Teach Yourself the Internet in 24 Hours
- Hour 2 -
Internet Uses in the Modern World
If one constant exists on the Internet, it is that the Internet is going to continue
to grow. Since its inception in the early 70s (that's right, the Net has been around
almost 25 years), the Internet's user base has grown from a handful to over 20 million!
To what can this phenomenal growth be attributed? This lesson answers that question,
as well as the following:
- How did the Internet start?
- How has the Internet developed over the last quarter century?
- What is the most popular use of the Internet?
- How else can the Internet be useful?
In the preceding lesson, I promised you some of the cold, hard facts about the
Internet. Well, hold on to your hat because you're about to get...
A 15-Minute Overview of the Internet
Certainly, something that has grown as popular as the Internet must prove useful
for both its users and providers. Throughout the rest of this lesson and throughout
this book, you will discover just why the Internet has grown so popular. You'll also
learn about using the Net for communication and searching, but I'll discuss these
topics later. First, here's the history lesson.
The Internet began as a project in 1973 by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research
Projects Agency (DARPA). At that time, DARPA wanted to initiate a research program
to investigate techniques and technologies for connecting packet networks of various
kinds. DARPA ultimately wanted to develop communication protocols that would allow
networked computers to talk freely across different platforms and networks. And so
ARPAnet was born.
New Term: Protocol: A protocol is nothing
more than a set of rules. On the Internet, it is a set of rules computers use to
communicate across networks. As long as everyone follows the rules, communication
can occur freely.
ARPAnet, which came to be known simply as the Internet, developed a set of protocols
known as Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol, or TCP/IP. You should recognize
"IP" from the discussion of IP addresses in Lesson 1, "The Internet:
What's It Really Like?" An IP address is, in fact, an Internet protocol address.
Just A Minute: Did you figure out the answer to the IP address question from
the "Activities" section in Lesson 1? The survey says that 4,294,967,296
possible IP addresses are available on the Internet.
The Internet continued to support a few hundred government scientists for over
a decade until, in 1986, the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) initiated the
development of the NSFnet, which even now provides a major backbone communication
service for the Internet, as you can see in Figure 2.1. Today, the NSFnet backbone
carries over 12 billion packets of information per month.
New Term: Backbone: A backbone is nothing
more than a major cable that carries network traffic. Although thousands of regional
private and public networks exist, most Internet traffic spends most of its trip
on one of the major backbones.
Although the entrance of NSF onto the scene was a major factor in the development
of the Internet, possibly the biggest turning point came in 1991, when NSF dropped
its funding of the Internet and lifted the ban on commercial traffic on its backbone.
Up until 1991, all NSF traffic came from government and educational institutions.
A look at the major U.S. NSF backbone as it appears today from a World Wide
After 1991, however, the Internet was never quite the same. Commercial enterprises
could respond more quickly to the market and to demand for information. New commercial
backbones sprang up almost overnight. With them, of course, came the marketing and
popularization of the Internet. The Net started to move away from UNIX and other
science application languages to Windows-based interfaces that were easy for the
public to use.
Soon after that came America Online, CompuServe, and other Internet service providers
who went after Joe Enduser instead of Dr. Egghead. As the Internet became more accessible,
companies began to see the enormous potential for business on the Internet. In addition,
users also began to see some of the incredible applications for which they could
use the Internet.
In this book, I will help you discover these uses. In the rest of this lesson,
though, I give you a quick tour of the ways you can benefit from the Internet.
Using the Internet for Communication
With all the publicity and television commercials, you might conclude that the
most popular use of the Internet is the World Wide Web, hands down. Well, here's
a surprise. The most popular use, even today, is electronic mail, or e-mail. That's
right, good old person-to-person, "let's talk"-type communication. It is
almost fitting that one of the original uses of the Internet would still be the most
You can, of course, communicate in other ways on the Net. In the following sections,
you look at a few ways people are using the Internet to communicate with one another.
E-mail provides you with more than just a way to write Aunt Jane a note about
how things are going. Of course, many people can and do use e-mail for this very
task, and it is very effective when used this way. But you also can find some more
practical reasons for personal communication.
Have you ever tried to get in touch with someone and ended up playing phone tag
for two days before finally getting hold of them? If you have, you know how frustrating
this situation can be. Fortunately, e-mail eliminates this problem.
Using e-mail, you can quite often get hold of people who might otherwise take
hours or days to get in touch with. Not only that, but by using e-mail, you can contact
them on your time--no more waiting on hold or wondering whether you've been disconnected.
Just send some e-mail, go about your other business, and wait for a response to pop
in your mailbox. Which, by the way, points to e-mail's biggest advantage: It's fast!
It's in the Mail
Faxes are nice, but over long distances, the costs can add up. What if you had
a quick and easy way to transmit instantly any type of file, document, or computer
program electronically? Well, you do. With most e-mail programs, you can encode and
"attach" documents to e-mail messages, as you can see in Figure 2.2.
Why bother with wasted paper and time at the fax machine? E-mail your message!
These documents can be computer programs, word processing files, or just about
anything else you can create on a computer. All that is required of the recipient
is that he or she also has an e-mail program or helper application that can "decode"
A Public Forum
Wouldn't it be great if you could have access to hundreds of other people through
one e-mail address? The listserv is just such a vehicle (see Lesson 8, "Communicating
with the World: Using Mailing Lists," for detailed information on listservs).
By signing up, or "subscribing," to a listserv, you then gain instant access
to everyone else who subscribes to that listserv.
New Term: Listserv: A listserv is basically
an e-mail address that is configured to forward every message it receives to the
e-mail addresses of the users who have "subscribed" to it. You can think
of a listserv as an electronic interactive newspaper. These are often commonly referred
to as mailing lists.
Listservs are available on literally thousands of topics. Everybody from dachsund
lovers to zoologists can find a listserv. If more than one person is interested in
a particular topic, you can almost certainly find a listserv for it.
CAUTION: Listservs are great, no doubt
about it. They do, however, pose a downside. Some of them are large and can sometimes
dump hundreds of e-mail messages a day into your mailbox, so be careful out there.
More Public Forums
Using listservs isn't the only way to reach out and talk to large groups of people
on the Internet. Using newsgroups, you can accomplish the same task in a different
The first difference between a listserv and a newsgroup is in the way messages
are received. With listservs, messages are sent directly to your mailbox, where you
have to sort them out and decide what to read. Newsgroup messages, on the other hand,
are posted to something like a public electronic bulletin board, where you have to
go to read the messages.
Another difference is one of access. Anybody with an e-mail address can subscribe
to a listserv. To read newsgroups, however, your Internet service provider must provide
you with access.
If your service provider does carry newsgroups, they are easy to subscribe to
and are full of excellent information. Anything you can get from a listserv (and
more), you can get from a newsgroup, as you can see in Figure 2.3. For more in-depth
coverage of newsgroups, see Lessons 9, "Basic Journalism: Introduction to Newsgroups,"
and 10, "Getting the Scoop: Using Newsgroups."
New to newsgroups? You can find lots of tips.
Communicate in Real Time
In the last few years, the Internet has been hit by a wave of real-time communication
(see Lessons 11, "Chatting Live on the Internet," and 12, "Internet
Phone and Video," for more details). The processes of getting information, talking
to others, and collaborating with colleagues no longer require a waiting period.
Perhaps a couple of examples would help explain these capabilities. I recently
found myself in a position in which I had to work on a project at my computer. The
problem was that the NBA finals were being played, and my office doesn't have a radio.
Because I'm a huge basketball fan, this was a problem. Well, actually it wasn't because
the NBA's Web site was broadcasting the game over RealAudio (a plug-in you'll read
about in Lesson 15, "Helping Your Browser with Plug-Ins"), and I had a
RealAudio player. So, I was able to work and listen to the game at the same time.
Care for a little more useful example? How about video conferencing? With the
help of a small, inexpensive camera, like the one shown in Figure 2.4, and the right
software on your computer, you can conduct face-to-face business and personal meetings
right over the Internet. For an organization or individual who has contacts spread
out over a large geographic area but who needs face-to-face contact with them on
a regular basis, video conferencing is very useful.
Connectix QuickCam can introduce you to the world of face-to-face communication
on the Internet.
CAUTION: Audio and video transmissions
take up a lot of room on the Internet. Though simple video and audio transmissions
are reasonably reliable over a 14.4Kbps or 28.8Kbps modem connection, to use these
capabilities to their full extent, you need a network connection to the Internet.
Find Anything on the Internet
The Internet isn't called the Information Superhighway for nothing. The Internet
is information. Sometimes unfiltered, many times even useless, more information is
available on the Internet than any one person could ever deal with.
Fortunately, some powerful search tools can help you find just about anything
you want (see Lesson 20, "Finding People, Places, and Things on the Internet,"
for more details). In the final analysis, whether you find the Internet useful depends
to a large degree on whether you can find the information you want and need. With
some practice, and the help of this book, you should find great success.
Because everyone on the Internet has an e-mail address, you should be able to
find anyone, right? Well, think about it. How easy would it be to publish a telephone
book with every phone number in the world? Not very easy at all. Even if you could
gather all the numbers, by the time you published it, 10 percent of them would be
wrong, disconnected, or changed.
The same challenge faces the Internet, and to be honest, sometimes the best way
to find a friend's e-mail address is to just pick up the phone, call, and ask. With
some tools, however, you can, with a little perseverance, locate e-mail addresses,
as you can see in Figure 2.5.
Even a simple e-mail client can help you locate that elusive e-mail address.
One of the newest crazes on the Internet is locator services. Many Internet sites
help you plan trips, find locations, take you through tours on maps, and more. See
the example in Figure 2.6.
All these services start with a search engine, which enables you to search a database
for information you want. In this case, the database consists of locations, highway
routes, and other geographical information.
New Term: Search engine: A search engine
does exactly what its name says. It is really a computer program that indexes a database
and then enables users to search it for relevant information.
You can search for billions of things on the Internet. Searching is an integral
part of anyone's Internet use today. Covering every different type of search and
information search is, of course, impossible, but in this book, I will point you
to many of them.
Planning a trip to New Zealand? The Internet can help.
At this point, you've seen a few examples of things you can find on the Internet,
and you'll see lots more by the time you're done with the last lesson. Whether you're
looking for a classic car or the recipe for perfect stroganoff, chances are you can
find it on the Internet. See the example in Figure 2.7.
For a rare car collector, the Internet is a boon.
The Internet for Fun and Entertainment
Face it; if you don't enjoy doing something, you're not very likely to do it again.
The same is true of using the Internet. You need something to pique your interest
or give you a laugh once in a while.
Without a doubt, the Internet is full of weird, wacky, and just plain fun stuff
(see Lesson 24, "The Internet Just for Fun" for some examples). Read a
new joke every day on the Web, find a newsgroup dedicated to "The Far Side,"
or spend some time downloading space pictures from NASA. Whatever your taste, you
can find something on the Internet. Figure 2.8 shows a fun example.
You can find political spin with a twist at The Capitol Steps Web site.
In this lesson, you learned some history behind the Internet. You discovered the
Internet's humble beginnings as a small network for government scientists, as well
as its phenomenal explosion in 1991.
Next, you learned how people are using the Internet to communicate by using e-mail
to talk to individuals and groups, send files, and converse in real time. You also
got a taste of how much information is available on the Internet and how to find
it. Finally, you discovered that the Internet is also a place where you can have
fun and enjoy yourself.
The following workshop helps solidify the skills that you learned in this lesson.
Q Has the Internet really been around 25 years?
A Well, yes and no. The Internet as you know it has really emerged only
in the last five years or so, even though TCP/IP-based networks have been around
Q Does a difference exist between the Internet and the World Wide Web?
A The World Wide Web is just a part of the Internet, much like e-mail and
newsgroups. Granted, it's a rather large part, but it isn't the same thing as the
Internet any more than the telephone in your bedroom is the same as the phone system.
Q Is it really reasonable to expect to find good and useful information on
A Absolutely. As you'll discover as you read this book, a myriad of online
libraries, news sources, and other rich pockets of information are just waiting for
you to tap into them.
Take the following quiz to see how much you've learned.
- 1. What is TCP/IP protocol?
2. Because computer networks are simply connected with phone lines, it doesn't
really matter what protocols are used for effective communications across these networks.
True or False?
3. Which of the following delivers communications from a large group of people
right to your mailbox?
(a) A newsgroup
(b) A listserv
(c) Video-conferencing software
- 1. Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol.
2. False. Without a common "language" or protocol such as TCP/IP, networks
can never talk to each other.
3. (b) A listserv.
If you're already connected to the Internet and have started to look at Web pages,
point your Web browser to http://saturn.math.uaa.alaska.edu/~royce/biblio.html
to find out more about the history and growth of the Internet. If you aren't connected
yet, save this activity for a future time.