Writing on the Web: A History

June 5, 2015

I was thinking yesterday about the first time I noticed the web.  It was 1995 and Yahoo! was still "Jerry and David's Guide to the World Wide Web." At the time I was a writer, and the Internet struck me as the perfect way to talk to readers without all the fuss of contracts and editors, not to mention dead trees. It was clearly a better way to communicate.

Since the beginning of human history, people have sought ways to express themselves through the written word. (If Socrates had only had a blog!) But at no time in human history has there been such an accessible and pervasive medium as the Internet. Anyone can post anything at anytime and potentially reach thousands, if not millions, of people. It may well be humanity's greatest invention.

It's taken a few millennium to get these words up here on this screen. This is a brief overview of the journey:

  • Tortoise shell with Jiahu writing6600 BCE Jiahu symbols carved on tortoise shells are the first known system of writing.
  • Clay tablet with Sumerian writing3000 BCE Sumerians write in clay and stone. 800 miles away, the Egyptians do the same, then invent papyrus.
  • Parchment2500 BCE Parchment and vellum begin to be used.
  • Homer750 BCE The Illiad and The Odyssey are first written down (probably on a papyrus roll).
  • Quill pen500 The quill pen is invented.
  • Chinese wooden printing blocks800 Chinese monks set ink to paper with wooden blocks, called woodblocking.
  • Chinese movable type1045 The world's first movable type printing press is conceived of by Bi Sheng.
  • Movable type press1445 Gutenberg invents the first mechanical movable type printing press, beginning Europe's age of mass communication.
  • Shakespeare1601 Shakespeare writes Hamlet with a quill pen on parchment.
  • One of the first typewriters1714 Henry Mill patents the first typewriter.
  • Steam-powered printing press1810 Friedrich Koenig designs the first a steam-powered printing press.
  • Fountain pen1884 The first practical fountain pen is invented by Lewis Edson Waterman.
  • Erika folding typewriter1926 Hemingway types The Sun Also Rises on an Erika folding portable typewriter.
  • Ballpoint pen1941 László Bíró invents the ballpoint pen.
  • IBM Selectra1961 The IBM Selectra is introduced.
  • IBM 51001975 IBM releases the 5100, the first portable (55-lb) computer.
  • Apple 11976 The first Apple computer kit is sold.
  • Tim Berners-Lee1989 Tim Berners-Lee proposes the World Wide Web.


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