Services and Resources of the Internet
A COMMON resource provided by the Internet is a worldwide system for sending and receiving electronic mail, known as E-mail. In fact, E-mail represents a large portion of all Internet traffic and is for many the only Internet resource they use. How does it work? To answer that question, let’s review the ordinary mail system first.
Imagine that you live in Canada and wish to send a letter to your daughter living in Moscow. After properly addressing the envelope, you mail it, starting the letter’s journey. At a postal facility, the letter is routed to the next location, perhaps a regional or national distribution center, and then to a local post office near your daughter.
A similar process occurs with E-mail. After your letter is composed on your computer, you must specify an E-mail address that identifies your daughter. Once you send this electronic letter, it travels from your computer, often through a device called a modem, which connects your computer to the Internet via the telephone network. Off it goes, bound for various computers that act like local and national postal routing facilities. They have enough information to get the letter to a destination computer, where your daughter can retrieve it.
Unlike the regular mail, E-mail often reaches its destination, even on other continents, in minutes or less unless some part of the network is heavily congested or temporarily out of order. When your daughter inspects her electronic mailbox, she will discover your E-mail. The speed of E-mail and the ease with which it can be sent even to multiple recipients all over the world make it a popular form of communication.
Another popular service is called Usenet. Usenet offers access to newsgroups for group discussions on specific topics. Some newsgroups focus on buying or selling various consumer items. There are thousands of newsgroups, and once a user has gained access to Usenet, there is no cost to subscribe to them.
Let’s imagine that someone has joined a newsgroup involved in stamp collecting. As new messages about this hobby are sent by others subscribing to this group, the messages become available to this newcomer. This person reviews not only what someone has sent to the newsgroup but also what others have written in response. If, for example, someone requests information about a particular stamp series, shortly afterward there may be many responses from around the world, offering information that would be immediately available to all who subscribe to this newsgroup.
A variation of this idea is the Bulletin Board System (BBS). BBSs are similar to Usenet, except that all files are located on a single computer, usually maintained by one person or group. The content of newsgroups reflects the varied interests, viewpoints, and moral values of those who use them, so discretion is needed.
File Sharing and Topic Searching
One of the original Internet goals was global information sharing. The teacher mentioned in the previous article located another educator on the Internet who was willing to share already developed course materials. Within minutes the files were transferred, despite a 2,000-mile distance.
What help is available when one does not know where a subject may be located within the Internet? Just as we locate a phone number by using a telephone directory, a user may find locations of interest on the Internet by first gaining access to what are known as search sites. The user supplies a word or a phrase; the site then replies with a list of Internet locations where information can be found. Generally, the search is free and takes only a few seconds!
The farmer mentioned earlier had heard of a new technique called precision farming, which uses computers and satellite maps. By entering that phrase at a search site, he found the names of farmers who were using it as well as detailed information about the method.
The World Wide Web
The part of the Internet called World Wide Web (or, Web) allows authors to use an old-fashioned idea—that of footnotes—in a new way. When an author of a magazine article or a book inserts a footnote symbol, we scan the bottom of the page and are possibly directed to another page or book. Authors of Internet computer documents can do essentially the same thing using a technique that will underline or highlight a word, a phrase, or an image in their document.
The highlighted word or image is a clue to the reader that an associated Internet resource, often another document, exists. This Internet document can be fetched and displayed immediately for the reader. The document may even be on a different computer and located in another country. David Peal, author of Access the Internet!, notes that this technique “links you to actual documents, not just references to them.”
The Web also supports the storage and retrieval, or playing, of photographs, graphics, animations, videos, and sounds. Loma, the housewife mentioned at the outset of the previous article, obtained and played a short color movie of the current theories regarding the universe. She heard the narration through her computer’s audio system.
Surfing the Net
By using a Web browser, a person can easily and quickly view information and colorful graphics that may be stored on computers in many different countries. Using a Web browser can be similar in some ways to actual travel, only easier. One can visit the Web exhibits of the Dead Sea Scrolls or the Holocaust Memorial Museum. This ability to move nimbly back and forth from one Internet Web site to another is commonly called surfing the Net.
Businesses and other organizations have become interested in the Web as a means to advertise their products or services as well as to offer other kinds of information. They create a Web page, a sort of electronic storefront window. Once an organization’s Web page address is known, potential customers can use a browser to go “shopping,” or information browsing. As in any marketplace, however, not all products, services, or information provided on the Internet are wholesome.
Researchers are trying to make the Internet secure enough for confidential and safeguarded transactions. (We will talk more about security later.) Another worldwide Internet—dubbed by some Internet II—is being developed because of the increased traffic that this commercial activity has generated.
What Is “Chat”?
Another common service of the Internet is the Internet Relay Chat, or Chat. Chat allows a group of people, using aliases, to send messages to one another immediately. While used by a variety of age groups, it is especially popular among young people. Once connected, the user is brought into contact with a large number of other users from all around the world.
So-called chat rooms, or chat channels, are created that feature a particular theme, such as science fiction, movies, sports, or romance. All the messages typed within a chat room appear almost simultaneously on the computer screens of all participants for that chat room.
A chat room is much like a party of people mingling and talking at the same general time, except that all are typing short messages instead. Chat rooms are usually active 24 hours a day. Of course, Christians realize that the Bible principles about association, such as the one found at 1 Corinthians 15:33, apply to participation in chat groups just as they apply to all aspects of life.a
Who Pays for the Internet?
You may be wondering, ‘Who pays the charges for the large distances one can travel on the Internet?’ The expense is shared by all users, corporate and individual. However, the end user is not necessarily presented with a long-distance telephone bill, even if he has visited many international sites. Most users have an account with a local commercial Internet service provider, who in many cases bills the user a fixed monthly fee. Providers generally supply a local number to avoid extra phone costs. A typical monthly access fee is approximately $20 (U.S.).
As you can see, the potential of the Internet is enormous. But should you get on this information superhighway?
a The need for caution regarding chat rooms will be discussed later.
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Internet Addresses—What Are They?
Identifying people connected to the Internet is accomplished with E-mail addresses. Imagine that you wish to send E-mail to a friend whose E-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org In this example, the person’s identity, or log-in, is “drg.” People often use their initials or full name as their log-in. The term following the “@” symbol may be their employer, their place of business, or their E-mail service provider. In this case, “tekwriting” identifies such a business. The last part of the address identifies the type of organization with which your friend has a log-in. In this case, “com” refers to a commercial organization. Educational organizations have a similar naming convention but end with “edu,” and nonprofit organizations end with “org.” Another E-mail standard ends with the country code of the person. For example, the address email@example.com indicates that the person whose log-in is “lvg” is affiliated with a firm termed “spicyfoods” in Argentina.
Another type of address locates Web documents on the Internet. Suppose that information about research on rain forests can be found in the Web document located at http://www.ecosystems.com/research/forests/rf. The letters “http” (Hypertext Transfer Protocol) identify the protocol for handling a type of Web document, and “www.ecosystems.com” indicates the name of the Web server, a computer—in this case a commercial firm designated “ecosystems.” The actual Web document is the last part of the address—“/research/forests/rf.” Web addresses are often called Uniform Resource Locators, or URLs, for short.
b The Internet addresses cited are fictitious.