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Internet 101: Beginners Quick Reference Guide

A 'Cheat Sheet' for Online Beginners

By

July, 2014

The Internet and World Wide Web, in combination, are a worldwide free-broadcast medium for the general public. Using your PC, Mac, smartphone, Xbox, movie player, and GPS, you can access a vast world of messaging and useful content through the Net.

The Net has subnetworks.  The biggest subnetwork is the World Wide Web, comprised of HTML pages and hyperlinks. Other subnetworks are email, instant messaging, P2P (peer-to-peer) file sharing, and FTP downloading.

Below is a quick reference to help fill in your knowledge gaps, and get you participating in the Net and the Web quickly.  All of these About.com references can be printed, and are free for you to use thanks to our advertisers.

1. How Is the 'Internet' Different from the 'Web'?

Woman working on a laptop at home
Pixdeluxe/E+/Getty Images

The Internet, or 'Net', stands for Interconnection of Computer Networks.  It is a massive conglomeration of millions of computers and smartphone devices, all connected by wires and wireless signals. Although it started in the 1960's as a military experiment in communication, the Net evolved into a public free broadcast forum in the 70's and 80's. No single authority owns or controls the Internet.  No single set of laws governs its content.  You connect to the Internet through a private Internet service provider, a public Wi-Fi network, or through your office's network. 

In 1989, a large subset of the Internet was launched: the World Wide Web.  The 'Web' is a massive collection of HTML pages that transmits through the Internet's hardware.  You will hear the expressions 'Web 1.0', 'Web 2.0', and 'the Invisible Web' to describe these billions of web pages.

The expressions 'Web' and 'Internet' are used interchangeably by the layperson. This is technically incorrect, as the Web is contained by the Internet. In practice, however, most people don't bother with the distinction.

2. What Is 'Web 1.0', 'Web 2.0', and 'the Invisible Web'?

Web 1.0: When the World Wide Web was launched in 1989 by Tim Berners-Lee, it was comprised of just text and simple graphics.  Effectively a collection of electronic brochures, the Web was organized as a simple broadcast-receive format.  We call this simple static format 'Web 1.0'.  Today, millions of web pages are still quite static, and the term Web 1.0 still applies.

Web 2.0: In the late 1990's, the Web started to go beyond static content, and began offering interactive services.  Instead of just web pages as brochures, the Web began to offer online software where people could perform tasks and receive consumer-type services.  Online banking, video gaming, dating services, stocks tracking, financial planning, graphics editing, home videos, webmail... all of these became regular online Web offerings before the year 2000.  These online services are now referred to as 'Web 2.0'.  Names like Facebook, Flickr, Lavalife, eBay, Digg, and Gmail helped to make Web 2.0 a part of our daily lives.

The Invisible Web is a third part of World Wide Web.  Technically a subset of Web 2.0, the Invisible Web describes those billions of web pages that are purposely hidden from regular search engines.  These invisible web pages are private-confidential pages  (e.g. personal email, personal banking statements), and web pages generated by specialized databases (e.g. job postings in Cleveland or Seville).   Invisible Web pages are either hidden completely from your casual eyes, or require special search engines to locate. Read more about Invisible Web here.

3. Internet Terms that Beginners Should Learn

There are some technical terms that beginners should learn.  While some Internet technology can be very complex and intimidating, the fundamentals of understanding the Net are quite doable. Some of the basic terms to learn include:

  • HTML and http/https
  • Browser
  • URL
  • ISP
  • Downloading
  • Malware
  • Router
  • E-commerce
  • Bookmark.

Here are 30 Internet Terms for Beginners...

4. Web Browsers: the Software of Reading Web Pages

Your browser is your primary tool for reading web pages and exploring the larger Internet. Internet Explorer (IE), Firefox, Chrome, Safari... these are the big names in browser software, and each of them offers good features.  Read more about web browsers here:

5. Mobile Internet: Smartphones and Laptops

Laptops, netbooks, and smartphones are the devices we use to surf the Net as we travel. Riding on the bus, sitting in a coffee shop, at the library, in an airport... mobile Internet is a revolutionary convenience. But becoming mobile Internet-enabled does require some basic knowledge of hardware and networking. Definitely consider the following tutorials to get you started:

6. Email: How It Works

Email is a massive subnetwork inside the Internet.  We trade written messages, along with file attachments, through email. While it can suck away your time, email does provide the business value of maintaining a paper trail for conversations.   If you are new to email, definitely consider some of these tutorials:

7. Instant Messaging: Faster than Email

Instant messaging, or "IM", is a combination of chat and email. Although often considered a distraction at corporate offices, IM can be a very useful communication tool for both business and social purposes.  For those people that use IM, it can be an excellent communication tool.

8. Social Networking

"Social Networking" is about starting and maintaining friendship communications through websites. It is the modern digital form of socializing, done through web pages. Users will choose one or more online services that specialize in groupwide-communications, and then gather their friends there to exchange daily greetings and regular messages. Although not the same as face-to-face communications, social networking is immensely popular because it is easy, playful, and quite motivating. Social networking sites can be general, or focused on hobby interests like movies and music.

9. The Strange Language and Acronyms of Internet Messaging

The world of Internet culture, and Internet messaging, is truly confusing at first. In part influenced by gamers and hobby hackers, conduct expectations do exist on the Net. Also: language and jargon are prevalent. With the help of About.com, perhaps the culture and language of digital life will be less daunting...

10. The Best Search Engines for Beginners

With thousands of web pages and files added everyday, the internet and the web are daunting to search. While catalogs like Google and Yahoo! help, what's even more important is the user mindset... how to approach sifting through billions of possible choices to find what you need. About.com has some great suggestions below...

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