Sometime in late 1971, a researcher at DARPA named Ray Tomlinson sent the first network email through ARPANET. It was just a test message to himself. He can't remember what it said, but he thinks it was something like "QWERTYUIOP".
The first commercial email message was sent on May 3rd, 1978 by Gary Thuerk. He sent an email promoting DEC computers to a list of 400 recipients. Since ARPANET was a government-sponsored network, he faced severe reprisals. However, the single spam message resulted in over $13 million in sales.
Adventureland is the first text-adventure computer game with in-game ads - for another video game called Pirate Adventure.
The Boston Computer Exchange launches, a BBS (bulletin board system) for selling used electronics.
In the eighties, BBS's and telnet MUDs (multi-user dungeons) were the primary mode of communication. On May 24th, a user named Rob Noha mass-posted a message called "HELP ME!" asking for donations to his college fund.
Created by Tim Berners-Lee while working at CERN, and released in August 1991, the World Wide Web protocol made it easier for everyday users to access the internet.
Mosaic was the first internet browser that allowed images to be displayed along with text. Mosaic was developed by a team at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, which was partially funded by the High Performance Computing Act of 1991, which is how Al Gore created the internet.
On January 18th, an Andrews University sysadmin named Clarence L. Thomas IV posted a message to every available USENET newsgroup: “Global Alert for All: Jesus is Coming Soon”. Among other things, he said "the famines, the diseases, the rapid decline of the family unit, and the destructive earthquake in India (in 1993) are signs that this world's history is coming to a climax. The human race has trampled on God's Constitution [...] and Jesus is coming to set things right."
A small law firm in Phoenix hire a hacker to develop a script to cross-post messages to newsgroups. They post a message called "Green Card Lottery- Final One?" to hundreds of groups. Thinking they'd hit gold, they start a digital consultancy to help others do the same, but this fails.
Wired Magazine gets the award for selling the first ad space on the internet. Working with a selection of brands including AT&T, Volvo, Zima, and IBM, banner ads were launched on October 27th, 1994. Wired charged the same price as for a full page print magazine ad: a flat rate of $10,000 a month.
The Apple Newton MessagePad introduces the first mobile browser, "PocketWeb".
Amazon.com and eBay (then known as AuctionWeb) both launch. An earlier BBS-based store (Book Stacks Unlimited) relaunches as www.books.com.
Netscape introduces CPM as a method to measure ad impressions.
Hotmail.com launches on July 4th, giving the accessibility of a free email address to millions of home internet users, and unintentionally, free addresses for millions of happy spammers.
Google and Yahoo both launch search engines to discover the rapidly growing information on the internet. Microsoft launches MSN.
In the middle of the dot-com boom, online ad revenue crosses the $1 billion mark.
The first widely-adopted smartphone, the Blackberry 850 introduced mobile internet to the masses.
A company called ExitExchange files for a patent for pop-under ads. They claim this is because pop-UP ads are annoying, and pop-UNDERS are "more polite". C'MON!
Google releases AdWords, which allows advertisers to promote products within Google's search results.
First created in 1994 as a manufacturing aid by Toyota, QR codes become popular with the Japanese public once phones start supporting them. The rest of the world is still unimpressed.
The first open source ad-blocking plugin for web browsers is released by Danish university student Henrik Aasted Sorensen.
Matt Schichter's "The BackStage Pass" takes the honor for the first podcast, in which he interviewed celebrities like B.B. King, The Beach Boys, and Third Eye Blind.
The first brand channel on YouTube belongs to Warner Bros. Records.
The Apple iPhone revolutionizes the way people interact with the web. People start using earbuds to avoid social interaction. Eyeballs start falling out.
Facebook launches Beacon, a platform that monitors users on other websites. Beacon is shut down in 2011 after privacy complaints. Zuckerberg calls it a "mistake".
Promoted videos and pre-roll video ads are launched on YouTube, making everyone a little sad.
For the first time, online advertising revenue passes newspaper & magazine spend in the US.
The image-sharing social network introduces sponsored posts which appear in user's feeds.
Uber uses the odd but definitely unique method of using drones to suspend car-pooling advertisements over gridlocked freeways in Mexico City.
Online advertising revenue passes television ad spend for the first time, at over $209 billion.
Will banner ads be projected onto our retinas?
Will driverless cars force us to watch ads while we ride?
Will it be possible to use voice search without looking like we're talking to ourselves?
Do not believe everything you read on the internet! That's what we learned when we compiled the Timeline. The further back you go in digital marketing history, the more contradictory info we discovered.
You'd think there'd be a commonly accepted inventor for the pop-up ad, but even first-tier publications don't know what they're talking about. We tried to do extensive research, so this is the fruit of our OCD picking-through of the net.
That said, don't believe everything you read. Even here. If you have any additions that would make the Timeline better, or some corrections, please shoot them over to firstname.lastname@example.org.