The Internet (Part I)
Part 1 of a 2 part series. Part 1 introduces the
Internet, describes what it is and why it is important. Part 2
describes how to get started including getting "connected,"
what equipment is required, learning to use the internet and how
to create your own presence on the internet. Finally a listing
of useful internet addresses is provided.
One of the most exciting recent developments in
communications and information transfer is the Internet, and unless
you just arrived from Mars, I'm sure you have heard of it. The
Internet is a giant world-wide network of inter-connected computer
networks or "sites" which allows an individual computer
connected to this network to access the information on any of
the sites on the network. The Internet allows this information
to be searched, retrieved and stored by any user (generally at
no cost to the user). Since many of the connected sites contain
a wealth of useful information, the Internet can be an important
business resource. As a small business owner, you cannot afford
to ignore this new, important tool.
You may have read that the Internet is hard to learn
and access. Maybe it was at first, but not any more! Along with
the astounding growth of the Internet, numerous small "access
providers" have sprung up all over the country, many of whom
will get you up and running on the Internet quickly and easily.
More on this later.
This article will introduce you to the Internet
but it is not going to make you an expert. To really understand
and make use of this resource, you must "get connected"
and I'll describe this process below.
What is the Internet?
The Internet started around 1969 as a small network
of government computers (belonging to the Advanced Research Projects
Agency, (ARPA) and has been growing exponentially ever since.
In fact, at this time, estimates put the number of sites (world-wide)
at around 3 to 5 million! Since each site could have many users,
this means that at any moment, millions of individuals are accessing
the Internet. The current estimate of growth is 10% per month!
Clearly, the Internet is a BIG network of computers
talking to one another. None of these computers is in control
and there is no "central point" on the Internet (sometimes
simply referred to as "the net"). Amazingly, in spite
of its large size, the Internet is a cooperative effort with no
one in charge, and it seems to work.
The Internet supports a variety of services, sometimes
called applications, utilities, or tools. The most important are:
Electronic Mail (E-mail). This is the most popular
Internet application. Using E-mail allows you to send and receive
"mail" messages to or from anyone on the net, anywhere
in the world, with no "long-distance" charges! (What
a business tool!) A message may be sent to one person or a number
of individuals. A message may be a few words or include large
text or graphic files as an attachment. Available software makes
this tool very easy to use and in most cases, the software will
be free. The mail software I use is called Eudora. A free version
(for personal use) is easily downloaded from the Internet. A commercial
version is also available.
Most E-mail messages are delivered within minutes
(to anywhere in the world!) and the cost is probably less than
sending a letter and certainly less than a telephone call. There
is no charge to send E-mail beyond your normal Internet provider
monthly charges. In many cases, E-mail can also replace a FAX.
You should remember that E-mail messages, like having
a conversation on a portable or cellular telephone, are not private
and can be read by others. Some systems will encrypt mail messages
but don't count on this ... simply assume your message will be
read by someone other than the recipient.
You will be assigned an E-mail address by your Internet
provider. For example, my E-mail address is: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kind of strange looking but you can generally choose the portion
prior to the "@." For example, John Reader might use
WWW. (World Wide Web). This is the fastest growing
area of the Internet and where you will spend 95% of your time.
The WWW displays both text and graphics and utilizes a concept
called "hypertext." Hypertext allows you to use your
mouse to click on certain highlighted words on the WWW screen,
which immediately takes you to another place in that document
or to another site on the Internet! This is called "linking"
and is a very powerful tool.
The WWW uses universal resource locators (URL's)
as addresses (for example, my WWW URL address is: http://www.isquare.com).
Most browsers, like Netscape or Explorer allow you to enter these
URL's directly and you will be taken to that site. Some interesting
and useful URL's are listed at the end of this article for you
FTP. This application, File Transfer Protocol, allows
you to send or obtain files from many computers on the Internet.
Why is the Internet Important
Think about that 5-million number mentioned previously.
Quite an audience for your product or service, don't you think?
You could, for instance, get an audience this size via television
but the cost would probably be prohibitive to you. The good news
about the Internet is that access is very inexpensive. As of this
writing, "unlimited access" to the internet costs about
Some of the activities available to you as an Internet
user and their advantages include the following:
1. Communicate with anyone with an Internet account (there are
millions) anywhere in the world and with no long-distance telephone
charges! This is "E-mail" or electronic mail.
2. Search and retrieve a variety of useful information from any
connected host computer (there are millions). The information
that is available, as you will see, covers virtually every subject
3. Conduct test marketing for your product or service at very
4. Advertise your product or service at little or no cost.
5. Place an catalog of products on the internet complete with
pictures and descriptions, ordering information, etc.
6. Distribute information to others.
7. Search through thousands of catalogs and offered services to
compare costs and ultimately purchase at the best price.
8. Join one or more of the over 18,000 news and discussion groups
covering everything from algebra to zoology. (And I mean everything!).
Talk directly to experts.
9. Search for information in libraries, government information
services, and various commercial databases all over the world.
10. Obtain free software from a variety of sources.