCL activated one of the first non-US connections to ARPANET and joined the community of around 40 academic and government computers linked up to the network. Just 3 years later and Queen Elizabeth II sent her first email while visiting an army base.
The 80s saw the launch of JANET (around 1983) which connected UK universities and formed the British part of the global internet for most of the decade. This also marks the point where different national networks across the world, such as ARPANET and JANET, became the modern interconnected internet we know today. Then, in 1985, we see the first emergence of the .uk domain is created, much to the annoyance of some at the internet Assigned Numbers Authority, led by Jon Postel at UCLA (left) – who were still pushing for the use of .gb in spite of British computer scientists pointing out that Northern Ireland really does exist!
Now that the UK had its own namespace online, the 1990s saw rapid expansion once Sir Tim Berners-Lee introduced the World Wide Web at CERN in 1991. A year later ‘Demon Internet’ launched in the UK as a “low-cost” internet service provider offering £10 a month for unlimited email and newsgroup access. The Daily Telegraph’s online edition – known as the ‘Electronic Telegraph’ – became the UK’s first newspaper website in 1994 and 3 years later the BBC News website appears for the first time (see right). In between these two launches, 1996 also saw the establishment of Nominet as a private, not for profit membership company to run the UK namespace.
From the turn of the century, there was no looking back, with each year cementing the internet as an ever-present part of our day-to-day life in the UK. From Facebook coming to the UK in 2005, to BBC’s iPlayer launching on Christmas Day 2007, and even the British Monarchy opening its own Instagram account in 2013! Most recently, just over a year ago the UK domain family grew by one more with the addition of the shorter .uk option. A lot has happened in the last 30 years and we cannot wait to see what happens in the next 30 too!