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Who is Who in the Culturelink Team

Culturelink review, Special Issue 1994 - imprint - archive

(This is Part I of the article, covering the technical aspects of computer networking. Part II, written by Pavle Schramadei, explores its social impact.)

Some Thoughts on Computer-Mediated Communication

Aleksandra Imogen Ivir is currently studying informatics at the Faculty for Organization and Informatics at Varaždin, Croatia. She is also working part-time at the IRMO. She graduated from high school in the United States. Her interests include information systems and network resources, as well as computer-mediated communication.

Introduction

Numerous resources, guides and FAQs (documents answering Frequently Asked Questions) are available throughout the Internet - or the Net, as it is commonly called - to facilitate the Netizens' way around the Net.

To briefly explain some of the various tools and services for locating and retrieving information resources to be found on the Internet, let us allow the Net to introduce itself, by quoting excerpts from some of the documents freely accessible on the Internet.

Let us first find out
What Kind of Information Is On The Internet? (And, Why Isn't There An Encyclopedia On The Internet?), Version 1.8.1 - 13 April, 1994, Kevin M. Savetz at savetz@rahul.net

The type of information you're likely to find on the Internet is free information, such as government documents, works with expired copyrights, works that are in the public domain, and works that authors are making available to the Internet community on an experimental basis. Conversely, some types of information you are not likely to find on the Internet, most notably, commercial works which are protected by copyright law.

Definitions

Internet

A commonly asked question is "What is the Internet?" The reason such a question gets asked so often is because there's no agreed upon answer that neatly sums up the Internet. The Internet can be thought about in relation to its common protocols, as a physical collection of routers and circuits, as a set of shared resources, or even as an attitude about interconnecting and intercommunication. Some common definitions given in the past include:

  • a network of networks based on the TCP/IP protocols,
  • a community of people who use and develop those networks,
  • a collection of resources that can be reached from those networks.

Today's Internet is a global resource connecting millions of users that began as an experiment over 20 years ago by the U.S. Department of Defense. While the networks that make up the Internet are based on a standard set of protocols (a mutually agreed upon method of communication between parties), the Internet also has gateways to networks and services that are based on other protocols.

(Request for Comments: 1462, FYI: 20, FYI (For Your Information) on "What is the Internet?", Network Working Group; E. Krol, University of Illinois; E. Hoffman, Merit Network, Inc., May 1993)

Timeline

Some of the main points from the brief overview of the history of the Internet, found in Hobbes' Internet Timeline v1.4, Robert H'obbes' Zakon, hobbes@hobbes.mitre.org:

  • 1957 USSR launches Sputnik, first artificial earth satellite. In response, US forms the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) within the Department of Defense (DoD) to establish US lead in science and technology applicable to the military
  • 1969 ARPANET commissioned by DoD for research into networking
  • First node at UCLA and soon after at: Stanford Research Institute (SRI), UCSB, U of Utah
  • 1972 International Conference on Computer Communications with demonstration of ARPANET between 40 machines organized by Bob Kahn.
  • Ray Tomlinson of BBN invents email program to send messages across a distributed network.
  • 1973 First international connections to the ARPANET: England and Norway
  • 1977 THEORYNET created at U of Wisconsin providing electronic mail to over 100 researchers in computer science (using uucp).
  • 1982 DCA and ARPA establishes the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) and Internet Protocol (IP), as the protocol suite, commonly known as TCP/IP, for ARPANET.
  • This leads to one of the first definitions of an "internet" as a connected set of networks, specifically those using TCP/IP, and "Internet" as connected TCP/IP internets.
  • EUnet (European UNIX Network) is created by EUUG to provide email and USENET services.
  • 1984 # of hosts breaks 1,000
  • 1987 # of hosts breaks 10,000
  • 1989 # of hosts breaks 100,000
  • 1991 Wide Area Information Servers (WAIS), invented by Brewster Kahle, released by Thinking Machines Corporation
  • Gopher released by Paul Lindner and Mark P. McCahill from the U of Minn
  • 1992 World-Wide Web released by CERN; Tim Berners-Lee developer
  • # of hosts breaks 1,000,000
  • First MBONE audio multicast (March) and video multicast (November)
  • 1993 US White House comes on-line:
  • Internet Talk Radio begins broadcasting
  • United Nations and World Bank come on-line
  • Businesses and media really take notice of the Internet
  • Mosaic takes the Internet by storm; WWW proliferates at a 341,634% annual growth rate of service traffic. Gopher's growth is 997%.
  • 1994 Communities begin to be wired up directly to the Internet
  • US Senate and House provide information servers
  • Shopping malls arrive on the Internet

Services

Mail

E-mail (Electronic mail) - a way to send a private message to somebody else on the Net.

The basic concepts behind e-mail parallel those of regular mail. You send mail to people at their particular addresses. In turn, they write to you at your e-mail address. You can subscribe to the electronic equivalent of magazines and newspapers.You might even get electronic junk mail.

E-mail has two distinct advantages over regular mail. The most obvious is speed. Instead of several days, your message can reach the other side of the world in hours, minutes or even seconds (depending on where you drop off your mail and the state of the connections between there and your recipient). The other advantage is that once you master the basics, you'll be able to use e-mail to access databases and file libraries.

(EFF's Guide to the Internet, v.2.21, (formerly The Big Dummy's Guide to the Internet), Electronic Frontier Foundation, 1993/1994)

Gopher

The Internet Gopher, or simply Gopher, is a distributed document delivery service. It allows users to explore, search and retrieve information residing on different locations in a seamless fashion.

When browsing it, the information appears to the user as a series of nested menus. This kind of menu structure resembles the organization of a directory with many subdirectories and files. The subdirectories and the files may be located either on the local server site or on remote sites served by other Gopher servers. From the user point of view, all information items presented on the menus appear to come from the same place.

The information can be a text or binary file, directory information (loosely called phone book), image or sound. In addition, Gopher offers gateways to other information systems (World-Wide Web, WAIS, archie, WHOIS) and network services (Telnet, FTP).

A Gopher server holds the information and handles the users' queries. In addition, links to other Gopher servers create a network wide cooperation to form the global Gopher web (Gopherspace).

(Request for Comments: 1580, FYI: 23, Guide to Network Resource Tools, Network Working Group, EARN Staff, EARN Association, March 1994)

FTP

FTP - File-transfer Protocol. A system for transferring files across the Net.

Hundreds of systems connected to Internet have file libraries, or archives, accessible to the public. Much of this consists of free or low-cost shareware programs for virtually every make of computer.

But there are also libraries of documents as well. If you want a copy of a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision, you can find it on the Net. Copies of historical documents, from the Magna Carta to the Declaration of Independence are also yours for the asking, along with a translation of a telegram from Lenin ordering the execution of rebellious peasants. You can also find song lyrics, poems, even summaries of every "Lost in Space" episode ever made. You can also find extensive files detailing everything you could ever possibly want to know about the Net itself.

(EFF's Guide to the Internet, v.2.21, (formerly The Big Dummy's Guide to the Internet), Electronic Frontier Foundation, 1993/1994)

Telnet

Telnet - A program that lets you connect to other computers on the Internet.

Telnet: Access to databases, computerized library card catalogs, weather reports and other information services, as well as live, online games that let you compete with players from around the world.

Telnet is a program that lets you use the power of the Internet to connect you to databases, library catalogs, and other information resources around the world. Several hundred libraries around the world, from the Snohomish Public Library in Washington State to the Library of Congress are now available to you through telnet.

(EFF's Guide to the Internet, v.2.21, (formerly The Big Dummy's Guide to the Internet), Electronic Frontier Foundation, 1993/1994)

Usenet

Netnews, or Usenet as it is more commonly called, is a message sharing system that exchanges messages electronically around the world in a standard format. Messages exchanged on Usenet are arranged by topic into categories called newsgroups. Netnews is, thus, a huge collection of messages, being passed from machine to machine. The messages may contain both plain text and encoded binary information. The messages also contain header lines that define who the message came from, when the message was posted, where it was posted, where it has passed, and other administrative information.

The major, hierarchical categories of Usenet newsgroups which are distributed throughout the world are alt, comp, misc, news, rec, sci, soc, and talk. There are many other major categories which may be topical (e.g., bionet, biz, vmsnet) and are usually distributed worldwide as well, or geographical and even organizational (e.g., ieee) or commercial (e.g., clari). The latter categories are usually distributed only with their area of interest.

The major categories are further broken down into more than 1200 newsgroups on different subjects which range from education for the disabled to Star Trek and from environmental science to politics in the former Soviet Union. ... Some newsgroups have a moderator who scans the messages for the group before they are distributed and decides which ones are appropriate for distribution.

(Request for Comments: 1580, FYI: 23, Guide to Network Resource Tools, Network Working Group, EARN Staff, EARN Association, March 1994)

Talk

This is the Net equivalent of a telephone conversation and requires that both you and the person you want to talk to have access to this function and are online at the same time.

(EFF's Guide to the Internet, v.2.21, (formerly The Big Dummy's Guide to the Internet), Electronic Frontier Foundation, 1993/1994)

IRC

IRC, Internet Relay Chat, is a real-time conversational system. It is similar to the talk command which is available on many machines in the Internet. IRC does everything talk does, but it allows more than 2 users to talk at once, with access throughout the global Internet. It also provides many other useful features.

IRC is networked over much of North America, Europe, and Asia. When you are talking in IRC, everything you type will instantly be transmitted around the world to other users who are connected at the time. They can then type something and respond to your messages.

Topics of discussion on IRC are varied. Technical and political discussions are popular, specially when world events are in progress. IRC is also a way to expand your horizons, as people from many countries and cultures are on, 24 hours a day. Most conversations are in English, but there are always channels in German, Japanese, and Finnish, and occasionally other languages.

(Request for Comments: 1580, FYI: 23, Guide to Network Resource Tools, Network Working Group, EARN Staff, EARN Association, March 1994)

WWW

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 (WWW, W3) project 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 Mosaic, the Web project has changed the way people view and create information - it has created the first true global hypermedia network.

In the first four months of 1994 alone, the World-Wide Web has been mentioned by CNN, the Wall Street Journal, the Economist, Fortune magazine, the New York Times, and dozens of computer publications.

The operation of the Web relies mainly on hypertext as its means of interacting with users. Hypertext is basically the same as regular text - it can be stored, read, searched, or edited - with an important exception: hypertext contains connections within the text to other documents.

In this way, hypertext links, called hyperlinks, can create a complex virtual web of connections. Hypermedia is hypertext with a difference - hypermedia documents contain links not only to other pieces of text, but also to other forms of media - sounds, images, and movies. Images themselves can be selected to link to sounds or documents. Hypermedia simply combines hypertext and multimedia.

(Entering the World-Wide Web: A Guide to Cyberspace, Kevin Hughes, kevinh@eit.com, Enterprise Integration Technologies, Version 6.1, May 20, 1994)

WAIS

WAIS, Wide Area Information Server, is a distributed information retrieval system. It helps users search databases over networks using an easy-to-use interface. The databases (called sources) are mostly collections of text-based documents, but they may also contain sound, pictures or video as well.

The databases may be organized in different ways, using various database systems, but the user isn't required to learn the query languages of the different databases. WAIS uses natural language queries to find relevant documents. The result of the query is a set of documents which contain the words of the query: no semantic information is extracted from the query.

(Request for Comments: 1580, FYI: 23, Guide to Network Resource Tools, Network Working Group, EARN Staff, EARN Association, March 1994)

Archie

Archie is an information system. It offers an electronic directory service for locating information in the international TCP/IP network (the Internet).

The best known use of archie is for scanning a database of the contents of more than 1000 anonymous FTP sites around the world. Currently, this database contains more than 2,100,000 file names from anonymous FTP sites. This database is known as the archie database.

The files made available at anonymous FTP sites are software packages for various systems (Windows, MS-DOS, Macintosh, Unix, etc.), utilities, information or documentation files, mailing list or Usenet group discussion archives.

The archie database is automatically updated, thereby ensuring that the information is accurate. Using this database, users can easily find the the location of files they need without logging onto several machines.

(Request for Comments: 1580, FYI: 23, Guide to Network Resource Tools, Network Working Group, EARN Staff, EARN Association, March 1994)

Netfind

NETFIND is an Internet user directory tool. It provides a simple Internet white pages directory facility.

Given the name of a person on the Internet and a rough description of where the person works, Netfind attempts to locate telephone and electronic mailbox information about the person. It does so using a seed database of domains and hosts in the network.

Netfind finds information about people through the Internet protocols SMTP and finger. If the person being sought is at a site that is not directly connected to the Internet (e.g., the site is connected only through a mail forwarding gateway), Netfind informs the user that the person can not be found.

(Request for Comments: 1580, FYI: 23, Guide to Network Resource Tools, Network Working Group, EARN Staff, EARN Association, March 1994).