By John Markoff
The New York Times
September 5, 1993
What: The Internet. An unbelievably dense global matrix of 1.7 million computers, woven together by telephone lines, undersea cables, microwave links and gigabit fiber-optic pipes. Touching down in 137 countries, linking 15 million to 30 million people and growing by a million users each month, it's a super data highway that carries the freight of the information age -- electronic mail, digital video and sound, , computer viruses and more.
Forget Elaine's. Internet is currently the world's most fashionable rendezvous.
Who Uses It: Well-known nerds like Steve Jobs and William Gates, pop folks like Todd Rundgren and Billy Idol, cyberpunks and yuppies, your mom.
Why: It was really Vice President Al Gore who got the ball rolling. For the last six years Mr. Gore has told anyone who would listen that a nationwide high-speed computer network would create an economic revival. As more users have joined Internet, big business has paid attention. Last week, the News Corporation, owned by Rupert Murdoch, bought Delphi, a Boston on-line service that is connected to the Net. The goal: To publish interactive versions of his newspapers and magazines.
Why Else?: What it's really about is cyberspace. Cyberspace describes a new kind of computer geography that maps the digital rather than the physical world. Jack into the Net (i.e., log in to your computer network) and you'll be transported into the cybernetic world that Marshall McLuhan was talking about when he conceived the idea of a global village. Right now, it's mostly displayed as text on your computer: as electronic streams of consciousness, odd 10-way playlets, you name it. Three-dimensional graphics are on the way.
How: To take a ride on the Internet you need a PC and a modem. Then subscribe to any of the dozens of local and national services offering an Internet connection. Hourly rates range from $1 to $4; monthly charges from $10 to $50. Software Tool and Die in the Boston area charges $20 for the first 20 hours each month; (617) 739-0202. Netcom in Santa Clara, Calif., charges $17.50 a month; (408) 554-8649. Others include: Panix in New York, (212) 787-6160, and the Well in Sausalito, Calif., (415) 332-4335.
The Address: Signified by the "@" or "at" sign -- an Internet mail convention used to separate the user's name from his or her location (or "domain" in techie talk).
The Most Exclusive Address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Lexicon: ftp -- a k a file transfer protocol -- is the software that lets the user transfer software or documents from one computer to another. Telnet is a program that lets the user connect to another computer anywhere in the world. MUDs or MUSEs -- a k a multi-user dungeons or multi-user simulated environments -- are interactive adventure games that can be played by many people at once. Flame is an electronic tirade on one subject or another. Gopher is a software tool that retrieves from electronic libraries.
The Highway Patrol: No longer a wild frontier, the Internet now has its own police and fire departments. The fire fighters: the Computer Emergency Response Team at the Software Engineering Institute, a group of programmers in Pittsburgh ready to respond to attacks by computer rogues and viruses. The police officers: Both the F.B.I. and the Justice Department have computer crime squads with links to Scotland Yard and the Canadian Mounties.
Bed and Breakfast: The best haunts on the Internet are cozy little Unix computers. You can connect to the Well, a convivial gathering spot for the San Francisco Bay Area's digerati. The Well has dozens of computer conferences on just about every subject you can imagine. It's a keyboard stream-of-conciousness conversation that's a little like having an electronic chat with your neighbor over the back fence.
Road Maps: John Quarterman's "The Matrix: Computer Networks and Conferencing Systems Worldwide" (Digital Press, 1990); Ed Kroll's "The Whole Internet: User's Guide and Catalog" (O'Reilly & Associates, 1992) and "The Internet Guide for New Users" (McGraw-Hill Inc., 1993) by Daniel Dern.
Insider's Guides: Road maps are fine, but if you want to understand what the Internet means rather than where it goes, try the three science-fiction classics: William Gibson's "Neuromancer" (Gibson invented the term cyberspace), John Brunner's "Shockwave Rider" and Vernor Vinge's "True Names."
Potholes: Gigabits are great, but only those users who are logged into one of the nation's supercomputer centers in San Diego or Champaign, Ill., for example, have them. Most of the rest of us are still looking for the ramp to the freeway. The ramp is supposed to be built by the phone or cable companies who are planning to run high-speed fiber-optic cables right to your living room. Then you'll have plenty of bandwidth (billions of bits of data). The question is, will you use it to browse through the digital Library of Congress, or will you just get on line with the interactive home shopping channel?
Copyright 1993 The New York Times Company