Internet Basics – The WWW – Can your company benefit from it?
[This article is intended for those with little or no experience with the internet]
Look in any major newspaper or magazine and it seems that now everything revolves around the Internet and WWW (World Wide Web). Of course much of what has been said is hype and unsubstantiated claims. The Internet and WWW may NOT be of any value to your company at all.
On the other hand, it may provide realistic and cost effective communication tools that will be of great benefit. For instance, if you spend a considerable amount of money sending faxes, then the Internet’s eMail facility alone will justify the cost.
However, before we look at specific cost benefits, let’s recap just what we are talking about.
What is it?
The Internet is a large number of computers spread all over the world and connected together by a variety of either telephone wires, fibreoptic cables or radio/satellite links. These computers, called "Web Servers", are owned by a diverse range of people from large telephone companies to small computer shop owners or enthusiastic "computer buffs". An "Internet Service Provider" (ISP) is someone who owns a web server and makes it available [at a cost] to the general public as a "connecting point" to the Internet.
The Internet is the "physical" network (of computers, cables, wires etc) and it is used to transport a huge amount of computer data. This data falls into three main areas – The World Wide Web, eMail, and File Transfer (FTP). As FTP is a more specialised use of the Internet it is not discussed here.
The World Wide Web is the vast collection of data or information (some useful and much of it rubbish) that is available on all the connected web servers. All of this information is presented in a variety of "standard" formats that allow for much of this information to be easily linked to other data and also indexed so that you can view and "search" reasonably easily for exactly what you want. Essentially the WWW is a giant "electronic" library where most of the available information is free, but where also some information is available for purchase.
Like a magazine, information on the WWW is said to be in "Web Pages". A Web Page is a logical unit of specific information. However, unlike a magazine, a web page is not a fixed size. In a magazine a single article may be spread over several pages, while on the WWW a single article, no matter how big, would normally be on a single web page [although it may also be split into many smaller sections]. This single web page may or may not fit neatly on your computer screen – large web pages require the reader to read the first part of the page then "scroll down" to the next part.
The eMail system is an excellent communication facility using the Internet. eMail is a major improvement on Fax communication. When you fax a typed or written sheet of paper, your fax machine dials the fax machine belonging to the addressee. If their fax machine is busy, your fax message will have to wait and you will have to try again later (OK, some fax machines automatically keep trying until they connect). If the addressee’s fax machine is far away then you will have to pay STD telephone rates while sending the fax.
With eMail, using simple software on your computer, a typed message is sent via (in most cases) a local phone call to your ISP. The ISP then automatically transfers the eMail through the Internet to the ISP your addressee uses. The message is stored on the addressee’s ISP web server until the next time your addressee connects to their ISP – then any message waiting will be transferred (downloaded) to their own home computer where they can read, and if necessary, print out the message.
The main advantage of eMail, compared with fax, is cost. Before connecting to your ISP you can prepare and type a large number of eMail messages to many different people. When you are ready, you connect to your ISP and in a few seconds all the messages will be sent (and any mail waiting for you collected) with one local call even if those messages are going to international destinations. For example, ten faxes sent to international destinations could cost you $10 - $30, while ten eMails will cost you 25c (plus ISP charges – see costs section below)
How can my company use the Internet?
As mentioned earlier, if you have high fax and telephone costs, then by using eMail you will be able to make considerable savings in your telephone bill. Also unlike voice communications you will have a written record of each communication. If on the other hand, you do not have high fax costs and few of your voice calls could be transferred to eMail, then you may not be able to justify the setup costs of eMail.
While a lot of the data published on the WWW is absolute rubbish, there is also a huge amount of generally free information that may be extremely useful in the day to day running of your company. Various State and Federal government departments publish vast amount of useful information from the ATO, Dept of AG, AusTrade etc
As well as obtaining information from the WWW you can publish your own information to or on the WWW. And while initially the process of doing this may seem difficult and complicated, it is really not that difficult and the Association has put in place facilities to make it very easy for your company to have its own "web site".
If you choose to have a company web site, you can use it to promote and advertise your company by publishing whatever information you want. It could be something as simple as just your basic details or a complete collection of all your company pedigree data, photographs and sale catalogues.
How do we get "connected"?
Anyone with a computer can connect to the Internet by purchasing "Internet Access" from a suitable, preferably geographically close ISP. In most cases the ISP will provide the connection device which might be a cable modem, USB wireless modem etc.
The modem may plug into your telephone line [thus connecting your computer to the public telephone system] or may be a wirelesss of cable version. Simple software on your computer connects (via the modem) to your ISP and connects you to the Internet via their web server.
What software do I need?
The good news is that the software you need is free and is normally supplied by your ISP when you sign up.
The software your computer needs to dial into your ISP comes "free" with the operating system of either your PC or MAC.
To send and collect your eMail you will need an "eMail Client" software program. There are several good free programs (Microsoft Outlook Express, Eudora Lite, Netscape Mail) or you can purchase the more powerful versions for $50 – $200).
To browse through and search the information on the WWW you will need a "Web Browser". The two most popular are both free. "Microsoft Internet Explorer" is part of the Windows software and "Netscape Navigator" will more than likely be provided by your ISP.
A bit about eMail addresses and how do I get one?
When you sign up with an ISP they will give you one or more email addresses. Typically these will be linked to the ISP’s. For instance, if I had signed up with "OneNet" my address might be email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The front part of an eMail address is generally the name or abbreviation of the person and the bit following the @ is the name of the ISP you use to connect to the Internet. While this email address is part of the service the ISP offers, if you change your ISP at a later date, your email address will also have to change (eg if I changed my ISP to Telstra/Bigpond my email address would become perhaps email@example.com).
Having to change your eMail address when you change ISP’s can be a bit of a pain. There are however a couple of ways to avoid changing your email when you change ISP’s. Firstly, rather than using a dedicated eMail client program to send and receive eMails, you can use one of the free eMail services that are accessed by using your web browser software. The most common of these services is "HotMail" (www.hotmail.com) where I could sign up for a free eMail account (which might be firstname.lastname@example.org ). To send and receive mail I would simply log onto the HotMail web page and enter my user name and password which brings up my private eMail section. If you use a service like Hotmail you just ignore and don’t use the eMail address supplied by your ISP. When you change ISP’s your HotMail address does not change.
The second way is to use a permanent redirection service costing something like $20 a year. One of these services is at www.mypobox.com. My eMail address becomes email@example.com but I tell mypobox to redirect this mail to my current ISP address – say firstname.lastname@example.org and if I change ISP’s I ask mypobox to now redirect to the new address. Apart from mypobox, no one will know I have changed eMail address.
Lastly, you can register your own "domain name" (see next section) and attach your eMail address to that name. For example if you register www.yourdomainname.com.au, you can then have emails such as email@example.com etc.
All about web addresses
So that the computers connected to the Internet can identify and find other computers, each computer connected to the Internet is given a unique number (typically something like 203:105:125) and different sections on that computer are also given an identifying number (eg 203:105:125:127, 203:105:125:132).
To make this system of identification a bit more "human friendly" the computers convert these number into Unique Resource Locators (URL’s) that make a bit more sense to us. This basic name is also called a "Domain Name".
These names generally end with codes that will tell you a little about what and where the web site is.
Most Australian sites end in .au, New Zealand sites .nz etc. Commercial sites are .com, organisations .org, networks .net, government sites .gov. Commercial Australian sites normally end in .com.au. American sites do not have a country code at the end.
How do I get my own website and address
To have a web site on the Internet, the files of data and information (text files and photograph image files) that make up your web pages need to be put on a web server computer (ie not your home computer). The web server "hosts" your files making them available to anyone browsing the web.
Many ISP’s offer you a free web address (and hosting) as part of their service. For example if I signed up with iPrimus my web address might be www.iprimus.net.au/~users/victoria/stephen-davey.
As you can see, this free web site does not have a particularly easy to remember name and just as with the eMail addresses, if I change ISP’s, then my web site address will also have to change.
I could choose to register my own domain name such as www.stephen-davey.com.au
Anyone can register a domain name, provided they have rights to the name (ie it’s the same or similar to their company name) and that the name has not already be registered by someone else.
To register a commercial domain name in Australia costs about $80 and needs to be renewed every two years. Having registered the domain name, I would then need to get an ISP to "host" the files for me.
Typically, ISP’s charge about $200 – $500 to host a commercial site. However you would "own" the domain name, so if you change your ISP, your domain name is simply moved to the new ISP to be hosted – the domain name would not change.
How do I create my web pages
Creating web pages is not rocket science or brain surgery, but it can be a bit confusing to people new to computers and the Internet.
You can however do it all yourself with just a word processing program such as Microsoft Word.
Basic web sites are collections of text files saved in "html" format. The html format allows you to include images in you web pages and links to other pages. [More complex websites automatically create website pages by drawing on content in a database and then displaying the result in a standard html page.]
Any document you type in Microsoft Word can be "saved as" html. Even if you find the "putting together" part confusing, you can create all the text in any word processor, scan the images on a desktop scanner (if you have one) and then pass all the bits onto an experienced friend or a professional web design company such as my own. The majority of the costs associated with creating a web site is the cost of creating the content rather than the cost of putting it all together. If your pages are basically text and photographs, creating your site will be quite inexpensive. If you want flashy graphics and animated headings and online visa card purchasing, then you’ll be paying considerably more.
Now I have a site, how do people find it?
Once you own a web site, make sure you include it on all your printed stationery, press advertisements and even on the side of any company vehicles.
On the WWW itself there are several sites called "search engines" that allow people to hunt for information on the web. Many of these sites are really not search engines at all, but rather "indexes" or "catalogues" of web pages that people have "submitted". So the first step in getting your site included on these "search sites" is to go to as many as possible and submit the details about your own site. The biggest search engine is www.google.com but other popular sites are www.msn.com and www.yahoo.com and many more. Some sites do actually have specialised software that does "crawl" through the web and indexes and new pages they find. Unfortunately because of the size of the web, this process can take weeks or even months before your site will be indexed.