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Surf's Up: Internet New Zealand Style

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Another important thread in the story of the Internet is the invention of electronic mail (email). Part of the ARPA research in the 1960s included graphic screen interfaces as envisioned and developed by Douglas Engelbart, and connected researchers to a single supercomputer through an array of terminals. These developments are interrelated. Before screen terminals, if you wanted to run a program you had to stand in line with a stack of punch cards, hand them to an operator and come back the next day to receive a paper print-out, hoping you got your punches right. If you didn't, lucky children got the remains for drawing hearts and diamonds on to make their own decks of playing cards. Once a graphic display was created -- a keyboard and a TV screen that interact with the computer -- it was easy enough to convert numbers into words to manipulate programs or do work such as word processing. People could now start using the computer more truly as a tool for human thought. Engelbart's point-and-click world was only another step away. When these graphic terminals were all hooked up to a single computer it was a simple matter to develop a system to relay messages using the computer rather than passing scraps of paper around. Tolerated by the US government because it was useful in speeding up communication, this message relay system quickly became known as electronic mail, and then simply 'email'.

First exposure to email for many was in the academic computing centres at university. Instead of spending all their time working, students could also relax by sending email along to friends. For others, the internal email networks at work provided the opportunity to make and keep up contacts between friends in different offices.

The researchers who invented email also invented the mailing list in order to indulge in such recreational conversations. During work you might be able to sneak in a few humorous asides, but what if you wanted to have an ongoing conversation with co-workers, not only on your own supercomputer but the supercomputer you are linked to in the next state? The mailing list, the progenitor of the newsgroup, solved that problem.

The earliest large mailing list on ARPANet (in the early 1970s) was SF-LOVERS for researchers who enjoyed science fiction (are you surprised?). This definitely served no useful purpose as far as the Defense Department was concerned, yet was nevertheless tolerated. Unix, an operating system, was developed with an email facility for public computer forums, the software for which they made freely available. This software was wildly popular and spread swiftly across campuses around the world. It was the origin for Usenet Newsgroups, which are still the most popular facility on the Internet. These newsgroups paved the way for the creation of such commercial services as Compuserve and America Online, which provided their own email and chat services.

When World Wide Web and Mosaic hit the Internet scene, the whole idea of Internet as THE information superhighway exploded. Never before has anything in the computing industry been so successful, and use of WWW grew at exponential rates. (There now over 30 million Web pages, and the number is continuing to double every 53 days.)

The WWW all began when Tim Berners-Lee, a British computer specialist at the CERN physics laboratory in Geneva, went to a talk by Ted Nelson, the father of hypertext and hypermedia, held in Sweden.

In the version of the Web that we are using, various keywords and images are highlighted to point a user to related sources of information. This is known as hypertext. For example someone may publish an article on the Web about the uses of humour, which might refer to a story within another Web publication such as The Froggy Page at Yale University. When they mention the publication's name, that name may be highlighted so that when you click on it, you will be taken to The Froggy Page and thereby be able to form a greater understanding of what they are talking about. You will not have to worry about the above given address because it will be hidden and yet still get you to your destination. Also significant is that it is possible for the links to not only take you to other text, but to sound, picture and movie files as well.

Cybersurfing lingo: Hyper

Hypertext refers to text which includes links or pointers to other text. The links or pointers may be text that is underlined or in a different colour, indicating that you can get more information about that text. For instance, if I marked the word 'Auckland' in this sentence, you could expect that by pointing and clicking on that word you would get more information about Auckland. Hypermedia is when you can point and click on links between different kinds of media, such as pictures, sound and movies.

Later the US National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) developed Mosaic which made it possible to view Web information graphically. Mosaic is still a popular Web browser, and is now commercially available in a number of different flavours. For most users, however, the first choice of browser is now Netscape Navigator (or Netscape for short). Millions of copies of Netscape have been distributed across the Internet for free. In August 1994, Netscape Communications was only 17 months old and still hadn't declared a profit. Yet it raised a cool US$140 million in cash through its public share offer, and after a recent profit announcement its stock price has climbed again. You can find more information on Netscape and its popular software at

The combination of Web and graphical browsers like Mosaic or Netscape still blows most people away. It finally made the Internet invaluable not only as a research tool but as an educational tool and appealing for companies to use for advertising purposes. Basically, you have a full-on multi-media presentation ready for people all over the world at any time of the day or night. With various commands documents can be visually enhanced, like magazine articles, only what magazine article can play music or demonstrate a point using a movie? However, the graphic design work is done in part by the viewers themselves. If you want a larger font, all Web browsers support your changing not only the font size for both the body and titles, but let you choose which font you wish to use as well. Some Web browsers will let you choose the colour in which you want your hyper-links highlighted. Web browsers almost all support easy continued use of all the commonly used older, document storage and retrieval systems.

World Wide Web and Mosaic or Netscape aren't the last word in computer communications. For one thing no good way exists within these programs to protect copyrighted work or to make the system chargeable, both of which discourage certain sorts of publishing from coming online. Xanadu, which does have these features, is closer than ever to finally being completed, as Ted Nelson is now working with a team of programmers in Japan. His teams around the world may soon create the next Internet boom. Hyper-G, a popular protocol in Europe, is being used by the University of Auckland to provide new and powerful ways of linking to the Internet. For those with video cameras attached to their PCs, a product called CU-SeeMe is available for swapping of video images. Real time audio can be transmitted and received via freely available software for PC and Mac. Videoconferencing on the Internet is just around the corner. Who knows where it all will end?

Hyper-G whizz!

Surfing from document to document in cyberspace can take you a long way from the beach. Imagine being able to paddle your way back, with no extra effort. And being able to take the same journey any time you liked. It would be like having a surfboard with a memory -- and an outboard motor. Well, Hyper-G is like that improved surfboard. This networked multimedia system takes communication on the Internet to a new level, with what Ted Nelson has called bidirectional links, and the power to combine text, sound, images, graphics and animations from many different sources for MS-Windows and X-Windows users (and soon for Mac users as well).

Formally released in July 1994, Hyper-G is already being used as the basis for university information systems at Graz University of Technology (Austria) and the University of Auckland. It provides the information and communications system for the European Space Agency, and will provide the new information backbone for the Museum of New Zealand. Publishing projects using Hyper-G are also underway with reference and academic publishers in New Zealand and Germany.

Hyper-G is fully compatible with existing Web servers and clients. It provides exciting new ways for users to display information about ,and navigate their way through, the Web. For example, X-Windows users of Hyper-G can fly through an information landscape, viewing collections and documents as blocks of varying size spread over a 3-D landscape. Hey, a surfboard with wings!

Overall the growth and history of the Internet has been guided by people's desire to freely communicate and form communities based on shared interests. Although the original intentions were to enhance research development and keep the information flowing in the case of a nuclear attack, these goals have been dwarfed by the overwhelming need for human interaction worldwide on a much broader basis.

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