all about Internet
Click on any of the terms below to get a full explanation of that topic.
•  The Internet as an Information Interstate
•  The Internet and the Global Village
•  Origin of the Internet
•  The World Wide Web
•  Surfin' Safari
•  Search Engines
•  Getting Around
•  Cyberspace Shorthand
Hello cyberbuddies! Today we're going to talk about the Internet—what it is, what it does, the exact date we think it will become self-aware and take over the world…

Hmm, maybe we better just start with a definition and an analogy.

The Internet as an Information Interstate

The Internet is a system of computer networks that are connected to one another. These networks are consist of individual computers all over the world that communicate using the same special language—computer language.

Here's a way to think about the network that is the Internet. You know the interstate highway system of the United States? All major cities across the lower 48 are connected by interstate highways, allowing someone from, say, Billings, Montana, to travel down I-25 through Casper, to Cheyenne, and then pick up I-80 clear across to Lincoln, Nebraska. In fact, this person (let's call her "Rachel," because that's a nice name) could keep traveling all over the United States, hopping out wherever there was something of interest she wanted to see. Like the Largest Ball of String in Valley View, Texas, or Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee.

Now if these interstates were taken away, then our friend Rachel in Billings, Montana would be stuck in Billings, Montana. Or, at the very least, she would have a much more difficult time getting from place to place. So, these roads form a network to help travelers get around. This is a lot like how the Internet works, except that it's information moving down these electronic roadways, not people in vehicles.

One major difference between the Internet and the Interstate Highway system, though, is that geographical distances don't mean that it takes longer to get to New York from San Francisco than it does from Boston. The reason is that information travels very fast over the Internet, kind of like how your voice travels very quickly over a phone line.

Another thing to remember about the Internet is that information doesn't usually travel the shortest distance between two points. Say Rachel in Billings, Montana wants to see a piece of information in Denver, Colorado. Well, her request may actually go to Washington, D.C., first and then to Denver, then back to her.

This makes the Internet a redundant network. But in this case, redundancy is a good thing. Instead of only one or two ways to get from point A to point B, there are hundreds of ways, each about as fast as the other. Remember, geography doesn't mean much on the Internet!

The Internet and the Global Village

When you plug into the Internet, you bring the world to you. You can get reviews of the latest movies, check stock quotes, read breaking news stories, look at art that hangs on the walls of the Louvre, listen to music, and even send messages to your friends, through electronic mail (also known as "email").

So, the Internet connects computers in homes, businesses, and academic and government institutions through a criss-crossing system of computer paths. These computer paths make up a network and, consequently, networks within networks, that link up all over the world. A global village!

Origin of the Internet

Okay, now we know what the Internet is, but where did it come from? Well, from the Pentagon. The Internet's daddy was DARPANET—a secure, private network that linked the defense establishment with academic researchers working on military projects.

This system of networks got off the ground in 1969 thanks to the U.S. government, which wanted to help government employees working on military projects to share computer files. This way, the employees didn't have to drag their paperwork all over the country to work together.

Once this network began to take shape, everyone wanted a piece of it, especially people at academic institutions. The Internet became the linking pin connecting hundreds of government and academic institutions.

Between 1991 and 1995, the Internet became increasingly big news. It received quite a lot of coverage by the press, which helped to pique consumers' interests were piqued. They wanted in. Nowadays, everybody wants access to the Internet. Folks are running out in droves to get hooked up.

The World Wide Web

The World Wide Web is a system of interconnected information that is accessed through the Internet. The Web started around 1989, roughly 20 years after the Internet was up and running. Since then, the Web has mushroomed into one the world's largest information repositories.

Many people confuse the Net with the Web. The Internet is the computer network that you use to access the information that is stored on the World Wide Web. So the World Wide Web is the information—be it text, images, pictures, even sound—and the Internet is the means for accessing that information. Got it? Good. Let's move on. When people travel around the Web, they're "surfing"—jumping from one Web page to another, kind of like surfing from one wave to another. There are two essentials to start surfing the Web: a Web server and a Web browser.

A server is a special computer program that runs on a host computer (a computer connected directly to the Internet).You don't need to have a Web server to access the Web from home, but without Web servers there would be nothing for you to see on the Internet! Web servers administer the places you visit on the World Wide Web, so a Web server can contain a library Web site, a museum Web site, a car rental company Web site and travel agency Web site all in one computer.

Web sites come in the form of Web pages. Each page can be a combination of text, pictures, audio and video clips—all sorts of stuff. Now, to get from one set of information to another, you use hyperlinks. Hyperlinks are connections between two Web documents. Links, as they're generally called, are pieces of text or pictures that, when clicked upon, display another Web document. There are three basic types of hyperlinks: icons, colored text, and buttons. Icons are in the form of graphics, colored text is distinguished from the rest of the text by its different color (pretty self-explanatory), and buttons are the big guys up in the browser's frame. Aha! We haven't told you what a browser is, have we?

A browser is something you use to navigate the Web. It's a program that allows you to read documents and jump around on the Web. Say you open up your browser, and are on the Internet. What happens then? Well, the first Web page you'll see is called the home page, because it's where you begin. The Web browser is basically just a frame around your home page. As you surf the Web, this frame stays in place, allowing you to control your journey, no matter what different Web pages are displayed in the main window.

As you move around a home page with your mouse, you'll notice that your mouse point changes shape as you move over certain places on the screen. Every place the mouse point becomes a little hand-shaped icon, you've got yourself a hyperlink. If you click on a hyperlink, you'll be magically transported to a new Web page.

How does this happen? When you click on a hyperlink, the browser sends a message to the Web server (wherever it may be), asking for a specific page. The server then transmits the document back to your browser, and your browser displays it on your screen. Magic!

Surfin' Safari

When you travel from Web site to another Web site (by clicking on those hyperlinks!), you're "surfing" from one host computer to another. That's because different computers "host" different Web sites. How do you get to a particular Web site?

Well, if you know the address of the Web site you're looking for, then you can type it into the address box in the browser. The address box is the white box near the top of the browser. An address is the thing that starts off with, "http://www…." This type of address has special name—the URL, or Universal Resource Locator.

If you know a Web site's URL, you can type it into the address box, hit "enter," and, if everything's working, you'll be at that Web site before you know it.

Say you know of this really cool Web site, called "The Really Cool Web site," and you happen to know its URL is "http://www.reallycoolWebsite.com". Let's take a look at that URL. The "http://" part is important, but most of today's browsers, you needn't type it in. The next part, "www." Stands for "World Wide Web," and the period, or "dot" after the three "w"'s separates them from the next part of the URL. The next part is the site name: "reallycoolWebsite". The last part ".com" tells us a bit about what kind of Web site it is. A Web site that ends in ".com" (you can pronounce it "dot-com") is a commercial Web site. But there are other types of Web sites.

A Web site that ends in ".gov" (you can pronounce it "dot-gov") is a government Web site; a Web site that ends in ".edu" (you can pronounce it "dot-e-d-u") means that it's an educational institution; and a Web site that ends in ".org" (you can pronounce it "dot-org") means it's an organization, association, non-profit, or an institution.

It doesn't stop there! There's also ".net". (Getting the hang of it? Pronounce it "dot-net.") A ".net" used to mean that the Web site was an Internet service provider site, but nowadays, it can also mean the Web site is either a business or an organization. There are also unique Web site addresses for Web sites that are outside of the US. For example, a Web site with the address "www.reallycoolWebsite.uk" would be in the United Kingdom.

When typing in a Web address, spelling counts big time, so make sure the URL you use is typed in correctly.

Search Engines

You want information and you want it now! But how do you go about getting it? One good way to find information is to use a search engine.

Search engines scour the World Wide Web for information, so you don't have to. Now, there's no all-comprehensive search engine that catalogs everything on the Web, so you may have to visit and use more than one search engine to find the exact piece of information you're looking for.

The reason for this is simple. The Internet is an open platform to anyone who has Internet access. This means that anyone with Internet access can add a Web page or take down their own Web page whenever they feel like it. There's really almost no control over what goes up and what comes down on the Internet, so it's impossible for any one organization to monitor everything that's happening on the Internet.

So how do search engines work? Let's say you're at the Web site of a search engine—your Internet service provider probably has its own search engine, so pretend you're there.

Here's how it works. There's always a place to type in some words for a search. You punch in the name of what you're looking for, hit "enter" and boom!, the search engine goes out and finds what Web sites out there have that information. It'll give you a list pretty quickly. The list will contain a bunch of hyperlinks to different Web pages. If you click on one of these hyperlinks with your mouse, you'll be transported to that particular Web page, and you just might get the info you're looking for. Now, each search engine has it's own system for gathering information, so you should remember to take a quick look at a search engine's instructions when you first try it.

Getting Around

As neat as hypertext is, you can get lost using this stuff. For instance, once you get out on a page and you decide you want to go back from where you came, how do you do it? Well, there're a few navigation tools available to help you move around.

On your browser, these tools will probably appear in the form of buttons. One of these helpful buttons is the "Back" button. You can click on the Back button to return to a previous Web page. You can choose the "Forward" button to return to a page you've just come back from. If you want to go back to your home page, click the "Home" button or the "Start" button. That way, you don't have to rifle through all the pages you've already viewed.

Sometimes when you click on a link and view a page, when you return to the previous page, you'll notice that the colored-text link has changed colors. Many browsers do this to let you know that this is a link that has been recently viewed.

Here's another neat option: the "Favorites" button. Some browsers call these "bookmarks." You can set a favorite for pages you think you may want to come back to later. To see a list of pages you've seen previously, click on the "History" or "Go" button.

Because the Internet gives you access to so much information and so many people, it can be used for socializing or for networking in business. The possibilities are only limited by your imagination.

Cyberspace Shorthand

Not only is the Web a great place to access information, it's also a great place to socialize. Like any social environment, cyberspace interaction has developed a culture and a language all its own. Perhaps you've noticed Web users' strange punctuation and acronyms. They're called emoticons or "smileys." You can create your own smiley face by typing a colon followed by an close parenthesis. Try it (the trick to reading emoticons is to turn your head to the side).

Other emoticons are:

:( A sad face is a colon followed by a open parenthesis.

8-) A number eight with a dash and a begin bracket makes a goofy face.

;-) A semicolon followed by a dash and an end bracket makes for a wink.

In addition to emoticons, cyberpeople use acronyms, which, because they save time, can really liven up a cyber conversation. Here are a few shorthand acronyms to get you started.

Acronym What It Means
BTW By The Way
FWIW For What It's Worth
IMO In My Opinion
IMHO In My Humble Opinion
TIA Thanks In Advance
LOL Laughing Out Loud
PMFBI Pardon Me For Butting In

Good Luck and Good Surfing

During our cyber-odyssey, we've explored the outer reaches of the Internet and conquered the World Wide Web. Thanks for coming along for the ride.

Now that you've read All About Internet, test your knowledge with our Sample Test.

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