Internet Basics


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Frequently Asked Questions

What exactly is the 'Internet'
How do I get connected?
What's a modem, and how much does connection cost?
How do I choose where to get connected?
Where can I go for help?
Where can I try it out?
What is the Web, and where does e-mail come in?
What's so great about email?
What are news groups, forums, mailing lists?
What are bulletin board systems
What is WWW?
What is the big attraction of the Web?
What kind of computer and software do I need to use the Internet?
How easy is it to put Web pages on the Internet?
Will I have to buy lots more software?
How can I publisize my web site?
If I have access to e-mail, do I also have access to the Web?
How do I send more than email?
What is the advantage of BBS or Internet?
Is it easy to set up a BBS?
Does anyone combine Internet and BBS systems?
How do you find information on the Internet?


What exactly is the 'Internet'

The Internet is an electronic network of computers all over the world permanently connected to each others through high speed links. It is not owned or managed by any one organisation and is really a network of networks - not one system but many segments linked together

To get on the Internet you link your computer to one of those permanently connected.

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How do I get connected?

The easiest way is by using a modem to connect your computer to a phone line and through that to a commercial ISP - an Internet Service Provider - or a commercial Online Service like Compuserve. You can use an existing ordinary phone line - although you can't use the phone and the computer at the same time.
Alternatively, networks of computers can be linked to a dedicated line - one solely for Internet traffic. Your place of work may have a connection already.

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What's a modem, and how much does connection cost?

A modem is a small box or card plugged into your computer at one end and wired to the telephone socket at the other, They cost about #150 for the fastest models (which are worth getting).

Most ISPs - the connection providers - will charge you #10-#15 a month, or maybe #100 for a year. Alternatively you can connect through Compuserve, America Online or one of the other Online Services. These charge about #6 a month plus connect time after a few hours. The difference is that they offer a range of information service beyond those normally found on the Internet.

This may seem like a large investment, but most organisation will make great savings, just through the use of email. Many busniesses use it for that reason.

#= pounds sterling

John Navas maintains an excellent 28800 Modem FAQ that might be of help.
http://web.aimnet.com/~jnavas/modem/faq.html

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How do I choose where to get connected?

The first choice is between ISP and Online Service, and then within each category (though there may be advantages in both if you can afford it for reasons I'll explain below). Generally ISPs like Demon or BT for general users, GreenNet or Poptel (marketing particularly to non-profits), are cheapest for heavy use. Online Services offer additional information not available to non-subscribers, and easier methods for transferring data between subscribers ( see below 'How do I send more than email').

For more information on connecting, look in the back of Internet magazines, which often give cost comparisons and guidance. Many ISPs and Online Services offer free trials - though you do have to buy the modem.
Make sure you choose one with a local phone number (point of presence), a good help desk (especially when you're starting out), and one which doesn't have high initial costs - you'll lose this money if you decide to change service later.

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Where can I go for help?

If possible, find a friendly and experienced Internet user to show you the basics. Internet Service Providers and commercial Online Services have help desks, once you sign up with them. Buy some Internet magazines - they're pretty informative, even if they seem nerdy.
You may well find that there's a group local to you who can help, and there's probably a Public Access Point (or PAP) in your local town. This might be a library, or a "Cyber-cafe" who'll give some very basic training or guidance with your first session. A government helpline has been set up to help you find your nearest point of assistance. Phone: ?????????

After that, you might want to get some training, although this can be very expensive (and probably over-priced) so look out for cheaper schemes run by local groups and education establishments, such as LETS (Local Exchange Trading System) and peer-to-peer education schemes

Not surprisingly, the one of the best places to get help usiong the Internet is on the net itself. Examples of best practice, FAQ on particular topics and help from software companies can all be found quite easily.
Green net http://www.gn.apc.org/gn/webtools/howtohtml.html

But in the end, the only way to learn is to start - you have to get into the water to learn to swim.

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Where can I try it out?

It's difficult to describe the tools the Internet offers here, you really need to see it yourself.
More and more libraries are offering public access to the Internet as part of their service. See
http://www.earl.org.uk/ for a list.
In many towns there are also "Cyber-Cafes", which offer a cafe atmosphere along with Internet access. Try the list at http://www.easynet.co.uk/pages/cafe/ccafe.htm for places to "sip and surf".

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What is the Web, and where does e-mail come in?

The basic idea to hang on to is that the Internet simply allows one computer to transfer files to another computer, or many other computers at the same time. Theoretically, anything you can put on a floppy disk and give to someone else, you can transfer via the Internet, although as we will discover there can be quite a gap between theory and practice.

In my humble opinion (or IMHO as they say on the Net) the most useful transfer is email (we'll come back to Web later). It is a bit like fax without the paper and retyping. Old style: computer word processor to printer to fax to fax to recipient to reply on computer to printer to fax etc. New style: computer to computer - with the ability to rework any of the other person's content on your computer - cutting, adding and sending back just as you might if they gave you a word processed file on disk.

You can compose your email messages offline - that is, when not connected - dial up your ISP or Online Service, send them off, and disconnect. Incoming messages wait in your mailbox on the ISP's computer (known as a server or host), and you collect them when you wish. You can keep them all on disk, and only print them off if you want to.

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What's so great about email?

It is cheap, fast and convenient - much easier than letters and fax or even telephone in some circumstances (i.e. 'he/she is in a meeting'). No envelopes and stamps, no waiting for calls back, no fax busy signal.

The style is informal, although there is courtesy or 'Netiquette'. This including the occasional abbreviation (IMHO = In my humble opinion; ) and smileys ( ;-) = a winking smiley :-) = smiling smiley :-( = glum smiley )
.
You don't even have to be in your office to collect or send email - you can do it on a portable from a hotel room if you are keen. You can send and receive email from anyone on the Internet, whatever ISP or service they use. You only ever pay local call charges on the Internet, so international email is the same as local. And you can send thousands for the same cost and trouble as one. Which brings us to...

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What are news groups, forums, mailing lists?

These are public email, of two sorts. The first type is variously known as a newsgroup, discussion forum or conference depending where it resides on the Internet, Online Service or bulletin board system. Forums are rather like notice boards where you can post and read email - an electronic post box where you can rummage through the messages. They can either be open to anyone - as are newsgroups on the Internet - or limited to subscribers to a particular service like Compuserve, or still further limited to a smaller group within those subscribers. They range from the equivalent of Speakers' Corner to invitation-only smoke-filled rooms.

Mailing lists have a similar function but work differently. You send a message to an email address at an Internet computer which acts as an electronic forwarding office. This 'starbursts' your message out to hundreds or thousands of other people: in fact, to anyone who has signed up - again by an email message - to the mailing list. The cost: one local phone call.

Forums you have to log in to and look at to see what's there. Mailing lists drop public messages in with your private email each day. Less trouble, unless you subscribe to a lot of lists.

BTW (sorry, by the way) an email address is in the form of dwilcox@pavilion.co.uk - which means me, with my post box at Brighton's ISP Pavilion Internet. I'm also 100116,240 for anyone on Compuserve, or 100116.240@compuserve.com for anyone else on the Internet mailing my Compuserve postbox.

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What are bulletin board systems

BBSs, as they are known, got going before most people were on the Internet. They can be a small PC or Mac in a back bedroom hooked up to the domestic phone line by a modem so that anyone phoning that number direct - not via an ISP - gets into the PC.

There users will find the equivalent of a mini-Compuserve: a place for private email, discussion forums and libraries of files. Sophisticated BBS systems may have banks of modems so several users can access them at the same time, or be linked to the Internet. Small systems can be run by enthusiasts at low cost. Users need a modem, but don't need to sign up with an ISP. See 'What are the pros and cons of BBS and Internet' later. First, let's deal with the fancy stuff - World Wide Web.
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What is WWW?

World Wide Web is another lot of computer files buzzing around the Internet, but unlike email they can offer pictures plus sound and video too, if you have the right software for the sound and video add ons.

While email looks like simple word processed files, World Wide Web files look more like magazine pages produced with a desk top publishing package. The considerable added value is that as well as words and pictures they have links - highlighted places on the pages (either text or picture). If you click on a link it will take you to another page - and here's what has got everyone excited - that page doesn't have to be on your computer. It can be on any computer on the Internet, anywhere in the world.

These links - which are really addresses to files and computers - create the Web of connections between Internet computers and the content on them. It means, for example, that you can create the contents list for a Web magazine and have the articles spread all over the world.

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What is the big attraction of the Web?

First, it is very user friendly. Just clicking on pages brings up attractive content through the links. Second, it is also very author friendly. You can put together an impressive list of material simply by linking to other people's material - and it is all quite legitimate.

For the user, it is like browsing the libraries and magazine racks of the world without leaving your chair.

For example, members of a network organisation could developing different areas of content to match their expertise and publish these, with information about their project, on lots of different local servers - perhaps taking advantage of free deals offered by ISPs to local projects. However, a set of opening menus could turn these into a seamless set of material to outside users anywhere in the world.

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What kind of computer and software do I need to use the Internet?

It depends what you want to do.
Basic email will run on pretty basic hardware, while to use Web graphics 'browsers' comfortably your computer will have to be able to handle it. You'll need a 486 SX25 PC with 8MB of RAM (running windows 3.1+), or a Macintosh 68030 series also with 8MB running system 7.0+. It is, however, possible to read Web in text-only mode on older machines. Sound and video may require upgrades.

As I explained above, most Internet software is free. You can either use different programmes for email and Web, or access email through one of the more sophisticated Web browsers like Netscape Navigator or Internet Explorer.

For info on how to use Netscape, check out http://home.netscape.com/eng/mozilla/1.1/handbook/

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How easy is it to put Web pages on the Internet?

These days, not too difficult. A lot of Internet service providers will give users some free or low cost space, and there are some easy to use programmes to author Web pages which work like word processors. You need other software (called FTP, or file transfer protocol software) to get the files from your computer to the server (that is the one at the ISP), but it isn't too difficult to use.

Where you do have to spend time and effort is in working out what you want to achieve by putting material on the Web, who is it aimed at, how to organise it, and how to keep it refreshed. Users bore easily - after all, with a click they can be the other side of the world. Simply Web publishing leaflets which weren't very inspiring first time around in print isn't going to grab anyone - it is simply electronic vanity publishing.

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Will I have to buy lots more software?

Fortunately most start up software is free. Because the early Internet users were academic and techies, there is a spirit of sharing and showing what enthusiasts can do. Basic connection software, email and Web browsing (that is viewing) is all free unless you want something fancy. The better Web authoring tools do cost #50-#150, although software companies often allow you to test their early versions free, or full versions for 30 days. You don't even have to send off for it - you just get it off the Internet. As well as content, there is lots of software on the Internet.

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How can I publisize my web site?

Aside from adding your URL (your web address) to your stationary and advertising through the normal channels, it's a good idea to alert any related organisations who have a web presence to your pages. These web sites should have the email address of the designer or maintainer of the site. Let them know who you are and why you should be linked to their pages, and whether you will be making a link to them.

You will also need to register your pages with the major search engines on the web. You can contact them all individually, but there is a site at http://www.submit-it.com, which will allow you to contact many of them from one screen.

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If I have access to e-mail, do I also have access to the Web?

That depends on the system you are using - see below the advantages and disadvantages of Internet and BBS. If you are connected through a BBS you almost certainly won't have Web. Through an Internet Service Provider - certainly - and also through commercial Online Service providers like Compuserve and America Online, though some people report connections can be slower.

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How do I send more than email?

In theory you simply attach a file - maybe a word processed or spread sheet document - to an email. In practice difficulties arise because people use different types of software (e.g. Word or Word Perfect) and also because the file attachment system encodes the file, and there are several ways of doing this. Macs and PCs encode differently, for example. The more sophisticated (not free) email programmes like Eudora Pro offer encoding and decoding options, so you are OK if you check what the other person uses. Compuserve and other service providers have systems which make it easier to transfer files, but only to others who have signed up to the same system.

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What is the advantage of BBS or Internet?

There used to be three fairly distinct camps: on one side, the BBS sysops (system operators) running BBSs, often as a hobby, without Internet connection. People would dial in, often without charge, and be able to exchange email with others on the system, and to send files (upload) to the file libraries and also retrieve files (download). No Web, and often no way of sending or receiving email to not users of the system. However, it is easy on a BBS to set up private as well as public discussion areas and to exchange files. A strong sense of community would develop among users.

In the other camp were the Internet enthusiasts, with email around the world, plus the delights of the Web, but with more difficulties in transferring files and setting up discussion areas. There is a fairly lengthy procedure to set up discussion areas on the Internet (newsgroups) and they are open to all.

A third camp were the users of Compuserve and other commercial Online Service providers - with good content and discussions areas, plus file transfer, but operating initially as closed systems - rather like a super BBSs.

What's happened recently is that the three camps have moved closer together - at least technically. Many BBS offer facilities for sending and receiving Internet email. Commercial service providers offer this plus Web access, and are converting their BBS-type discussion areas to Web. Web software is developing so that it is possible to set up discussion areas.

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Is it easy to set up a BBS?

It is not too difficult if you are providing for users on a hobby basis, but more difficult if you aim to offer a professional service with support to users. Someone has to be the system operator dealing with technical management, registering and helping users, organising content. That can be a full time job, so organisations usually take space on an existing system.

Using an existing system has many advantages, but the operator will charge a fee. This can be #60 - #175 a year for a professional service.

Unless the BBS has incoming Internet connections anyone outside its immediate area of operation will be making long distance calls.

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Does anyone combine Internet and BBS systems?

Two organisations which serve non-profit bodies - Poptel and GreenNet - do provide Internet access and also run linked BBS systems. Anyone not using these organisations for their Internet access has to pay an additional fee for use of the BBS systems, and they do take a little getting used to. However, these two providers have the advantage of understanding the voluntary sector and community groups and are constantly making improvements to suit these markets.

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How do you find information on the Internet?

If you are lucky you may find a mailing list or discussion group that suits your needs, or a Web site where someone has developed content and made links to other sites. This might be a database or idexed information and as more organisations get online, their web sites usually offer a good jumping-off point.

Alternatively you can use a search engine to hunt through enormous indexes to list Web pages or discussion areas which might be of interest. These are amazingly powerful - but unless you are careful in specifying your search criteria you can end up with thousands of 'hits'. It's worth reading the help pages for each one to narrow your search.

Try our links for community information

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