On beyond email

by Joe Flower


International Copyright 1996 Joe Flower All Rights Reserved
Please see our free downloading policy.


What's it like?

What's available?

What are the different ways I can get to these things?

How to get online:

At work, you can ask your organization's computer person whether you have Internet access, and how to sign on. At home, you'll have to do it yourself, unless you happen to have a random 14-year-old handy. You'll need:

How to get to a Web address: Getting into the World Wide Web on the Internet takes a little more horsepower. You can get on the rest of the Internet with a decade-old command-line computer that just shows lines of type. But to get on the Web, your computer must be graphics-capable (preferably with a color monitor) and sound-capable if you want to hear sounds (which are becoming more common on the Web). You will also need:

When all that is done, all you have to do is turn on your browser and type the URL of the place you want to go (such as http://www.healthonline.com) into the line that says "Location" or "URL." With most recent browsers, you can leave off the "http://" and just type the address (such as www.healthonline.com).

How much does it cost?

Lots. Almost nothing. Depends. If you decided to build your own Web site, you could easily spend $2 million to hire a design firm and a half million a year to maintain it. The Change Project's web site, which was recently featured in PC Week and The Los Angeles Times, cost me $58 and some time. Some institutions maintain Web sites at costs that are so small they are lost in the budgetary noise. Others hire a crew.

Private databases online can charge from $25 to $300 per hour, others are free.

Proprietary systems like AOL and Compuserve typically charge a low monthly fee (less than $10) with hourly charges that kick in after a certain point, plus special charges for particular services. "Frequent Fliers" on these systems can rack up bills for hundreds of dollars per month.

Basic access to the Internet, Usenet, the Web, and email is the cheapest. At this writing, Internet providers are typically charging a flat monthly fee of $15 to $20 for basic access - and AT&T and many of the other phone companies have announced that they are about to enter the competition, in a business in which the incrimental cost is close to zero.

Cheapest of all? Free email service. The catch? Every message is "packaged" with an ad.

Phone charges are next to nothing - local calls in and near most metro areas, 800 numbers elsewhere for some systems.

The price trend? For access, it's down, trending toward zero. For building things such as Web sites in cyberspace, it's up, trending toward movie production costs.

Glossary: some basic Net terms

Acronyms: Like CBers and old-time telegraph operators, people online sometimes write in acronyms to save time, such as YMMV ("your mileage may vary"), ROTFL ("rolling on the floor laughing") and RTFM ("read the f-ing manual"). If you don't know what they mean, ask.

Browser: Software for viewing and navigating the Web. The most popular by far is Netscape. They also coordinate the tasks of "helper" and "plug-in" software handling such things as email, sounds, and video. Usually inexpensive, or bundled with communications packages, browsers are also available online.

Downloading: Find an article or piece of software that you like online? Much of the time, you can simply copy it onto your own computer.

Emoticons: Emotional icons, or "smileys." Here's one: :-) Tilt your head to the left, and you'll see a little smiling face. Some people put them in online messages to show when they are amused, or shocked :-0 or weargin glasses 8-) or dressed up like Santa Claus *<|:-) There are hundreds of them.

FAQs: Frequently Asked Questions - Usenet discussion groups quickly get tired of new people asking the same questions over and over, so almost all of them have put together lists of these questions, with answers. These FAQs are surprisingly useful and pragmatic introductions to the basic outlines of subjects from earthquake prediction to AIDS. The Usenet group news.answers is a collection of FAQs on a wide variety of subjects.

Flame: Both noun and verb. To "flame" someone is to insult someone and derogate their ideas in an online discussion. As in the "real" world, some people consider this a form of sport. Others consider it bad manners. A "flame suit" is a mythical garment that renders the user immune to flames.

Freeware and shareware, demo, and beta: Different types of free or inexpensive software available online. Even if cost is not a problem, these can be very useful ways to evaluate your own needs. "Freeware" is free - they just give it away. There is a lot of it, and some of it is quite good. "Shareware" is a little different - if you like it you're supposed to send the author a check, usually much less than retail software would cost. A "demo" version of retail software either will show you all of its chops, but without saving or printing, or it will work for a set period of time - three days or so - and then self-destruct. "Beta" software is a test version. It's not quite ready for prime time, but they're letting it out for free to find out where the bugs are.

HTML: HyperText Markup Language, the very simple coding (with marks such as <p> for paragraph and <br> for line break) that turns plain text documents into pages ready for the Web.

Internet ("the Net"): A physical global network of networks of millions of computers. Founded by the U.S. government, originally for defense research purposes, now run privately, overseen by the Internet Society and the National Science Foundation. Often loosely used to mean not only the Internet itself but the whole realm of networks connected to it, i.e. anyplace to which you can send email from an Internet address.

Search engine: Powerful programs, most of them available for free online, that can search millions of Web pages, ftp sites, and public discussion groups for keywords. Popular ones include Lycos, Yahoo!, and InfoSeek. Recommended: Excite for surprisingly human-like intuitive searches, and Alta Vista for speed and power.

Unix: The operating system used for much of the Internet. Occasionally, you may need to know a few very basic Unix commands - and you can find guides to them online.

URL: Universal Resource Locator, an address for a place in cyberspace (such as a Web site or ftp site). HealthOnline's URL is http://www.healthonline.com. Mine is http://www.well.com/~bbear/. Type or copy URLs just as they are, with no spaces, and no periods on the end

World Wide Web (WWW): The World Wide Web is a virtual network of millions of documents on computers all over the Internet, all available for public perusal and downloading through easy-to-use Web "browsers." Anything on any document can be "linked" to another document, or even to a particular word on another document - click on a highlighted word or image, and you're there. Going from one link to another is called "surfing the Web," or "Web crawling."

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