by
Geoffrey Kleinman


Odds are you have been inundated with conflicting reports on what the Internet is, overwhelmed with phraseologyand terminology, and generally fired up by all the hypeand hoopla. And odds are you still don't have the foggiest idea what it's all about. Don't feel bad. You are not alone. What follows is some real information about the Internet. What it is, what's on it, and what's all the hype about. Consider this your first driver's training manual for the Information Superhighway...

The Internet

We start out with the large umbrella term we use to describe the tool which we use to communicate globally with each other. Think of it in the same way you might think of a telephone. When you pick up the phone and call a friend in New York your voice is translated into an electronic signal, sent through a complex network of fiber optic cables, routed through advanced computer matrix systems, translated back into sound waves, which travel down the ear canal to the ear drum, which converts the soundwaves back into audible sound that you can physically hear. It all happens instantaneously and the process of exactly how it happens is fascinating. However, when you are talking to your friend, you're probably thinking more about what they are saying and less about the technology that makes it all work. The Internet works in very much the same way: you don't necessarily have to understand the engineering of the whole system to be able to make it work. It is however, important to understand the basic concepts and tools that will enable you to communicate on the Internet.

Network

The Internet is a network, a group of computers which are connected to each other that can exchange information. A network can be as small as two computers in the same room connected to each other or as big as millions of computers connected around the world. Information can be sent along a network to any computer connected to it. All you have to do is send it to a specific address. Just like you have to dial a specific series of numbers on your phone to give someone a call. Because the Internet is a global network, information can be sent to a computer connected to the network in Moscow, Russia just as easily as it can be to one in Portland, Oregon. The amazing thing is the speed at which the information is sent. A message I might send to Russia will arrive in a matter of seconds, almost the same amount of time as one I might send to Portland.

E-mail

E-mail (electronic mail) is the major tool used to communicate over the Internet. There are a number of parallels between regular US mail (commonly referred to as snail mail on the Internet). When mail is sent on the Internet, it travels from mail box mail to mail box using an address. And like regular mail, e-mail waits in the mailbox until you retrieve it. This means that you don't have to be on-line for someone to send you mail. You do however, have to go on-line to get the mail that has been sent to you and send mail to other people. On the Internet e-mail is sent electronically, which means you type a message and send it without ever needing to print or write it out on paper.

E-mail is addressed in very much the same way in which you would address a letter. Instead of the traditional name, street address, city, state, zip code an Internet address is comprised of: a users name the"at" (@) symbol and then the company, organization, or service provider where they get their mail. My Internet user name is geoffk and I work at One World Internetworking, Inc.Which makes my e-mail address geoffk@oneworld.com. The .com signifies that I work, or get my e-mail through a private company. If my e-mail address had .org then it would mean that I get my mail through an organization. .gov would mean a government site, .net would mean a network, .edu would mean an educational institution. E-mail addresses might seem difficult at first, but once you start using them they get pretty easy.

Mailing Lists

The biggest use for e-mail is sending messages back and forth between two people, very much like a conversation. But what happens when you want to have a discussion about something with a large group of people? The answer is a mailing list. Mailing lists provide an e-mail forum for discussion of topics and issues with a larger group of people. The size or number of people who subscribe to a list range from a handful of people to thousands of people. When you send a message to a list (you send it to a message routing center called a list serve) it is disseminated to everyone who subscribes to thatlist. To subscribe to a mailing list, you find the list or lists you are interested in, get the e-mail address to sign up and then send a message to the appropriate address with "subscribe" followed by the name of the list and your name. To unsubscribe you do the same thing only using the word "unsubscribe". There are mailing lists on a whole spectrum of topics. Mailing lists can also be used to send and receive electronic newsletters that arrive by e-mail. A warning about mailing lists: it is easy to find a ton of them that sound interesting, but subscribing to several of them can fill your mail box fuller than you could ever imagine.

Usenet

The Usenet is very similar to mailing lists. It is a place where large groups of people discuss everything under the sun via messages. The big difference between mailing lists and Usenet is that mailing lists are done through e-mail and the Usenet is done through a news program. This means that you actively seek out news groups and read them. They are not sent to your e-mailbox. There are thousands of newsgroups that span an unbelievable range of topics. Want to know more about gardening? Then read the group called rec.gardening and odds are a master gardener will be willing to discuss at length everything you always wanted to know but were afraid to ask and more about gardening. Or lets say you wanted to try to sell that old piano in your living room. You could post an ad on pdx.forsale. The Usenet is an ocean of information. It is a living breathing world wide discussion that offers one of the greatest resources on earth.

FTP

Ftp, or "filetransfer protocol," is a way to send and receive files and documents across the Internet. It allows you to take advantage of the global network to transmit more than just e-mail messages. The process of getting information from the Internet to your computer is called a"download." Anything that can be put on to a computer can be sent across the world on the Internet. This means I can send a copy of the book I am working on to my publisher in San Francisco. He can make some notes and revisions and send it back to me. It will take him a lot longer to read what I send him then for me to send it. Most of the major software companies have established places on the Internet (called ftp sights) where you can download software updates and demos of their programs.

Gopher

Gophers are the friend of anyone trying to do research on the Internet. Gophers route through large amounts of information to search for specific information relating to specified topics or subjects. To use a gopher you initiate what is called a gopher search, where you type in to the gopher program the subject or topic you are trying to find. If I wanted to find information on Ithaca, New York I could just type "Ithaca" in the search window and a gopher would return a list of files and articles available on Ithaca. To read or retrieve the articles all I have to do is click on them! Gophers are agreat place to gather information. I am always surprised at what I find when I do a gopher search!

The World Wide Web

The World Wide Web is the part of the Internet that has gotten the most press. It is the backbone for a global library of images and information. The Web is made up of web pages that are structured a lot like pages in a magazine. You look at these web pages with a web browser like Netscape. To get to a web page you can type it's address. A typical webpage address might look like this: http://www.oneworld.com.(which isn't too different from the way e-mail is addressed) Once your there, instead of turning or scrolling to get to the next page, you move around by clicking on underlined words called hypertext.

Hypertext is a way of linking things. If I were to refer back to e-mail in this section, and e-mail was underlined, you could click on the underlined word and instantly move up to the section on e-mail. One of the amazing things is that a link can move you up one page or across the globe. I might mention a web site in France, and if it is underlined and you clicked on it, then you would be transported to the corresponding page in France.

Major companies are beginning to take notice of theweb. Companies like Walt Disney Pictures, Time Magazine, and MCI have already set up some very impressive web sights. At the Disney site you can download video clips from the Lion King and read press releases on new films. Time Magazine offers a daily news service as well as having articles from their publication on-line. MCI gives you an opportunity to explore that mythical place Grammercy Press.

The World Wide Web is a vast source of information and entertainment. It is easy to find yourself spending hours upon hours searching through information, going from link to link. The term for doing this is called"surfing the net," and it can be very fun and very rewarding.

Service Providers

The Internet is literally a phone call away. To geton the Internet all you really need are: a computer, modem, phone line and a service provider. The service provider works in much the same way as the cable company does; you pay them a monthly fee for access to their services. There are a great number of packages and combinations of plans, but it all boils down to paying for the access to the Internet. Service can range from as low as about ten or fifteen dollars a month for an individual user, all the way up to thousands of dollars a month for a business or corporation.

Commercial Providers

America On-line, CompuServe, Delphi, and Prodigy are the four major commercial services which allow e-mail access to the Internet. Although they all give some sort of Internet access, commercial providers are really designed to be entities unto themselves. They provide their own services that are entirely separate from the Internet. All four of the major commercial providers give some sort of free sampling time to poke around and get used to e-mail and their online services. Which is a great opportunity to get your feet wet and get used to the idea of communicating on-line. Once you feel comfortable with being on-line you'll probably want to make the move to an Internet provider.

Internet Service Providers

Internet Providers (or ISP's) are different from commercial providers because they offer access not services. When you log on to America On-line, you are connected to their service. When you connect to an Internet provider, you are connecting directly onto the Internet. When you use the Internet from a commercial provider (and not all of them have full access) you do it from with in their system. When you use the Internet from an ISP you are connecting direct. There are a slew of benefits of using an ISP for the Internet, and the savings can be considerable if you are going to use it for more than a few hours a month.

Conclusion

Like any new technology there is a learning curve with the Internet. When you first began driving, you probably kissed a few curbs, misjudged a few turns and ran a stop sign or two. Maybe you still occasionally do. Don't expect to be the master of the net on your first try out; it is a process of learning. Start with e-mail and then move from there. Don't ever be afraid to ask people questions both vocally and electronically. There are millions of people on-line who once started exactly where you are, and many of them love to give a "newbee" (someone new to the Internet) a helping hand.

Other Resources

Books

Krol, Ed. The Whole Internet User's Guide and Catalog. 2nd Edition.
(Sebastopol, CA: O'Reilly & Associates, 1994). ISBN 1-56592-025-2.

Engst, Adam C. The Internet Started Kit for Macintosh.
(Indianapolis, IN: Hayden Books, 1993). ISBN 1-56830-064-6.

Engst, Adam C.; Low, Corwin S.; Simon, Micheal A. The Internet Started Kit for Windows.
(Indianapolis, IN: Hayden Books, 1994). ISBN 1-56830-094-8.

Online

Government and Nonprofit

Amnesty International
Library of Congress
United States Postal Service

WWW Related

Netscape
Yahoo
One World Internetworking


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Driver's Training For the Information Superhighway copyright 1995 and is a service mark of Geoffrey Kleinman. http://www.kleinman.com