My first forray into the world of the Internet was back in 1991.
The "Internet" we know today is really driven more by the world wide web.
http://www.scientificamerican.com/artic ... b-was-born
The foundation of WWW is the Internet itself but it was actually fairly cumbersome to use. It wasn't until the introduction of HTML and HTTP and the notion of URLs created by Tim Berners-Lee that the Internet became easy enough for the general public to use. Prior to that the Internet was largely dominated by FTP and SMTP traffic, most of which was simple text or basic binary data transfers.
Back in 1991 most Internet use was by Universities and the public sector (i.e. government). Businesses that were doing business for the public sector had also adopted use of the Internet by then as well but it was still mostly about mail and basic file sharing.
Geeks in the public were still using low speed modems to dial up to bulletin board services, some of which offered "public" SMTP addresses and access to "newsgroups" or "listserv" subscriptions (all of which actually started well before 1991). It was these services that formed the basis of public forums like OCConnect. For those participating, there was a vast array of information available from people all over the world. Collaboration was real, but the penetration was still very small compared to the overall population and the amount of information available was tiny by today's standards. In addition, gaining access required more than just a little technical know-how. Transfering files mean knowing commands like "bin", "get", "put", "ls" (and its many parameters), "open" and "close" ... and that was just for starters. If you actually wanted to find information you needed to know how to "grep". Scanning messages from a listserv often meant hundreds of mail messages each day. Sorting through that became prohibitive if the user didn't have a more sophisticated message client.
Don't get me wrong, it wasn't like I had never touched e-mail before 1991. While I was a bit of a latecommer, I started really tinkering back in 1986.
Nevertheless, the "Internet" we know today didn't really take hold until well after Tim Berners-Lee created the first incarnation of the WWW.
The real question isn't "who invented the Internet" but rather, what was the catalyst that propelled the nation and eventually the world to make the Internet what it is today. To that end, when Al Gore made his now infamous speech encouraging the adoption of Internet technology for commerce, there was an acceleration of sorts. It pushed this already growing and developing set of technologies into the public eye. In fact, many of the early adopters feared an immediate "privatization" of the Internet. This has quietly occured as the backbone has become run by a sort of patchwork of private companies (http://www.governingwithcode.org/journa ... ckbone.pdf
). It most certainly resulted in greater commercialization of the Internet. But rather than ruining the Internet as was feared, the Internet has grown by leaps and bounds (as we have all witnessed). Early predictions of a meltdown never materialized. Early predictions that the rapid adoption would end catastrophically when we eventually ran out of IP addresses never materialized (although the adoption of IPv6 will still be needed (http://www.networkworld.com/news/2007/1 ... 0arguments
So again, what was that catalyst? I am not a suporter of much of anything that Al Gore has (or has not) done but I do have to agree with one aspect. While Gore most certainly did NOT "invent" the Internet, he most certainly did take steps to enable its widespread adoption in the private sector. He was part of a fairly large group of poeple who had the vision of the "possibility" of the Internet and he was in a position to actively promote its use. In a manner of speaking, Al Gore was a catalyst for changing the Internet from what it was then to what it is now.