Please note: this article was written in 1998, and much has changed since it was published. For example, Google is only mentioned in passing, and Youtube and social media like Facebook and Twitter are not mentioned at all, let alone the concept of streaming serivces like Netflix or Stan. I've left it up as a reminder of how things were, back when the best Internet connection most could afford was a 56K dialup modem...

If you were to read the press releases from Microsoft or Netscape/AOL, or many of the articles in the popular press, you could be forgiven for thinking that the Internet is a recent invention, created chiefly by Bill Gates or Marc Andreesen (or perhaps by Al Gore). This is not the case and the Internet has actually been in existence for quite a long time. Originally used as a means of keeping communication channels open between military bases in various parts of the United States of America, it was at that stage a small network of slow modems connected to mainframe computers. The network was extended by connecting computers from universities around America and it was not long before university staff were using the system to send messages to each other. The idea was used in other countries and it was not long before countries started connecting their networks to one another and. From these beginnings in the mid-1960s the Internet has grown to include a number of methods, or protocols, for communicating via computer.

Today, the Internet is best described as a network of computers spread across the world, making use of fibre optic cables, telephone lines and satellites to communicate with other computers in the network. The Internet makes use of vacant bandwidth in the telecommunications network to send messages from computer to computer, rather than relying on an entirely new infrastructure.

A standardised addressing system identifies specific computers, making it easy for other computers to hold information about what information other computers are storing and where they are. When we make use of the World Wide Web we are using this addressing system to go to a specific computer, either in Melbourne or possibly on the other side of the world, to read files stored on that computer. While any computer is connected to the network it is described as a "node" on the Internet, and with appropriate software we can use even a desktop computer to "serve" files to the rest of the world. It is the simplicity of this networking which has caused it to seize the imagination of users and to grow exponentially.

The Internet, and particularly the World Wide Web, has revolutionised the way we communicate. It is likely that fax machines will go the way of the telegraph and the telex, and while the Internet in ten years will probably look quite different from that which we see now, it is certain to have become even more pervasive.

The most commonly used parts of the Internet today include email, newsgroups, File Transfer Protocol, Internet Relay Chat, and of course the World Wide Web. Other areas which are rapidly growing include Internet telephony and video conferencing.


Email is a protocol which has been used since the early days of the Internet. It started out simply as a means of typing messages from one computer to another but it has now grown into a medium for mass communication. Many people use email addresses as their primary means of communicating with colleagues. And you will find email addresses now listed on many business cards and in letterhead. The ability to attach other documents to an email message, such as word documents, sound files and so on, has made collaborating with colleagues at a distance much easier and also much faster.

For several years I regularly received email submissions for a magazine which I edited. It made my job considerably easier as I could spend more time editing and less time keying in handwritten or typewritten articles which I have received through the post. This sort of communication means that editorial committees and other collaborative ventures can involve people working at opposite ends of the globe if necessary. While I was in England I was still able to check my mail and send replies, and to all intents and purposes the people to were receiving mail from me would have had no idea that I was in fact away from my normal office.

Common email programs include Eudora, Outlook Express and Netscape Messenger.

An email address is a little bit like a mobile phone with an answering machine attached to it. It can be used to send a message to someone, who will receive the message the next time they connect to the Internet and check their email. If they are online at the time you send your message they will receive it virtually instantaneously. Even if they are on the other side of the world, your message will be waiting for them when they next look at their email. My email address is This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Any mail addressed to me is sent to the computer called, which in turn places it in my mailbox. The next time I ask that computer for my email messages it will send any stored messages to the computer on my desk. Mail servers connected to the Internet have access to a list of other mail servers, allowing email to be easily and quickly sent to any email address.

Email can also be sent to large numbers of people at once. There are two easy ways to do this. The first is to collect the email addresses you wish to send messages to and then send one email to all the addresses in your list. This will send an email off to each person on the list, directly from your computer.

Another way to send email to large numbers of people, which is in many ways much simpler, is to subscribe to mailing lists. When you wish to send a message to everyone who has subscribed to a list you simply send an email to the list server and the email is automatically sent to everyone contained in the mailing list held by the list server. As these lists are generally quite specific it is a good way of sending material to a tightly targeted group of recipients, without having to collect an email list yourself. The drawback of sending this sort of broadcast email is that there is no guarantee that all the people you wish to receive your message will have subscribed to the mailing list your message is sent to.

Should you wish to create your own email list which contains the addresses of people on a listserv mailing list you can often obtain the list of the people subscribed to a particular mailing list by sending a message to the server asking for this information.

The EdNA website contains a number of listservs you can subscribe to and use to send emails to such special interest groups as JCSAV education extension officers and Victorian Outdoor Education Association members. The EdNA website is located at

Teachers and Subject Associations can also create their own mailing lists using EdNA. Visit the EdNA website for details. Victorian state school teachers will also be able to do much the same thing using the Department of Education's Edumail system.


Newsgroups are much like the bulletin boards we still sometimes see in supermarkets where anyone can pin up a message and hope that someone will respond. This could have been an ad for selling what an old bike or bed or perhaps a note from a tradesman advertising his services. Newsgroups do much the same thing except the audience is much, much larger. There are thousands of newsgroups available for users of the Internet. These groups generally are based on a topic of common interest and can be on topics as diverse as kite flying, photographic astronomy, teaching in Canada, or CD-Rom creating in Australia. Anyone can post an email to a newsgroup, which will then be visible to anyone else visiting the newsgroup. Your message might be a general comment or a question on a specific topic. If someone else reads the message and can answer your question or takes offence at your comments they can either reply directly to you using your email address or they can post a response to the newsgroup so that everyone else reading the newsgroup will see the response. Such sequences of conversation are called threads. Usually a newsgroup will contain several threads of conversation about different topics, all running at the same time.

The important thing to note about using newsgroups is that they allow conversations to progress over several days or weeks. This is usually referred to as asynchronous conversation. You don't have to be online at the same time as anyone else to be part of the conversation - the messages will be read by people the next time they visit the newsgroup.

Both Internet Explorer and Netspace Communicator give you easy ways to connect to lists of available newsgroups and to subscribe to groups in such lists.


The file transfer protocol is used when you wish to download files from a computer connected to the Internet or when you wish to upload files to such a computer. This is commonly used when you upload web pages to a Web Server, or you download programs for your computer from Internet sites. Common programs used include WS-FTP for PCs and Fetch for Macs. Some HTML programs, such as Microsoft Front Page or Claris Home Page, have an FTP application built into the software, making the publication of a website a "one click" operation


Internet Relay Chat is a way of communicating with relatively small numbers of people in real time. This sort of communication is often described as synchronous communication. It normally takes the form of typing messages which appear in a window on the computer of every person connected to the same area of the chat server. Messages are generally sent to everyone in the group though you can whisper to individuals if you choose to. Because IRC is done in real time the conversations are more ephemeral and conversation can often be somewhat stilted or abbreviated, given the poor typing ability of most people.

Microsoft NetMeeting offers a chat window where you can type messages to a group of users and it also offers the possibility of actually talking to individuals across the Internet. NetMeeting also has a whiteboard, allowing users to share a space to draw, explain, type messages, share photos and so on. To use this program for speech you need a sound card, speakers and a microphone. At present you can only talk to individuals using NetMeeting but I suspect that this will change in the next couple of versions as Vocaltec's Internet Phone already lets you talk to groups simultaneously.

Another program used extensively is ICQ (pronounced I Seek You). This acts a little like a paging service. Messages can be left on the Internet for users of the software to collect when they are next online. You can also identify people you wish to keep track of and you will be notified if they are online at the same time as you, making it easy to initiate real-time chats. ICQ is text based and is available for Macs and PCs. There are other chat-based services which work within webpages. The Palace ( and Parachat ( are two of the better known services. They work as Java applications within browsers and are referred to as being "platform independent", that is they do not need a particular type of computer in order to work.


The World Wide Web is perhaps the most rapidly growing part of the Internet. When using a simple browser interface (such as MicrosoftÕs Internet Explorer or Netscape Navigator) users can view web page and follow links on these pages to other sites around the world. Pages written for the web appear as hypertext. This is a concept first described by Vanevar Bush in the 1950s, and implemented by Tim Berners-Lee in 1990 for CERN, the European Particle Physics Laboratory in Switzerland. The language used to create web pages is known as Hypertext Markup Language, often abbreviated to HTML. It is a language which is still being developed and its evolution is being overseen by the World Wide Web Consortium, headed by Tim Berners Lee. The consortium is made up of key groups and companies involved in the Internet, including businesses such as Microsoft, IBM and Arthur Anderson, and universities such as RMIT, Keio and MIT.

There is a misconception that the World Wide Web is just another name for the Internet. This is not the case, and the WWW is simply one facet of the Internet, albeit one that has grown dramatically in popularity since it was first developed. The amount of information available on the World Wide Web has increased remarkably in the past few years.

The main reason that the World Wide Web has become so popular is that it is a rich, graphic environment, easily used by most people who are now using computers. It can contain pictures and sound as well as. By highlighting certain words or images and adding simple commands, the creator of a web page can develop a simple means for users to travel from page to page, and there are now tools available which make learning HTML almost unnecessary.

It is important to note that although the World Wide Web has grown considerably recently it is still a technology in development. While we can no longer say that it is in its infancy, the WWW still has a great deal of evolving to do before it can be regarded as mature.

Of concern to parents, teachers, and legislators is the nature of some of the material available, with obscene, racist, or dangerous material with being high on the list of material which many were groups would choose to control. Newspapers today often contain stories about pornographic websites, sites which teach children how to make bombs, and sites which promote racism. There are ways to prevent access to such material if so desired. Programmes such as Net Nanny can be installed on computers at home and used to prevent access to sites which contain particular words.

As an example I could set my computer to prevent my children accessing any site which contained words such as sex, bomb, or Nazi. This would only exclude my children from sites explicitly containing these words. A racist site which did not contain the word Nazi would not be blocked, but all sites which contained information about the Second World War , would probably be excluded also. This is perhaps not the best way to filter access to the web.

Another way to screen websites is to filter the material before it actually gets to your computer. All school computers connected to the Vic one network are protected in such a manner. The list of sites which students and staff are prevented from exercising is kept on a computer between the VicOne network and the Internet. This proxy server will not let material from excluded sites through to the VicOne Network.. Teachers and other responsible users of the system can recommend sites which should the added to this list. The intent of the filter is simply there to block out the nastier bits of the WWW, but it does raise the question of who decides what we see in this new electronic medium.

A major problem for legislators is that material on the World Wide Web is available across a multiplicity of national borders. A point of view that is commonly held in one region may present no problem to the legislators in that country but could prove to be a problem for another country. How do legislators in another country prevent people from accessing this material in a country where such material is illegal, or where censorship prevents this material being distributed in other forms? How does a government prevent it's citizens accessing pro-democracy websites created by expatriates now living on the other side of the world? The quote below is from the Digital Freedom Network's website.

Lin Hai, a Shanghai software engineer, was arrested in March after sending 30,000 Chinese email addresses to VIP Reference, an Internet pro-democracy newsletter. Wang Youcai, a Chinese physicist and dissident, was arrested last month on several charges, including trying to form an opposition party and emailing its documents to dissidents.

For more detailed background information, see and

Protection of copyright is also an issue being examined at the moment. Web browsers and other easily obtained programs make it easy for users to copy text, sound and images to their own machine and then use these files in their own work, both offline and online. Whilst I was working at Sunrise Research Laboratory we often came across entire copies of our online tutorials, on the websites of other universities, complete with spelling mistakes and links which no longer worked! These were blatant thefts of our work, but we didn't consider them to be as bad as the sites which took our material and then passed it off as their own original work.

One of the most proactive groups in this debate is the music industry. Some music publishers are now working with software companies to produce programs which will allow users to listen to CD quality music on the Internet, but which cannot be copied to a user's computer unless a royalty is paid, online, to the copyright holder. Software also exists which allows graphic artists to add "watermarks" to images, preventing them from being copied, or at least identifying the copyright holder.

These are difficult issues, which will affect all users of the Internet in one way or another. The recent freedom of speech cases in the United States of America have shown that government regulation is probably going to be ineffectual, at least in the short term, although appeals in this matter are still continuing. The intellectual property issue is one which is still being addressed and will have considerable effect on the future direction of the Internet.

For more information about these sorts of issues, visit the Electronic Frontier Foundation at

Getting connected to the Net

If you want to look at the Internet yourself, what do you actually need? At the moment you actually don't really need anything. Most libraries have at least one computer which is connected to the Internet and available to the public. Thanks to Vicnet's Skills.Net programme ( over 73,000 people across Victoria have been given some basic training on using the Internet. Libraries and Community Houses are often used as the venue for these sessions, so consider asking your local library or community house about when the next Roadshow is coming through your area.

Internet Cafes are also quite common and for a few dollars you can spend an hour or more connected to the Internet and avail yourself of some expert assistance at the same time.

If you want to connect from home you need a computer, a modem, a telephone line, an Internet Service Provider and some software. In the future, Cable Internet connections and set-top boxes which will allow you to use the Internet on your television will be more common, and a variety of other household devices will also be capable of connection to the Internet. NCR has already developed an Internet enabled microwave oven that can download recipes or programs for the microwave at the touch of a button, send email, and even perform electronic banking transactions for you.

For now I'll deal with the requirements for IBM compatible computers. You should be using at least a 486 DX33 PC with a minimum of 16MB of RAM. Ideally you should use a much faster computer - a PC with a Pentium processor is a much better minimum standard to use on the Internet, particularly if you plan on visiting sites which make good use of multimedia. A sound card and speakers are certainly an advantage, as more sites are now making use of sound, and a microphone to connect to your sound card is essential if you wish to be able to talk to people. You will also require a modem to connect to your telephone line

Modems come in a variety of speeds, baud rates of 28.8, 33.6 or 56.4 K are common. Generally, the faster the modem the better your connection to the Internet will be although this will be constrained by the circumstances of your service provider and the general activity on the Internet at any given time. In Australia it is common for us to notice a dramatic decrease in connection speeds to the Internet when America gets online in our afternoon. Before you rush out and buy a 56.6 K modem, check that your Internet Service Provider supports this speed. If their modems operate at 28.8 or 33.6 K then a faster modem on your computer will serve no useful purpose. Modems are available as either internal or external models. External modems are easier to set up.

There is a multitude of Internet Service Providers in Victoria, offering a variety of services and a bewildering range of pricing arrangements. By shopping around you should be able to find an ISP which will offer access via a local call and which will have a pricing structure that suits you. Many service providers offer unlimited time plans. You are able to use as many hours each month as you wish, but you might find that there will be a catch in that during peak times you are only able to stay online for two hours or so before you are automatically disconnected.

Take some time to shop around before choosing an ISP. Ask other people about their experiences with providers and ask for their recommendations. If possible, ensure that you are in the local call zone for a provider, otherwise you will have to pay for timed calls to connect to your ISP. Calls from one side of the Melbourne 03 zone to the other side are regarded as "community calls" and are charged at a reduced STD rate. Call charges can often be the major part of the cost of connecting to the Internet.

One problem with the Internet is the quite slow speeds at which you connect to other computers. Whilst real time voice communication over a modem is possible it is often of a lower quality than a telephone and there is often a problem with sound dropping out. Faster connections to the Internet can help alleviate this sort of problem. The VicOne connections into schools use an ISDN line running at either 64 or 128 K speeds. At these sorts of speeds sound voice communication is quite feasible.

Unfortunately an ISDN line at home is still quite expensive but there are cheaper and often faster alternatives. Telstra Bigpond Cable and Optus Cable make use of the same fibre optic cable network that is used by Foxtel and Optus Vision respectively. An extremely fast collection to the Internet using a cable connection allows you to stay online permanently. Whilst the cost of this connection might seem relatively expensive, you should also consider that a normal dial-up connection to the Internet has a hidden cost component - the phone call each time you connect. I changed to a cable connection after calculating the cost of my forty hour per month dial-up connection plus the number of phone calls each day to connect to my ISP. At the time I changed over to cable, my $65 per month connection was approximately equal to the costs from my old service provider plus the phone calls each month and had the benefit of keeping my telephone line clear for normal phone calls.

ADSL is another technology that has become common in the last few years. While generally not as fast as a Cable connection, it is still much faster than an ordinary dial-up Internet connection. ADSL makes use of a telephone line, and allows you to be connected to the Internet and use your telephone line to make calls at the same time. Phones connected to an ADSL line need special filters in order to work, and you need to be within a specific distance of your local telephone exchange. There must also be capacity at the exchange to handle the ADSL connection. ADSL has become the Internet connection of choice for many users, given that it has very good speeds and generally a lower cost than Cable. It is also far more widely available.

Whichever option you choose for connecting to the Internet your service provider will generally give you a disc with the software needed to connect to the Internet or will give you instructions on how to downward such software and configure your computer to use it. Many of the service providers will give you a CD-ROM which will automatically set up the necessary software and connect you to the Internet.

A fast way to obtain additional software, or upgrades of existing programs is to buy a computer magazine. Many magazines now include CDs with popular free and shareware programs for the Internet. The latest versions of Netscape Communicator and Internet Explorer can take several hours to download over a modem, so a CD which has both of these browsers included on it can save you a considerable amount of time and money.

When you obtain an account with an ISP you will given an email address. Using an email program such as Outlook Express or Eudora you can use this email address to send and receive email from any other person using a computer connected to the Internet.

How do you find out what is available on the WWW?

Netscape Navigator and Internet Explorer both come with preset lists of links to popular websites and ways of searching the Internet and contain ways of reading newsgroups.

Books, magazines, television ads, and even billboards contain often contained Web addresses which you can visit, but the web is becoming increasingly complicated and it can be difficult to find sites with relevant information in them. Recommendations in professional journals will certainly help, but the most up-to-date information about websites will often be found on the web itself. Many sites act as directories of websites. JCSAV ( lists the websites of all member associations as well as listing websites of associations overseas. The EdNA website ( has a section referred to as a Directory Service, where you can search in a structured manner for information useful to Australian educators or students. You are also invited to submit additional sites to the directory for vetting and possible inclusion.

Often you will have to rely on search engines to look for information on a specific topic. A search engine is a front end on the World Wide Web for a database of websites and descriptions of those websites. The database can be searched or key words, phrases, or concepts. Different search engines concentrate on different topics and some concentrate on particular languages. A simple search engine to use is Alta Vista, located at

When you go to the Alta Vista page you can type in a list of words that you wish to find. When you click on the search button you will receive a list of web pages ranked according to relevance. Generally relevance is determined by the number of times each word occurs in a particular page. There are problems with this type of search as the results can often be misleading. If I looked for Peter Batchelor I would find pages which had both words at the top of the list and then pages which listed either Peter or Batchelor. Given that Peter is a particularly common name there will be many millions of entries in the Alta Vista database. The words will not necessarily appear together in the document, so I might find a page which is talking about Peter Smith who has a friend who lives in Batchelor, Northern Territory.

I can refine the search by using Boolean techniques, or I can search for a particular phrase, such as "Peter Batchelor". This would return only documents which had Peter and Batchelor as a phrase, drastically reducing the number of pages I would find. I can also reduce the pages I would receive in my list by excluding certain words. I know that there is a Peter Batchelor who is an academic in North Carolina so if I searched for "Peter Batchelor" -Carolina, I will only receive a list of documents which does not contain the word Carolina, thereby reducing my list even further. I could also search for "peter batchelor" domain:au to only return pages in australia

I can ensure that specific words are included or excluded from my search by adding either a plus (+) symbol or a minus (-) sign before a key word. If I'm not sure of the spelling of a particular key word I can use an asterix to search for all words which begin, or end with this amount of text. An example might be using *chelor, to find both Batchelor and Bachelor.

Other techniques include searching for pages with a particular host name, image file or even the country the page is located in. If you wanted to find which sites link to your website you can search for link:URLtext, such as link: This will return a list of pages which include a link to the JCSAV website. This is a useful technique to use if your site has recently moved and you want to notify people who still link to the old address of the change.

There are many other techniques available even within Alta Vista, all designed to help you refine your search so that you don't finish up with list of 100,000 possibilities to look through. With judicious selection of phrases and key words you can rapidly narrow your search down to only a few dozen entries in the list returned by the search engine. Visit the Alta Vista site for more search tips.

Another commonly used search engine is Google ( This search engine allows you to search for web pages, images, and messages in newsgroups, and is the search engine I now use by default.

There are many different search engines available, each with slightly different ways of displaying information and of searching through their databases. Each will contain some form of help to assist you in using their site. Currently most of these sites are freely available, as the businesses running them gain their revenue from the advertisements placed within each site.

Others include:

There are already pay per use search engines in existence and you should expect to see more in the future. One benefit of using such a service might be that you could be reasonably sure that you will be searching through a much smaller number of sites, which have been validated in some manner.

Yet another problem with the web is that there is no easy way of authenticating the validity of the information you are reading, save that you are informed enough on the subject in question to know that the site you are looking at contains quality information or garbage. A source of information that has become very popular is the WikiPedia (, an online encyclopaedia. A wiki is a series of webpages that anyone can edit, using a web browser. There is usually no review before modifications are accepted, and most wikis are open to the general public, leading to claims that the content may not be entirely factual. The WikiPedia perhaps overcomes this problem by virtue of the massive number of "editors" who use the site, although a lage number of editors could still have cultural or other biases.

EdNA ( tries to address this problem by creating a directory service, listing sites which have been vetted. The Victorian Department of Education also tries to deal with this problem by identifying sites with appropriate and valuable information for Victorian students and teachers, and placing these sites in the Selected Education Cache. Obviously, neither EdNA or the DoE can assess the content of every website available, so this is only a partial solution

No matter how you search for information you will be unlikely to find that exactly what you are looking for shows up as the first in the list of sites which include a particular term or phrase. Be prepared to spend some time refining your search, and for wading through large amounts of information that isn't all that useful to you. As you become an experienced user of search engines you will find that your techniques will improve considerably.

Try running the same search in a number of search engines. You will almost certainly notice that the results will be quite different. After a while you will probably develop a preference for one search engine, usually because you like the interface, or because you find that it produces better results for the searches you ask it to perform. You might find that you use one search engine for finding people and another for researching a technical topic.

Take a look at Search Allinone ( This is a "MetaSearch" engine that aggregates results from several search engines. There is also a very clever grouping option that allows you to rapidly focus in on specific terms.


The applications mentioned in this paper are available on the Internet and are either free, shareware (try for a while and then buy if you like it) or are available as time- limited demonstrations. Go to the addresses listed to download the software and instructions on how to use them. Alternatively, most of this software is also available on CDs attached to computer magazines. These are often a great source of software.