What Is The Internet?

The day will soon be here when a business would no sooner think of opening its doors without Internet access than without fax machines, computers, or telephones. When the telephone was first invented, businessmen thought it was an interesting curiosity but completely irrelevant to doing business. Fax machines were accepted as a business necessity much sooner after their invention, by comparison. Why the rush now to "go online"?

The Internet is available anytime you have time for it. No need to worry about getting to the store at the last possible minute before closing hours. And if one site doesn't have the information you need, instantaneously you can checkout another anywhere in the world, regardless of time zones or distance or language. (English is the primary language of the Internet, with other languages available to a much lesser degree.) The Internet is also barrier free and open to persons of all ages and interests.

The first people to use the Internet were the academics and scientists who designed it, literally, to survive nuclear war. They wanted to be able to use information found on one another's computers and so early on came up with both telnet, a program which enables one to remotely "log on" to a computer elsewhere, and ftp, a primitive file transfer program.

They soon found that they wanted to leave messages for one another as well and so the "email" system was born. Certain users soon thereafter found that they had a lot in common and wanted to share their information with people of likeminds. Newsgroups (where one user would write a message read by all "subscribers") became a specialized offshoot of the mail system. A common *netiquette* was born as users developed their own electronic equivalent of communities, complete with unwritten rules and protocols.

Think of the Internet as a river for a moment, rather than as the Information Superhighway. Ftp could be considered as a raft in this example, ferrying specific files from one computer to another on demand. Mail servers could be considered as a guy in a motorboat, delivering mail (but not files) between various computers. A newsgroup server could be considered a courier (or a private guy in a motorboat, delivering only his own group's mail to client computers). A gopher could be considered a guided tour boat giving nonstop tours up and down the river. The World Wide Web, in this example, could be considered an all-terrain vehicle capable of acting as both a submersible and a hovercraft and capable of taking you anywhere on the Internet you want to go (with the few exceptions of places not accessible yet to the Web). WWW is the only medium capable of all of the above functions: remote logon, file transfer, mail delivery, and both information and file search throughout the Internet. (Thanks to my fiance Clif Davis for this "river" analogy.)

Next segment *Birth of the World Wide Web*

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Last Modified: 11/13/99