First there was the Internet, and then blogs, and then WordPress. Now there is a plugin for everything.
Let’s begin from the start.
Living on the Net
TODAY ALMOST ONE-THIRD OF THE PEOPLE on Earth—nearly 2 billion people—have access to the Internet. The Internet was set up to carry information between computers, but its inventors had little idea of how it would change the way that people—the computers’ users—lived. These netizens, or citizens of the net, do the same things as people without access to the net. They work, learn, shop, and chat with their friends. The difference is that an online computer or phone allows them to do all this from anywhere—making it easy to chat with a friend on another continent, go to classes in their living rooms, or share their views with millions of like-minded people.
IN THE BEGINNING
The first email to employ the @ sign was sent in 1971. Ray Tomlinson invented the system to send messages to any computer connected to the infant Internet. Earlier electronic messages could not travel outside one network. The @ sign was added to indicate to which machine, or domain, an email was to be sent.
Instant messaging (IM) is a way for people to communicate through a computer network in real time. This removes the need to wait for questions and answers to travel back and forth. People have been using IM for nearly 50 years. At first it worked only on computers on the same network. Today, the typed messages travel in the blink of an eye to any computer on the Internet. Users of IM applications, such as MSN and Yahoo! Messenger (left), can connect only to members on a list of friends—no one else can be a part of the conversations. Users in online chat rooms, however, can connect to any user in those chat rooms.
Social networking websites, such as Facebook and Orkut, enable people to connect and interact with all their friends at once. Members can choose to chat privately or join in with group discussions. This way of using the net, in which every communication is channeled through one system, and the users themselves produce the contents of a site, is known as Web 2.0. A wiki is another example of a Web 2.0 service. It is an informative website that can be added to or edited by anyone.
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With so much to see and do on the Internet, netizens have to work hard to stay up to date. A number of software developers have created technology to help users stay updated. Really simple syndication (RSS) works for any site carrying this orange icon. A software called a RSS reader tracks updates on users’ favorite websites—such as news services and blogs (personal, web-based logs)—and displays them for the users in the form of RSS feeds—dynamic lists that automatically update themselves with new items on the websites. Instead of having to search for interesting information, the users can simple click on what catches their eye on an RSS feed.
SEE YOU, SEE ME
The idea of seeing the person on the other end of the telephone has always intrigued people. Science fiction stories of the 1960s depicted video phones long before people had computers in their homes. Live video messages contain more data than a simple voice call, and it was not until the 21st century that good quality videos could be made small enough to send through the Internet quickly. It is easy to make video calls between two iPhone 4 devices, for instance, using Wi-Fi to access the Internet.
LEARNING AT A DISTANCE
Learning on your own is a difficult job. Having a teacher explain things and answer questions has always been the best way of doing it. That used to mean that people living in remote communities, far from the nearest school, had to spend a lot of time living away from home. Today, web technologies, such as video conferencing, can create a classroom wherever there is a computer. Students and teachers talk via video links, and homework is delivered by email. In the future, it might be quite normal for teachers to give classes throughout the day from across the world.
An Internet connection does not just make activities easier, it can also augment, or enhance, them. This is especially true of mobile devices that can access the Internet, such as smartphones—which can pinpoint a user’s location. Augmented reality applications pull information from elsewhere on the net and display it as layers on top of a camera image of the surroundings. For example, when tourists point their phones at a famous landmark, they can not only see extra details about it, but also—as in this case of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France—see the best local restaurant, and even determine if any friends are nearby.