The internet has been described as “a massive network of networks”. It includes all of the interconnected computer networks that together form a global network. With the help of internet routers and name servers, this interconnected network enables any connected computer in the world to communicate with any other connected computer, as long as they are both talking the same language.
The Internet is highly complex global network of computer networks that enables a wide variety of communication protocols.
The Internet language, or communication protocol, that we are all most familiar with is HyperText Transfer Protocol (HTTP). It’s the protocol that makes the World Wide Web, or just the web, possible. It’s the communication protocol that connects your computer or phone to web servers that deliver the websites you visit. To understand the anatomy of the net, or how the net works, let’s consider what happens when you visit a website using HTTP.
How The Internet Works
How the Internet works is a very complex subject with a great deal of detail and nuance. If you really want to know how the Internet works down to the finest point, there are multiple resources where you can learn all of the details. However, for most of us, a general description that glosses over some of the finer points is perfectly adequate and will provide a working understanding of how this network of networks actually works.
Websites are made up of files full of code. Servers are the computers where the website files are stored. Some files, such as those containing HTML and CSS code, are simply sent straight to your browser to be interpreted. Other types of files, such those containing PHP or Ruby on Rails programming, have to be processed on the server to dynamically generate the website you want to see. After processing files as needed, the results are sent back to your browser. In addition to storing these files, different types of servers are also the computers that communicate to locate and retrieve the website you want to view.
When you power up your computer or open up a browser on your smartphone, here’s the process that plays out to deliver a website to your device:
- You open up a browser and type in the domain name of the website you wish to visit. For example, you might type https://websitebuilders.com.
- Your browser is not connected directly to the Internet. Instead, it is connected to a server managed by your Internet Service Provider (ISP). The ISP’s server is your point of connection to the Internet.
- When you hit “Enter” after typing in the domain name, your browser converts your request into packets of information that contains your request as well as additional information needed to understand your request and make sure the website you’ve requested makes it back to you.
- Once your ISP receives the packet with your request it will check with another type of server, called a Domain Name System (DNS) server, to find the actual location, or IP address, of the web server where that website resides.
- With the IP Address of the web server identified, your ISP sends your request directly to the web server that contains the website you’ve requested.
- The web server receives the request, processes whatever files need to be processed and sends back a copy of the website you want to view. Using the information included in your request packet, the web server sends the website files back to your ISP.
- Your ISP receives the files, notes that they are a response to your request, and delivers the files to your browser.
- Your browser receives the web page files, interprets their contents, and displays the contents in your browser.
- Every time you click on a link or type in a new address, this entire process is played out again.
Different Internet communication protocols each work a little differently. HTTP, the protocol that powers the web, is the protocol described above. Other protocols make use of the same basic components: your device and a variety of servers, but process information a little differently to support the service, such email or a VOIP phone call, that you’re accessing.
The Internet is a highly complex global network of computer networks that enables a wide variety of communication protocols. Each of these protocols makes use of the network of servers that are the backbone of the Internet itself. These servers talk to each other using these communication protocols to support the services you’ve come to depend on, such as accessing websites, sending and receiving email, making VOIP video and phone calls, and streaming the latest episode of your favorite show.
Anatomy of a Web Page
A web page is an electronic document written in a computer language called HTML, short for Hypertext Markup Language. Each web page has a unique address, called a URL or Uniform Resource Locator that identifies on which web server the document resides.
A website has one or more related web pages, depending on how it's designed. Web pages on a site are linked together through a system of hyperlinks, enabling you to jump between them by clicking on a link.
Home Sweet Home Page
When you browse the World Wide Web you'll see the term “home page” often. Think of a home page as the starting point of a website. Like the “Contents at a Glace” of those Dummies books, a good website design will usually provide you with an overview of what you'll find at the website. On a simple resume site, that overview is all there is. But most sites have many pages. On a larger site, you won't find links to all the pages on the home page. The websites are more like trees where the home page links to the most important pages, and those pages link to other pages that are are related to them. And on and on.
Some websites do have a thorough listing of all the pages on the website. It's called a site map. It can be formatted in many ways, but it is usually presented in an outline form. As sites have gotten bigger, however, site maps have gone out of fashion because they are unwieldy. An active blog that has been around for a decade can easy have tens of thousands of pages. Thus, most sites provide search functions.
Traditional Website Design
The footer is the place to look when you're wondering, “Are these people for real?!”
In addition to the header and main content, most websites also have a footer. This acts to tie up the site design and to avoid reader confusion because the page looks like it just stopped. But it is also the place to look for important, but less popular information, like company details, usage rules, copyright notices, and contact information. The footer is the place to look when you're wondering, “Are these people for real?!”
Most websites have some kind of navigation bar. This may run horizontally across the top, but is sometimes run vertically along the side of page. Sometimes pages have both — like Learn the Net! These navigation bars allow the user to get to different parts of the website. For example, a news website usually has different areas for domestic news, international news, entertainment, sports, weather, and so on. And once you click to one of these subsections, it will have its own navigation bar. For example, the sports section might have links to NFL, MLB, NHL, and so on.
In addition to the navigation bars, many websites include breadcrumbs, which tell the user where they are on the website. For example, the breadcrumb for this pages would be: Home > Learn to Publish > Anatomy of a Web Page. They offer an easy way to navigate around the section of the website you are visiting. But remember: you can almost always go back to the home page by clicking on the page header.
How can you tell which text link? Text links appear different from the rest of the text — typically in blue and underlined. When you move your cursor over a text link or over a graphic link, it changes from an arrow to a hand. What's more, the text of the link often changes in some way — becoming bold or a different color. Also, depending upon the browser, you will be alerted to the website address that the link will take you to.
When you return to a page with a link you've already visited, the hypertext words should be in a different color, which indicates that you've already been there. But you can certainly go there again by clicking the link.
Traditional Webpage Design
Once inside the website and you go to a page about a specific topic (Like this page!) you will usually find that the page looks much the same. The biggest difference is that these pages have headlines that summarize the content. You will also notice that they look more like a normal magazine article: they have a lot more straight text and have a single narrative flow.
Learn By Doing
As we've noted, different websites do things differently. As a user, the main thing to remember is that websites aren't fragile. Experiment! Click on different links and see where they take you. You can always use your browser's “back” button if you get in trouble.
Just as we expect other drivers to observe the rules of the road, the same is true as we travel through cyberspace. That's where netiquette, a term allegedly coined from either network etiquette or Internet etiquette comes in handy.
To guide you through your online communications, keep these pointers in mind:
1. Use Easy to Read Formatting
Whether you’re writing emails or posting in a forum, when writing for online audiences it’s important to make your writing as legible as possible. Screens come in many different sizes and configurations. An email with fancy formatting that you compose on your desktop computer may be impossible to read when the addressee opens it on their smartphone.
You should avoid writing IN ALL CAPS. It makes it look like you're SHOUTING. Instead, use bold or italics to add emphasis.
Also, avoid using busy background graphics or light text on a dark background, which can cause eye strain. Dark text on a light-colored background is the standard because it’s what most people find easiest on the eyes.
In addition, avoid writing email or posting messages in blogs, newsgroups, forums, chat rooms and other online venues using all capital letters. IT LOOKS LIKE YOU'RE SHOUTING! Not only that, it's difficult to read. Instead, try using bold or italic formatting to emphasize important words or phrases.
2. Add More Meaning With Emoticons
When you talk with someone in person, your words only carry a small part of your message. The tone and inflections of your voice, your body language and gestures, and your facial expressions all convey great meaning as well. The same sentence can have many different meanings depending on how it’s said.
Emoticons provide emotional cues that help ensure your message is properly understood.
Communicating online through written word alone can be difficult because of those missing cues. To add personality and humor to your messages, you can use smileys, also known as emoticons: expressions you create using the characters on your keyboard.
Here are some popular smileys in different formats:
- Smiling: 🙂 🙂 (:
- Winking: 😉 🙂 (;
- Laughing: 😀 😀
- Sticking tongue out: :p :-p 😛 😛
- Sad: 🙁 🙁 ):
- Angry: >:(
There are many more smileys out there, and many variations on each one (such as using 8 or X for the eyes).
3. Keep Your Communications Focused
This is true whether sending an email or posting messages online. Few people like reading lengthy text on a computer screen. Research on online reading habits shows that people tend to scan a length of text for the important bits, instead of reading everything word for word.
People today are inundated with so much online content, it would take years to read it all. Before reading a long email or article, they’ll scan it to look for the important information they need. Then they might choose to go back and read the whole thing.
To make sure you get your point across, keep your messages short and to the point, and format your communications to be more easily scannable. That way you know your readers will get the important information they need.
You can do this by using shorter, simpler sentences and paragraphs, and highlight important words or phrases with bold formatting to draw the eye.
4. Use Internet Slang Carefully
Not sure what an abbreviation means? Look it up!
Acronyms are most useful when your space is limited, such as when you’re texting or using Twitter. When writing longer form messages, such as emails or forum posts, too many acronyms can make it difficult to read.
Try to stick to the most common acronyms to make sure your meaning is clear. Here are a few of the most long-standing and well-known acronyms that are generally safe to use for any audience:
- LOL: laugh out loud, laughing out loud
- ROTFL/ROFL: rolling on the floor laughing
- BTW: by the way
- IMHO: in my humble opinion (A good one to keep handy in case you're worried about offending someone)
- BRB: be right back
- IRL: in real life
- NP: no problem
- TMI: too much information
Different online communities often have their own unique acronyms and jargon. For more help with abbreviations, consult a dictionary of Internet Slang.
5. Consider Everything Public
Remember that comments you post to a blog, newsgroup, forum, social media, or website and write during a public chat session is publicly available. You never know who's reading it or who may copy and spread it around.
When you post something online you're trusting others to use that information responsibly. Don't post anything that can come back to haunt you.
Electronic communications may seem ephemeral, but when you hit the Delete key, they don't go away. In all likelihood, your missives are stored on a mail server and can be retrieved. Think twice before you send an email. Consider all your electronic communications to be public and act accordingly. The same holds true for comments you post. They usually can't be retracted and live on and on.
Before posting, publishing, or sending, consider whether or not you’d be comfortable with your family, friends, neighbors, coworkers, and boss reading it. If not, don’t send it – delete it.
6. Get to Know the Community
Every online community has its own way of communicating. The same message should be expressed differently depending on whether it’s in an email or a tweet, or a post on Tumblr, Reddit, or an online forum.
Different communities have different rules and preferences. Some are very strict about requiring you to stick to the topic when posting a message while others might encourage and enjoy off-topic messages. Some only respect posters with correct grammar, spelling, and punctuation, while others take more license with the language and use their own acronyms and jargon.
It’s often best to “lurk” in a community for some time before posting, so you can learn these unwritten rules. Lurking means to read posts without posting yourself. Once you have a feel for the community, you’ll know how to best contribute.
7. Don’t Spam
Spamming can quickly lead to another unpleasant Internet practice, flaming.
Spamming can quickly lead to another unpleasant Internet practice, flaming. What is flaming? Sometimes you might offend someone unintentionally. Be prepared to read some angry responses or be treated rudely in a public discussion. This is called being flamed. If you retaliate, you may spark a flame war. To contain the heat, the best response usually is no response at all, or a heartfelt apology and withdrawal.
8. Write Useful Subject Lines
When sending email, make sure that the subject line accurately describes what the message is about. Using vague subject lines like “Hi” or “Meeting” make it difficult for recipients to organize their email and keep track of important discussions. Instead, try using a more specific subject like “Concert on Saturday the 15th?” or “Notes from Monday’s meeting.” This will help your recipients to identify time-sensitive emails and more easily find the information they’re looking for.
The most important part of any email is the subject.
9. Follow the Law for Commercial Messages
Commercial messages are subject to strict laws depending on your legal jurisdiction. In the United States, commercial email messages are subject to the CAN-SPAM Act. Canada’s anti-spam legislation governs how businesses can use electronic channels for marketing, the European Union has its Directive on Privacy and Electronic Communications, and many other countries have similar laws. Make sure you’re complicit with applicable laws when sending commercial messages online.
10. Learn From FAQs
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) are handy documents to read before asking questions. FAQs are often available for websites, forums, software, etc. They usually cover common questions regarding how to use a website or service; billing, shipping, and return policies; community rules; and more. Always consult them whenever available.
Netiquette isn't something you learn overnight, so don't let your fear of not knowing online protocol hold you back. For more tips, visit Wikipedia's netiquette article.
Responsibility in a Virtual World
Think you've mastered the basics? Put your knowledge to the test.
As the Internet continues to evolve, so do the issues that influence the way we use it. From privacy and freedom of speech to honesty and consideration in the way we interact with others, we all have a responsibility to preserve and protect its unique character. That means recognizing that while the medium in many ways is a reflection of the physical world, in other ways it is fundamentally different – manifesting unique customs and practices.