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How big is the internet?
What is it? More about the internet
Where did it come from? HISTORY
What is it used for?
How do you find things on it?
Where is it going?

How big is the internet?

In 1999, the internet was 259 million users strong worldwide, 110 million users in the US alone! By 2002, there will be approximately 490 million internet users worldwide, according to Computer Industry Almanac Inc.

You can check out these recent statistics, and see an internet "traffic report" of data flow around the world.

What is the internet? And how is it different from the web?

The internet is an autonomous, loosely-organized worldwide collaboration of many publically accessible computer networks, including military, government, educational, commercial, and private. They are interconnected by phone or cable lines and can each send and receive electronic information through voluntary adherence to a common set of protocols. These computers are called nodes, or servers. Many methods can be used to exchange information, such as e-mail, FTP, and the web. Click here to learn how information is transmitted over the internet.

The world wide web, also referred to as simply "the web," is a subset of the internet that allows users to click on words or images to navigate through information that is in "hypertext" format - also known as HTML, using a browser. Hypertext links documents by keyword, so a user can jump from page to page by clicking on hyperlinks. HTML, HyperText Markup Language, is the language of the web, allowing users to jump anywhere in the network by clicking on links. This process is known as "surfing." Click here for an HTML guide.

A browser is the graphical interface that translates HTML into webpages with text, images, sound, and video. Netscape Navigator and Internet Explorer are the two most popular browsers, but there are others, such as AOL and Opera - click here for a complete list of browsers. Each browser views webpages slightly differently - despite the W3C's formulation of standardized HTML (see history) - thus adding tremendously to the difficulty of producing a website that looks the same to everyone. Browsers come with "plugins" - freely downloadable programs that can read various file formats. This allows the browser to play sounds, video, and read and download files such as Adobe Acrobat PDF files (for large amounts of text and images).

Where did the internet come from?

What started as a Cold War military project became a tool of university scientists, then developed into an independent worldwide network.

History. Click here for more on the history of the internet.

What is the internet used for?

No longer just for military communications, the internet is now used for all kinds of information exchange. People display their cultural and artistic contributions, publish books and essays, debate politics, share personal hobbies and interests, and engage in lively discussion, both serious and whimsical. They buy and sell online, offer catalogs of products, and advertise their companies. Purchasing books, music, airline tickets is common, as is online banking and stock trading. Educational opportunities abound, in the form of free tutorials, paid online classes, and as an adjunct to physical classes held in universities. You'll be amazed at the wealth of information available to you online.

How do you find things on the internet?

Search engines! There are dozens of search engines to help people find the information they're looking for on the web. These engines each generate a huge list of sites using tiny programs that automatically hop from link to link on the web, called "spiders" or "robots", and from people who notify the engines directly to have their site listed. The search engine then indexes this list, each according to its own complicated proprietary formula, so that a user can type in a keyword to get an ordered list of sites that match that keyword. Some search engines organize their lists into categories, some simply present their results as a list with the most relevant sites first. Achieving "ranking" on the various search engines can be a full-time occupation, especially as more and more websites are launched, and many companies exist whose sole purpose is to help improve search engine placement for websites.

Some common search engines are:
Yahoo! - the most popular search engine, organized into categories
Altavista
Infoseek
Excite
Lycos
Hotbot
Ask Jeeves - uses natural language, so you can type your request as if asking a person

Click here for more detailed information about how to use search engines.

What is the future of the internet?

The internet is expected to continue its exponential expansion, crossing borders of all kinds. It will grow faster and more technologically advanced, allowing more people to freely offer more information, products, and services to a wider audience than ever before.

Go to the next step: What's a Website

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