Beware of Techie Types!
In my introduction, I used a few techie terms, but I tried to explain what everything means because some of these words and concepts might be new to you.
Before you begin flipping pages and convincing yourself that you'll never understand the Internet, let me assure you right now that there's nothing about the Internet that you don't already understand, you just haven't had it explained to you in a way that makes sense. Often, someone more technically inclined tries to introduce you to the "wonders of going online," and proceeds to throw around all kinds of confusing terms like 28.8 bps modems, TCP/IP, SLIP, or PPP connections and a lot of other alphabet soup that you don't really need to know right away. Don't despair! Techie types are not always capable of putting things into everyday language, so it's not your fault when your eyes glaze over. Also, learning exactly what those letters and words stand for won't change your life or the world, you just need to relate to what they mean. There are easy ways to learn and understand what those terms represent so you can buy the right computer with confidence or subscribe to an online service to get the cheapest and most direct access to go online.
My goal is to explain these terms in a way that makes sense and also to show how going online can be easy, useful, and even fun.
So What Is the Internet, Really?
What is the Internet? I like to say that the Internet is a loose, worldwide network of computers serving up databases, or "collections," of information to the public via servers. And a server is just another word for computer--it's a computer that is connected to the Internet twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. If you work in an office, you might already know about networks. With the Internet, think about the concept of connecting computers and sharing information as being similar to the connected computers in your office, but on a global scale.Maybe you've heard the term information superhighway? Well, if you aren't able to visualize what it means, that's because it doesn't give you the whole picture. If you're not familiar with computer networks in offices and can't figure out what a highway has to do with anything, let's try an analogy:
Picture This: The Internet is like a lot of small towns connected by roads and highways. In the towns are libraries, hospitals, government offices, stores, office buildings, and, of course, houses. You could leave your house, get into your car, and drive to the local library to read or check out a book, or you could go to the store to buy something or to a government office to get a copy of a document.
If the Internet is like an electronic version of towns and roads, then imagine that you can use your computer to travel on electronic roads--phone lines--and go to these same kinds of places using your computer. You can then connect to these places and get similar information, services, or products that you'd get in the real world, only you're not leaving home. This is one of the conveniences of the Internet.
A network on the Internet is like a network of roads connecting buildings in a town and highways connecting one town to another. On the Internet, this network is actually made up of hundreds of thousands of computers or servers "networked" together to share information. You could say the servers are "internetworked," which can be shortened to the "Internet." Clever, aren't they?
In reality, you can't see all of the connections that link up all the servers on the Internet the way you can see roads and highways. Most of the servers around the world that are "connected" to the Internet are communicating with one another by talking the same computer language.Picture This: Information travels over the phone lines--the electronic roads--in the same way we drive on roads in a car. We all have to follow certain rules so we can get through the traffic to our destination. And so does electronic information traveling from computer to computer.
Now think of this vast, loose network of computers or servers that are all talking the same language, and imagine that you can connect to them through your own home or office computer (see Chapter 3 for how to do it). When you connect to the Internet, your computer "talks" to another computer, and when a connection is made, you are able to access the contents of the hard drives or "storage spaces" on those other computers.Picture This: Going back to the buildings, roads, and towns idea, now think of your home as a representation of your computer. Your computer, like your home, is made up of rooms where you can do things and other rooms where you can store things. The hard drive of your computer is like a room where you can store things. You have the things organized in certain ways--like boxes or files in a filing cabinet. You can access these things by opening the door and entering the room.
A hard drive is the part of your computer where information is stored. When you are connected to, or "on," the Internet, you are connecting to other computers and getting into parts of their hard drives. How can you do this?
Well, in your house, other people can enter all the rooms if they are part of your family or sharing your living space. That's like people sharing your computer and accessing your files. There might also be rooms that are locked and only you have the key. This is the same thing as putting a password on your computer or on a file in your computer so no one else can get in.
You usually don't allow total strangers to enter your house or certain rooms in your house, but can invite people to enter your house and to go into these rooms. Likewise, you can go next door and enter your neighbor's house if you are invited. Maybe your neighbor is having a garage sale, and total strangers are entering a part of his house and rummaging through his things. And by going next door, you've expanded your access to things, simply by entering his garage.
When you connect to the Internet with your computer, and then connect to another computer or server, not only are you able to access the contents of your own computer--your files, documents, and all of your information--but you are also able to move through parts of the hard drives or "rooms" of other computers and access files that they make available to you in their special public collections of information or databases. Think of the garage they've opened up for you as a store you can go to or the public library where you can look around.
A database is simply a collection of information or data that is organized in a special way to make it easier for you and other people to gain access.Picture This: A good example of an actual database on the Internet is an electronic phone directory. When you connect to an electronic Yellow Pages, for example, you can then search the database by someone's name, address, the city or state he or she lives in, or the phone number.
The names and numbers in the directory are stored electronically as a collection of data or database in a computer somewhere, say the phone company. If you are connected to the phone company's computer through the Internet, and can access its public storage room of information, then you can use its Yellow Pages database to search for names, numbers, and addresses.
Excerpted from cybergrrl! A Woman's guide to the World Wide Web by Aliza Sherman. Copyright © 1998 by Aliza Sherman. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.