Introduction to the Information Superhighway
By Douglas A. Kewley, Esq.
A single computer is just a computer. Computers linked together create a network. Networks linked together create an internet. The Internet is a network of individual computers and computer networks. No one controls the Internet. The content of the Internet is whatever anyone wants to put on the Internet.
A person gains access to the Internet by a variety of sources. Schools can provide access for their students and faculty. Businesses may provide access for their employees. Libraries may provide Internet access. There are even “Internet Cafes” which provide access.
Most individuals and law firms access the Internet either through an on-line service, such as CompuServe or America-on-Line, or an Internet service provider. Anyone with a subscription to an Internet service provider or on-line service and a computer, a modem and a telephone can access the Internet.
Once connected to the Internet, a person can communicate with pictures, text and moving pictures in several ways including:
(1) electronic mail to an individual (e-mail);
(2) electronic mail to a group (e-mail with a mail exploder or listserv);
(3) posting or receiving messages on a database (news group or bulletin board);
(4) real time communication (chat rooms); and
(5) information retrieval (ftp, gopher, and the World Wide Web).
No matter how a person accesses the Internet, any communication will involve at least two or more computers found anywhere in the world.
A typical Internet connection will involve your sitting at a computer, and, using a modem, placing a telephone call to your Internet Service Provider. Once the call goes through, the two computers, yours and your Internet Service Provider’s, will negotiate a connection. Once that connection is complete, you are on the Internet. If you are on AOL, you are probably communicating with a computer in Virginia. If you are on CompuServe, you are probably communicating with a computer in Ohio. As you “surf the web,” through your connection with your provider, you will contact computers all over the world. Probably numerous computers will be involved in any communication, computers you will not even know are involved.
As suggested by my earlier Babel analogy, the Internet has created its own lexicon. While you do not need to know every acronym or term, knowledge of a handful will ease you along the superhighway and allow you not feel as
BOOKMARKS This is a feature web browsers have where you can store web addresses for future use. Netscape calls such storage bookmarks. Explorer calls it Favorites.
BAUD The transfer rate of information in bits per second. The higher the better.
CGI (Common Gateway Interface) This is the script which processes requests and responds to them. A CGI script is the program run by the Web server in response to a request from
a Web browser. It is the key to interactivity. CGI translates the information.
DOMAIN NAME An address on the Internet reserved for a specific entity, usually identifying that entity such as Disney.com. The suffixes denote the type of cite. Org denotes an organization, edu denotes an educational institution, net denotes an Internet service provider, gov denotes government and com denotes everyone else.
E-MAIL Electronic mail sent to a specific person or box. Besides text, pictures, sounds, files and programs can be sent by e-mail. FAQ Frequently asked questions and their answers
FTP (File Transfer Protocol) the protocol for uploading and downloading files on an Internet site.
HTML (Hypertext markup language) This is the language used to format and link documents, graphics and other information on the World Wide Web.
HTTP (Hypertext transfer protocol) This is the protocol that allows HTML documents to be accessed.
INTERNIC The organization that regulates the regulates and authorizes the use of domain names.
ISDN (Integrated Service Digital Network) – a way to send data over existing phone lines without a modem, which provides faster access to the Internet.
LINK A highlighted web site identifier on a web page that when clicked on will transfer you to that web site.
PROTOCOL A language or set of rules that allow computers to talk to each other.
URL (Uniform Resource Locator) This is the addressing system used by the Internet. It provides the name of the computer where the site is housed, the path and the file name.
WYSIWYG (What you see is what you get) A term used to describe a way to create web pages.
There are many more terms peculiar to the web. You can locate many glossaries on the web simply by typing “Internet glossary” into a search engine. Some locations of glossaries are:
Electronic mail, list servers and chat groups are methods of communication between people. E-mail can be analogized to regular mail (called snail mail in web language). List servers are similar to subscriptions and chat groups are similar to multiparty telephone calls.
E-mail, or electronic mail, is the way you send the equivalent of a letter over the Internet. As with snail mail, you can send pictures and words. However, unlike snail mail, you can send video, sound and other files. You can even send programs and links by E-mail.
E-mail is an excellent way to send documents needing editing. If you have drafted a document by computer, you can then attach that document file to your e-mail and send it to the person who is to do the editing. The recipient can open the file on their computer and make all the changes necessary without retyping the document. Using this method allows a person to draft a document anywhere, including home, and then send the document to the office for finalization. Additionally, it provides an excellent way to negotiate an agreement whereby the entire document does not have to be retyped or have numerous handwritten additions.
E-mail can be sent to many persons at the same time. All you need is their e-mail address.
You should be aware that e-mail is not as private as you might think. Your actual letter may reside on several computers. Assume you wants to send an e-mail letter to Joe. You use CompuServe as your Internet service provider. Joe
uses America-On-Line. You write the letter on your computer. Your computer retains a copy of the letter. You “e-mail” the letter to Joe, which means CompuServe copies the letter onto CompuServe’s computer in Ohio. CompuServe
transmits the letter to America-On-Line, where America-On-Line copies it onto America-On-Line’s computer in Virginia. Finally, Joe retrieves the letter from America-On-Line, and copies it onto his computer. In this example, the Internet caused the letter to be written on a minimum of four computers. In reality, the Internet could have written it on many more computers as it works its way through the Internet although the chance that one of the intervening computers has a full copy of your letter is quite remote.
A list server is a program that distributes e-mail to a list of subscribers. A list server will be built around a topic. If that topic interests you, you subscribe to that list server. Then, every e-mail that is sent out after you subscribe by the person or entity maintaining the list server will be delivered to you.
List servers are used to host e-mail discussions and by companies to send announcements (advertising). Southwest Airlines (www.iflyswa.com) maintains a list server which e-mails Southwest Internet specials every Tuesday.
List servers usually have several features. First and foremost is that they must be compatible with existing software. They should have easy ways to subscribe and unsubscribe. List servers can have archives that allow you to read
For the operator, the list servers should have several features as well such as a method to delete the addresses of returned e-mail. The list servers should be able to handle the volume of e-mailings without requiring additional hardware.
For both operators and subscribers, the list server should be secure so that unauthorized people cannot obtain the list. Additionally, the list server should be able to detect mail loops to prevent infinite e-mail deliveries.
There are many providers for list server programs. The larger players are Majordomo, LISTSERV, Lyris and ListProc.
A chat group is similar to a multiparty telephone call where people type and read responses in real time as opposed to speaking and hearing. Chat groups require a IRC (Internet relay chat) software. When you open your IRC software, you choose a server. Once you have logged onto a chat server, you can choose among the various chat rooms, usually identified by the interest of the chat room.
Once in the chat room, anything you write is displayed as soon as you press send. The others in the chat room can read it immediately and respond. There are ways to restrict access to a chat room. Some people have restricted chat rooms where their families meet once a week. Companies can use chat rooms to carry out question and answer sessions or hold press conferences.
Your Internet address identifies your location. An Internet address usually consists of many distinct elements. One glossary address listed above was:
The first part, http, which stands for hypertext transfer protocol, tells what protocol the file uses. WWW identifies the document as being on the World Wide Web. Thirdage identifies the machine where the document is stored. Features is the prime file the document is stored in, with tech and glossary being sub and sub sub files respectively. Finally, index.htm is the name of the document. In other words, the document, index.htm, is in the glossary file which, in turn, is in the tech file which is, in turn, in the features file that is located on the machine known as thirdage.com. Other addresses can contain sub-domains as well as country codes.
In the above example, thirdage is a domain name. A domain name is a unique address that identifies the machine upon which the file is located. Domain names are registered with InterNIC. InterNIC is the organization which registers domain names so there are no two identical domain names.
You can register a domain name if it is not currently registered and there is no copyright or trademark infringement. The cost of a registration is $100.00 for the
first two years and then an annual fee thereafter. A true machine address is a series of four numbers of three to four numbers each. Obviously, it is much easier to remember a catchy domain name that a series
There are many Internet services provided by the appropriately named Internet service providers. The basic services usually involve access to the Internet, news groups, Internet relay chat and e-mail. Each of these services has already been discussed except news groups.
New groups have similarities to e-mail and chat rooms. You write a message that you send to the news group. Then, anyone who accesses the news group can read your message. New groups do not operate in real time.
Additional services include virtual domain hosting, web site design and personal web page storage. Virtual domain hosting is where a machine “virtually” acts as if it were your machine for the purposes of being a domain. Gardner,
Kewley & Bisso, A.P.L.C. has registered the domain name “bayoulaw.com.” The actual machine where bayoulaw.com is located in named linknet.net. However, linknet.net has created a second, virtual machine named bayoulaw.com, on which our documents are located. This is virtual domain hosting. Linknet.net is hosting Gardner, Kewley & Bisso, A.P.L.C.’s virtual domain bayoulaw.com.
Personal web page storage is similar, except that there is no new domain name. Your documents are simply stored on the computer bearing its actual name.
The Internet is evolving every day. Things thought impossible just last year are now very possible. New technologies are constantly emerging. Armed with this primer, you can rev up your web browser, get on the on ramp and merge onto the information superhighway.