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*Introducing the Internet

This page includes five sections:


Let's approach this question by first establishing what the Web is not. One common misconception is that the Web and the Internet are one and the same. They are not. The term Internet refers to the physical infrastructure of an interconnected global computer network. In effect, the Internet is just a giant mass of cables and computers. The Internet itself doesn't do anything. To make the most of this physical network, software engineers have developed programs and protocols that allow these computers to communicate with each other in different ways. The Web refers to just one of many modes of data storage and transfer commonly used on the Internet (e-mail and Usenet being two other examples, both of which we will cover in later sections).

On the most basic level, the Web is just a vast collection of interconnected documents stored on computers all around the world. These computers, or hosts, must be connected to the Internet, of course. A special coding system called Hypertext Mark-Up Language, or HTML, allows Web users to move quickly and easily within and between documents. An individual user navigates through these HTML-encoded documents with a software program called a browser. The browser interprets the HTML codes in two ways. First, it uses these codes to format and display the text and images you see on your screen (the codes themselves remain hidden). Secondly, it executes the appropriate commands whenever your click on any given highlighted text, or hypertext link. Furthermore, recent advancements in HTML now allow users to click on pictures and animation, or hypermedia, in order to execute these same commands.

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In order to understand how a browser works, it is helpful to look at the client/server system upon which the Web is built. When you use the Web, you are using two programs, the client and the server. The client program, or browser, is the program running on your local terminal, whether it's your PC at home or a UNIX workstation at school. It displays information on screen, takes your keystrokes and your mouse clicks, and retrieves the information you request. It retrieves this information (which may consist of text, graphics, animation, sound, and even movies!) from the host, or server, which is connected to the Internet. The important thing to note here is that the server does nothing until it receives a command from the browser.

Currently, the most popular browser is Netscape Navigator, though many other software packages are also available (such as Mosaic and Microsoft Internet Explorer). The single-user version of Netscape can be purchased from a software retailer or downloaded directly from the Internet, but it is offered free of charge to the educational community--that means you! Multiuser versions for local computer networks are also available through a site license. If you are using Netscape (or any other browser) on a terminal in your school's computer center, odds are it's a multiuser version.

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Using your browser, you can access home pages and Web sites all over the world. While these two terms are often used interchangeably, the term Web site actually refers to an entire collection of HTML documents stored on a given server. The term home page denotes the main access point (or "front door") into this collection. The home page usually describes the purpose and features of the Web site and provides an interactive table of contents that serves as the navigation scheme for the Web site as a whole. For example, the Arizona State University Web site consists of many different areas (academic, administrative, reference, campus life, etc.), all of which appear as hypertext or hypermedia links on the main home page.To make things a little more complicated, each of these areas or departments may have their own servers and home pages. Open the front door and you'll find more doors (behind which are even more doors!). Some of these doors lead to other documents of the same Web site, while others may lead to different Web sites all over the world. This maze-like effect is how the World Wide Web got its name.


Uniform Resource Locators, or URLs, are what we use to get our bearings within this maze. Put simply, a URL is the Internet address of a given Web site, home page, or document. What's more, URLs can tell you exactly where specific documents are located within a particular Web site.

URLs consist of four parts. We'll use the following URL as an example:

  • The first part, http://, which is referred to as the prefix, indicates that this address points to an HTML-encoded document (http stands for Hypertext Transport Protocol). Therefore, you know it's a Web site. Other prefixes you may run across in your Web travels include ftp://, file://, gopher://, and telnet://. . . . The other prefixes listed above serve as a reminder that browsers can be used to access resources other than Web documents.

  • The second part,, is the name of the computer (or host or server) where this document is stored. Another term for this label is domain name. In this example, the computer is Arizona State University's Web server.

  • The third part, /asuweb/, is the directory on this server where the file resides.

  • The fourth part, index.html, is the name of the actual document that pops up on your screen. This document may contain text, graphics, animation, sound files, movies, and/or links to other documents and Web sites.

COM= Commercial organizations
GOV= Government agencies
MIL= Military agencies
NET= Major network support centers
ORG= Not-for-profit organizations
INT= International organizations

(For further examples of domain extensions, view the Domain Type Abbreviations chart. The chart will help you identify what kind of sites you're surfing to.)

As you can imagine, information may be interpreted differently, depending on whether it comes from a commercial, government, military, or other source, so it is important to know these abbreviations and always be conscious of where you are on the Web.


Now that you know a bit about the Web addressing scheme, how can you find what you're looking for on this vast information network? Our first suggestion may surprise you: GUESS! This method is especially useful for finding company and university Web sites, as illustrated in the following examples.

Let's say you want to find the home page for Cornell University. You already know that http:// is the prefix for Web documents, so that will be the first part of its URL. By far the most common beginning for a Web server domain name is www, so that's another safe bet for the next piece of the URL. And you already know that since Cornell is an educational institution, the domain will end in edu. The last element to fill in is the name of the school itself, Cornell, which is the middle element of the domain name (the word "university" is almost always omitted in cases like this). Put it all together and you get, which is, in fact, the main URL for Cornell University.

The same logic can be applied to corporate Web sites. Can you guess the Xerox Web site URL? The prefixes will be the same as above, but you know that the domain name will end in "com" because Xerox is a commercial organization. Fill in the company name and you get "" The same logic can be applied to guessing the URLs for government sites (like the White House at and not-for-proft organizations (like Greenpeace at

If this method doesn't help you find what you're looking for, you can also try one of the many search engine home pages available on the Web. . . .

Search engines are some of the most powerful and utilized resources on the Web. These enormous interactive databases allow us to scour most of Web space in a matter of seconds in search of just about anything. There are more than a dozen comprehensive search engines on the Web, including:








ZD Net

At the most basic level, there are two ways to find what you are looking for:

First, there is the "keyword" search. Each search engine is a little different, but the general idea is that you input words related to the information you are looking for and the engine will give you a list of sites containing those words. So if you are trying to find a hotel for your next trip to Miami, you might try words like "Miami," "Florida," "travel," "tourism," "hotels," etc. In general, the more specific you can be, the better. Each search engine has a comprehensive Help or Search Tips menu that can help make your searches much more efficient (and much less frustrating). We encourage you to make the most of them.

Secondly, you may peruse each database by choosing from a list of general topic areas and narrowing your search from there. So the above search might go something like this: Recreation -> Travel -> United States -> Southeast Region -> Florida -> Miami -> Hotels. This method is usually most helpful when you are exploring a general area (rather than looking for a specific piece of information or home page).

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Besides the Web, two other features of the Internet are . . . e-mail and Usenet news.

Electronic mail, or e-mail, is the primary communication tool used on the Internet. E-mail is a system for sending messages or files to the accounts of other computer users. The sender and recipient(s) may be on the same computer or on different systems on opposite sides of the world. E-mail works very much like regular postal mail. Every user on the network has a private mailbox. Once received, your mail is kept for you until you decide to discard it. Like regular postal mail, you must know a user's address to send a message. . . .

Usenet, or Netnews, is a worldwide electronic bulletin board system. It represents a way for people with similar interests to communicate with one another by exchanging publicly posted messages known as articles. Unlike e-mail messages which are delivered straight to your private mailbox, Usenet articles are posted to a central computer known as a news server, where anyone with access may read and respond to them (either privately or publicly). Each news server is divided up into newsgroups, which are categorized by topic area. For example, the "" newsgroup is for fans of folk music. The "rec" prefix indicates that this is a recreational group. Other prefixes include "comp" (for computer topics), "sci" (for scientific discussion) and "K12" (for students in kindergarten through 12th grade). Like e-mail, Usenet is changing the way people communicate. . . .


One of the most common sources of confusion with respect to the Internet is the unique position occupied by major commercial online services such as America Online, CompuServe, and Prodigy. Many newcomers to the information superhighway (often called "newbies") assume that these services are synonymous with the Internet. They are not. These networks are independent systems offering a wide variety of informational, entertainment, commercial, and other resources, only one of which is access to the wider, global system we call the Internet (including the Web). While subscribers to these systems can access the Internet, nonsubscribers cannot access these systems' internal services.

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*From Michael J. Etzel, Bruce J. Walker, and William J. Stanton, Internet Excercises to Accompany Marketing (McGraw-Hill, 1997). Copyright 1997 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. All rights reserved.