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The Internet



This tutorial is intended to give you a broad overview of the Internet and how it works.

The Internet and the World Wide Web Defined

It is not uncommon when describing the Internet and the World Wide Web to think of them as being one in the same. In reality they are two different entities. The Internet is a vast network of networks connected by telephone lines, cables and communication satellites while the World Wide Web represents the resources available on the Internet. The World Wide Web could not exist without the Internet.

How the Internet Began

The Internet began in the 1960s when researchers from the United States Defense Department's Advanced Research Projects Agency began linking their computer to each other through telephone hook-ups. ARPA was interested in designing a system that would support military research in the event of a nuclear war as well as providing a measure of security against partial cable outages.

The above information was taken from The Whole Internet: User's Guide and Catalog by Ed Krol, Sebastopol, CA: O'Reilly, 1992.

How the Web Works

The World Wide Web uses hypertext to link to documents and files located on servers anywhere on the Internet. A hypertext document contains words, phrases, or images that are highlighted and point to a different document where more information can be found. The user can click the highlighted word, phrase, or picture to display the document. The paws that you see below are hypertext, clicking on them either takes you forward or backward in this tutorial.

Navigating the World Wide Web

The way to navigate the World Wide Web is with a browser. A browser is the software that allows you to locate, display and use World Wide Web documents. It retrieves information from remote computers and displays it on your screen. The two most common browsers are Netscape Navigator and Microsoft Internet Explorer. There are, of course, other browser types such as America Online's browser, Mozilla and Opera.

Search Engine Defined

A search engine is a utility that searches the entire Internet, a site or a database for terms that you select. Generically the term describes a general class of programs that employs a search mechanism but in this tutorial it will be used to describe search engines like Alta Vista, Excite and Google, which enable users to search for documents on the World Wide Web.

Types of Search Engines

There are a variety of search engines available and you may already be aware of some of the more popular ones. While you do not need to learn how to use every search engine, it is useful to understand the differences among them.

There are essentially four types of search engines:

  • A mediated search engine also known as a directory search engine searches for information by categories. It first searches for a broad subject heading and then searches for more specific topics that fall within those categories. Yahoo! and Lycos are among the more popular search engines of this type.

  • A keyword search engine searches for information through the use of keywords. It sends out a spider or robot (software that scans documents on the Internet and adds them to the search engine's database), that searches for keywords that appear in special fields, called meta tags. Keyword search engines gather more information than mediated search engines because a much larger database is searched. Google is an example of a keyword search engine.
    Note: Some search engines combine mediated and keyword searching. They first search in the directory and then move to a keyword search.

  • A meta-search engine (sometimes called a multi-search engine) searches a number of search engines together. The search is conducted using keywords or plain language with the results listed either by search engine or as a single integrated list. Dogpile is an example of a meta-search engine.

  • A subject search engine is a mediated search engine dedicated to specific broad subject areas. Findlaw is an example of a subject specific search engine.

Search Strategies

Before you begin searching on the World Wide Web it is important that you develop a search strategy.
Listed below are the steps to developing an effective search strategy.
Sample question: How does global warming affect the climate?

Step One   Identify key concepts within the statement. In this case the key concepts are global warming and climate.

Step Two   Think of synonyms or variations of those key concepts. In the case of global warming, a synonym is greenhouse effect. For the concept of climate, a synonym is weather.

Sample search statement: (global warming or greenhouse effect) and (climate or weather)

Keyword Search Operators are specific words or symbols used for composing a keyword query.

BOOLEAN

Use AND, OR and NOT to connect words or phrases in the search statement.

AND requires that both terms be present somewhere in the information being sought.
OR requires that at least one of the terms be present somewhere in the information being sought.
NOT excludes any information sought containing the term.
Sample query: New Orleans AND Saints

When using boolean operators, don't forget to capitalize them as shown above.

PLUS/MINUS Use {+}before a term to retrieve only the information containing that term. Compare it to using the Boolean operator AND. Use {-}before a term to exclude that term from the search. Compare it to using the Boolean operator NOT.
Sample query: New Orleans+Saints

Do not leave a space between the operator and the term that follows.

PHRASES

Words enclosed in double quotes " " indicates an exact phrase and is most often treated as a single term.
Sample query: "New Orleans Saints"

Note: The way to express the association between words will differ with each search engine. Always consult the help menu for the specifics of each search engine.

Evaluating Web Information

Now that you have found the information that you need on the World Wide Web you will need to evaluate; just as you should evaluate any information that you find. Keep in mind that the Web is almost totally without standards; anyone with a computer and access to the Internet can publish a Web page.

Consider the following criteria when evaluating the information that you have found.

  • Author- Is the author's name listed on the page? In many instances Web pages are the creation of Web masters whose expertise is more in page design than in the knowledge of the contents of the page. If the author's name is listed, is there an e-mail or other address in which to contact them? If the author is an organization, is it one that is well known and respected?

  • Comprehensiveness- Is the information a summary or does it cover all aspects of the topic? It is not unusual to find information that is just an excerpt or summary of a larger work in a printed source. Compare the information on your Web site to a print resource such as book or an encyclopedia.

  • Reliability-What is the origin of the source? Examine the source by checking the domain in the URL(Uniform Resource Locator) or Internet address. The domain is the last part of the URL. The most common domains are "edu" for educational institutions,"gov"for the United States government,"com"for commercial entities and "org"for organization. Countries such as Canada and France use country codes as their domain names,"ca" for Canada and "fr" for France. Government and education sites are thought to be more reliable because there is no hidden agenda such as trying to sell you a product but commercial sites can and do provide valid information as well. Further check the reliability of a Web site you're planning to use information from by checking for bad grammar, misspelled words. Is the information objective or are there obvious biases.

  • Currency-When was the information on the Web page posted or last updated? On Web pages, the date of the last revision is usually at the bottom of the home page, or sometimes it's on every page. Ask yourself what are the inclusive dates of the information on the Web page. For example does it only cover information for the year 1999 and you need information from the year 2000.
Note: If you're using the Web to find information for a paper or other research project it is important that you cite any information you use from a Web page, consult the appropriate style manual such as the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers for examples of how to cite Web pages. h3>Conclusion
  • While you may use the terms Internet and World Wide Web interchangeably, they are two different entities. The Internet is the vast network or networks connected by telephone lines, cables and communication satellites while the World Wide Web represents the resources available on the Internet. The Web cannot exist without the Internet.

  • Although the Internet in its present form is constantly evolving and relatively new, it began in the 1960s as a project of the U.S. Department of Defense to support military research in the event of a nuclear war.

  • The World Wide Web uses hypertext to link to documents and files located on servers anywhere on the Internet.

  • The way to navigate the Web is with a browser. It is the software that allows you to locate, display and use Web documents.

  • Search engines like Alta Vista, Excite and Google allow users to search for documents on the Web.

  • Before you begin searching on the Web it is important that you develop a search strategy and that you critically evaluate and cite the information that you find.

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