Last month I wrote about the Internet in general, mentioning that there were a number of different things you could do with it. The things I mentioned were: electronic mail, logging onto and using other computers, getting and putting files, and viewing ?information? on other computers. I went on to discuss electronic mail in some detail and then promised to tell you this month ?how to access a whole wealth of online information about Ferraris.?
Well, the time has come to let you onto a little secret called the ?World Wide Web.? If you haven?t already heard of the web you?ve probably been spending entirely too much time in the garage polishing your Ferrari. The web is all the rage on the Internet for one main reason: it makes accessing gobs and gobs of information really, really easy and compelling.
For fifty years, people have dreamt of the concept of a universal database of knowledge - information that would be accessible to people around the world and link easily to other pieces of information so that any user could quickly find the things most important to themselves. It was in the 1960?s when this idea was explored further, giving rise to visions of a ?docuverse? that people could swim through, revolutionizing all aspects of human-information interaction. Only now has the technology caught up with these dreams, making it possible to implement them on a global scale.
The World-Wide Web is officially described as a ?wide-area hypermedia information retrieval initiative aiming to give universal access to a large universe of documents?. What the World-Wide Web has done is provide users on computer networks with a consistent means to access a variety of media in a simplified fashion. Using a popular software interface to the Web called ?browsers,? the Web has changed the way people view and create information - it has created the first true global hypermedia network.
OK, so I?ve convinced you that the Web is the 90?s version of Guttenberg?s moveable type, now how does it work? Well, just like last month you need to get yourself (PC and modem included) onboard with a ?service provider? such as America Online, Compuserve, The Microsoft Network, Prodigy, or one of the many Internet-specific providers. For example, just shove that diskette that AOL sends you in the mail all the time into your PC and sign up. Or, buy Windows 95 and click on the ?Sign up for the Microsoft Network? icon, or go to your local bookstore and buy ?Internet in a Box.? Any of these will do.
Once onboard with a provider, you?ll need a software program called a ?web browser.? The most popular is Netscape 1.1 but your service provider might require you to use one specific to their system, in which case you?ll be able to download it via your modem. Once you have your browser you?re ready to ?surf the net,? all you need now are URLs.
Uniform Resource Locators, or URLs, are the ?telephone numbers? or ?addresses? of the information on the web. Just like the rest of the Internet, the web is really just a bunch of individual computers connected together via wire (telephone lines). To access a specific ?page? of information on a particular computer you need to identify it somehow - that?s where URLs come in. All World Wide Web URLs begin with ?http://? so a sample URL might be: http://www.eit.com/web/www.guide/. In fact, this is a great URL for learning more about the World Wide Web.
Now you?re thinking, ?and Jeff said this was easy to use?? Well, once you get used to URLs they aren?t really that bad. Besides, the beauty of ?hypertext? documents on the web is that one page can ?link? to many other pages, allowing you t