The Internet (Part I)

Part 1 of a 2 part series. Part 1 introduces the Internet, describes what it is and why it is important. Part 2 describes how to get started including getting “connected,” what equipment is required, learning to use the internet and how to create your own presence on the internet. Finally, a listing of useful internet addresses is provided.


One of the most exciting recent developments in communications and information transfer is the Internet, and unless you just arrived from Mars, I’m sure you have heard of it. The Internet is a giant worldwide network of interconnected computer networks or “sites” which allows an individual computer connected to this network to access the information on any of the sites on the network. The Internet allows this information to be searched, retrieved and stored by any user (generally at no cost to the user). Since many of the connected sites contain a wealth of useful information, the Internet can be an important business resource. As a small business owner, you cannot afford to ignore this new, important tool.

You may have read that the Internet is hard to learn and access. Maybe it was at first, but not anymore! Along with the astounding growth of the Internet, numerous small “access providers” have sprung up all over the country, many of whom will get you up and running on the Internet quickly and easily. More on this later.

This article will introduce you to the Internet but it is not going to make you an expert. To really understand and make use of this resource, you must “get connected” and I’ll describe this process below.


The Internet started around 1969 as a small network of government computers (belonging to the Advanced Research Projects Agency, (ARPA) and has been growing exponentially ever since. In fact, at this time, estimates put the number of sites (worldwide) at around 3 to 5 million! Since each site could have many users, this means that at any moment, millions of individuals are accessing the Internet. The current estimate of growth is 10% per month!

Clearly, the Internet is a BIG network of computers talking to one another. None of these computers is in control and there is no “central point” on the Internet (sometimes simply referred to as “the net”). Amazingly, in spite of its large size, the Internet is a cooperative effort with no one in charge, and it seems to work.


The Internet supports a variety of services, sometimes called applications, utilities, or tools. The most important are:

Electronic Mail (E-mail). This is the most popular Internet application. Using E-mail allows you to send and receive “mail” messages to or from anyone on the net, anywhere in the world, with no “long-distance” charges! (What a business tool!) A message may be sent to one person or a number of individuals. A message may be a few words or include large text or graphic files as an attachment. Available software makes this tool very easy to use and in most cases, the software will be free. The mail software I use is called Eudora. A free version (for personal use) is easily downloaded from the Internet. A commercial version is also available.

Most E-mail messages are delivered within minutes (to anywhere in the world!) and the cost is probably less than sending a letter and certainly less than a telephone call. There is no charge to send an E-mail beyond your normal Internet provider monthly charges. In many cases, E-mail can also replace a FAX.

You should remember that E-mail messages, like having a conversation on a portable or cellular telephone, are not private and can be read by others. Some systems will encrypt mail messages but don’t count on this … simply assume your message will be read by someone other than the recipient.

You will be assigned an E-mail address by your Internet provider. For example, my E-mail address is: Kind of strange-looking but you can generally choose the portion prior to the “@.” For example, John Reader might use “JReader.”

WWW. (World Wide Web). This is the fastest-growing area of the Internet and where you will spend 95% of your time. The WWW displays both text and graphics and utilizes a concept called “hypertext.” Hypertext allows you to use your mouse to click on certain highlighted words on the WWW screen, which immediately takes you to another place in that document or to another site on the Internet! This is called “linking” and is a very powerful tool.

The WWW uses universal resource locators (URLs) as addresses (for example, my WWW URL address is: Most browsers, like Netscape or Explorer, allow you to enter these URLs directly and you will be taken to that site. Some interesting and useful URLs are listed at the end of this article for you to try.

FTP. This application, File Transfer Protocol, allows you to send or obtain files from many computers on the Internet.

ARCHIE. This application is a search system that scans all the file names on all FTP sites in the world. With it you can find where specific files are located or if they exist.


Think about that 5-million number mentioned previously. Quite an audience for your product or service, don’t you think? You could, for instance, get an audience this size via television but the cost would probably be prohibitive to you. The good news about the Internet is that access is very inexpensive. As of this writing, “unlimited access” to the internet costs about $15/month.

Some of the activities available to you as an Internet user and their advantages include the following:

  • Communicate with anyone with an Internet account (there are millions) anywhere in the world and with no long-distance telephone charges! This is “E-mail” or electronic mail.
  • Search and retrieve a variety of useful information from any connected host computer (there are millions). The information that is available, as you will see, covers virtually every subject imaginable.
  • Conduct test marketing for your product or service at very little cost.
  • Advertise your product or service at little or no cost.
  • Place a catalogue of products on the internet complete with pictures and descriptions, ordering information, etc.
  • Distribute information to others.
  • Search through thousands of catalogues and offered services to compare costs and ultimately purchase at the best price.
  • Join one or more of the over 18,000 news and discussion groups covering everything from algebra to zoology. (And I mean everything!). Talk directly to experts.
  • Search for information in libraries, government information services, and various commercial databases all over the world.
  • Obtain free software from a variety of sources.

The next and final part of this article will discuss how to “get connected.”