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Frequently Asked Questions

Can't I just design a web site myself?

You sure can! And there are lots of tools out there for web design and development. If design is your hobby, or a potential career for you, it might be the way to go. But if you want to avoid the expense of software registration, the learning curve for programming, and the costly hardware for scanning and graphics production, it can pay substantially in time and money to have a professional do the work for you. Even after you have a site designed you'll need to find a host for the pages, perhaps consider registering your name, and make decision about forms, Email response, how to promote your site so someone will see your work, etc. When Earth Village professionals handle the work for you, you have more time to develop your ideas and work on the things you really enjoy.

How long does it take to have my site or personal web page on-line?

Often a personal page can be finished and hosted here at Earth Village for you within 24 hours. Corporate site production time depends on the necessary graphics, forms, logos, and special programming. Write to us with your concept and we'll give you an honest estimate on cost as well as time to finish your project. You'll be surprised at how fast your image can be ready for invitations to the public.

What is the Internet?

This is harder to define than one might think. The simplest definition might be that the Internet is a network. More precisely, it is a network of networks. So what is a network? Two or more computers connected together to communicate and share resources. The resources may be a printer on another machine, or a software program like a word processor. But most importantly, at least for the World Wide Web and other common Internet services, a network allows the sharing of files (where each computer stores its information).

File sharing is significant because it allows a person on one computer to access information stored on another. The two computers may be as close as the same room, or in opposite corners of the world, yet the information in the remote files may be available nearly instantly. This technological development in communications is revolutionizing the flow of information. The Internet is a network of smaller networks that spans the globe. You can share data with a researcher in Brazil, ideas for a project with a partner in Canada, or have a live "conversation" with a friend from Australia as readily as you might telephone your neighbor next door.

Is the World Wide Web (WWW) the same as the Internet?

Strictly speaking, the WWW is a subset of the Internet even though they are often referred to interchangeably. This is probably because in terms of how they're used, the WWW is functionally the same as the Internet for most people in most circumstances. For example, e-mail is a widely used Internet service which has nothing to do with the WWW. But many people use web browser software to read e-mail. In fact the browser is the only Internet software many people use, and they view the whole Internet through this one interface. Technically these are suites of many different applications (browser, e-mail, newsreader, ftp client, etc.), but that doesn't change the perception that they are all an extension of the same experience.

What is meant by "the web"? Is it the same as the WWW?

The "web" is simply one of the nicknames for the World Wide Web. Others include "WWW" and "W3". They all refer to the same concept -- that of many computers connected via various networks so that any computer can share resources seamlessly with any other. (Some would say that eventually all computers will be connected).

How do websites work?

Information is transferred on the Internet using many different methods known as protocols. These are basically the means that the two computers "agree" to use to communicate. The protocol determines how one computer requests data, and how the other responds to those requests.

The web uses the hypertext transfer protocol. The Internet is notorious for acronyms, so this is usually referred to simply as HTTP. When visiting a website, your browser (the client) requests an HTTP connection with the computer that hosts that site (the server). If the connection is successful, your browser requests the page you want to view from the server and, if available, the server sends it. The page itself is a document that someone most likely created with hypertext markup language, or HTML. This is the language, or code, that web browsers understand. (If you want to see a little of this code, your browser should have a menu item to let you see it. In Netscape try "View/Page Source" or in Internet Explorer try "View/Source".) As the page is downloading from the server, your browser interprets the html and displays the resulting content on your computer. It may contain text, pictures, animations, sound, movies, information forms, interactive games, and so on. It is likely also to contain links to other pages. Clicking on a link will tell the server to send that page. If the link is to a document at another site, the whole process begins again, but with the server at the new location. This linking of documents with html allows you to access any referenced document as seamlessly as if it were on your own computer.

For instance, when you are looking at the Earth Village website, your computer has requested the web page from a server located in the United States. The Earth Village web server sends the data you've requested over the Internet to your computer, no matter where you live. Earth Village also has links to other websites. With a click of your mouse on a link, you can access web servers around the world.

Simply put, the World Wide Web is a way to share resources with many people at the same time, even if some of those resources are located at opposite ends of the world. If you think of it as a research paper that lets each footnote take you right to the original source, then you've got the basic idea.

What is a web browser?

A web browser is the software you use to browse the World Wide Web. Its primary purpose is to make an HTTP connection with a server machine that has HTML documents you want to view. It then downloads the pages, interprets the HTML, and displays it on your computer. If that's a little confusing, take a look above at "How do websites work?"

As more people have begun using the web, the companies that develop browser software have included more and more functionality. The most popular web browsers can also be used for e-mail, Usenet newsgroups, FTP client, HTML editing (creating web pages), address books, and much more. For many people, this is the only software they need to access the Internet.

Does it matter which web browser I use?

Not really. That is unless you think it does. The two most widely used browsers are Internet Explorer and Firefox. They are both available for free and provide similar, though not identical functionality.

So why would you choose one over any other? Cost and/or usability would probably be at the top of most people's list. Cost is pretty easy to figure out. Usability can be less straightforward. Adding capabilities isn't always a plus. The increased size can cause it to load more slowly and take longer to perform it's tasks. You may also decide that the greater number of capabilities comes at a cost. It does few of them well. Some people prefer having specialized applications which are smaller and do their job very well. Others prefer the Swiss army knife approach. That choice is up to you.

There's at least one more reason some people might choose a different browser. They prefer David over Goliath, or maybe even the other way around. Some people dislike both FireFox and Microsoft. They are both guilty of being willing to sacrifice your web browsing experience for their own gain by incorporating proprietary HTML into their browsers. This means that a web site developed for their software may not view as well with a browser from another company. HTML (the language that web pages are created with) is an open standard which was created, and is continually updated, precisely to avoid this problem. But if they can gain a stronghold and enough sites are created using their private "features", it may force people to use their software out of necessity. If you don't care for this practice, you might choose a different browser. Then again, some people prefer to stick with a "winner".

What does it mean to "browse" or "surf" the web?

Browsing or surfing the web is simply using a web browser to make connections to and view websites. Surfing as a metaphor for this experience may be derived something like this: Often times people find themselves connecting to a website, following a link to another, then another... and another... Before they know it, they've visited numerous sites possibly encompassing all corners of the world. Some sites are better than others, with more useful information or a better presentation. Others have little to offer at all. And there are almost always diversions and tangents along the way. This ebb and flow of good and not so good sites, and things that can carry you completely away from what you set out to do, is a little like surfing.

Why isn't "http://" needed in the address (URL) like it used to be?

The protocols (e.g. "http://", "ftp://", "gopher://") used to be necessary at the beginning of a URL (Uniform Resource Locator) to get you connected to the correct service at the remote (server) end of a connection. As use of the hypertext transfer protocol or "HTTP" became more widespread, web browsers were designed to default to this protocol if none is specified. So, if your browser software is recent enough, and you don't specify the protocol, HTTP is assumed. In fact, if you look in the Location: box in some versions of Netscape Navigator or the Address: box in MS Internet Explorer, you will see that "http://" is inserted for you if you don't provide it.

Is it safe to browse the web? For example, could my computer get a virus?

Safety on the web is the same as anywhere else. How safe it is is mostly up to you, but there are always some things outside of your control no matter how careful you are. If you haven't identified the risks of driving a car before you get behind the wheel, it can be dangerous. The same can be true of the web. As with anything , it's prudent to learn something about the risks.

Following are some general statements about the risks. These are not definitive and there are exceptions, some of which are noted.

You must download and run an executable program for your computer to be infected by a virus. An executable program in the MS Windows world is a file that ends in ".exe", ".com", ".cmd," or ".bat". These are programs which actually run something, or execute instructions on your computer. Other files like a web page, or the embedded graphics can't pass a virus. The most important thing you can do to protect yourself is to use only trusted sources when downloading programs from the Internet. Downloading Internet Explorer from www.microsoft.com is a pretty safe thing to do. Downloading "make$$$.exe" from www.sleazyoperator.com may not be. If you're going to download programs and try them on your computer, invest in anti-virus software and use it to check every download -- even from trusted sources. (One of the commercial leaders in this market is Symantec.) The anti-virus software does not guarantee prevention from viruses, but does offer a significant measure of protection. These companies are always playing catch up with the malevolent people who create these things. But they are generally very good at providing prompt responses to new threats, and make updates to the software available regularly.

Following are some exceptions. MS Word and MS Excel documents can have macros embedded in them that run automatically when you open the documents. Even though they are not executable programs, the macros execute instructions just as a program does. You should never open up a document from someone you don't know, just as you wouldn't take candy from a stranger on the street. Good anti-virus software will detect macro viruses as well. Earth Village strongly recommends that ALL computer users run an Anti-Virus program such as Norton Anti-Virus produced by Symantec for added security.

Another exception is web pages with active content. There are programming languages which allow website developers to embed small programs, usually referred to as applets, right into the web pages. The most common of these are Java, and Active-X. Most of these are harmless and do simple things like changing the look of a graphic when your mouse passes over it. But applets may have the same risks as executable programs. In practice, the talk about the risks greatly exceeds the number of observed occurrences. But if you'd prefer to err on the side of caution, these can be disabled in the configuration of your browser software.

Finally, there are risks besides viruses. And it doesn't always require downloading something to encounter them. Computer operating systems (e.g. Windows) and application software (e.g. Netscape Navigator) are very complicated programs, sometimes using millions of lines of programming code to make them work. Security problems are regularly found buried in these mountains of code. For example, some time ago Microsoft discovered that if you had MS Excel installed on your computer, it was possible for a website operator to download your excel data files while you browsed their site, without notifying you. When it was discovered, Microsoft made a patch (a program which fixes the problem) available on their website. We mention this not to heighten fears about safety, but to point out that not knowing about the risks can be as dangerous on the web as anywhere else. Most of us will drive a car our whole lives without having an accident. But we still use our seat belts and carry insurance. If you use a computer and the Internet, you should probably know where to find security information for the software you use, and update it frequently. You will probably never need it, but you'll be glad you stayed prepared if you do.

Is it safe to make credit-card purchases on the web?

The short answer is that it is no less safe than making a credit-card purchases over the telephone. As with everything, who you're doing business with is more important than how you're doing it. It is always safer to do business with a trusted source, whether on the Internet or not.

A slightly more detailed answer is, if your browser is a recent version it probably has encryption capabilities. This means that the information you send is scrambled so that it is virtually impossible to decode it, which is definitely more secure than ordering over the telephone. Encryption isn't always an option because it must also be enabled at the site where you're doing business . If this is a concern for you, you can choose not to do business with sites that don't offer it. However, even without encryption, it is still probably more secure than ordering by telephone.

What about privacy? What information can people gather about me?

The answer to this question is very similar to the issue of safety on the web. The risks to privacy aren't necessarily greater, just different. And not understanding them, at least at a basic level, can be just as damaging as anywhere else. There are many things that you can do to protect your privacy if you choose.

When visiting a website, you are sometimes asked for information about yourself. If you're not comfortable with the request, don't answer it.

There are other ways your privacy can be compromised, one of which is "cookies". The most widely used browsers support a method of information collection called a cookie file. This is a file on your computer where websites can write and retrieve information about your visits. There are many opinions about cookies. They weren't intended to be invasive, but were created to help websites to optimize your visits. In practice, they can be used intrusively and so some consider them bad by definition. For example, a website can track which areas you visit, store the information on your computer then retrieve it on your next visit. You may then be presented with information about pages that have changed in your areas of interest. Or you may be presented with specifically targeted advertisements. Whether either of those is intrusive is probably a matter of personal opinion. Also it is often possible to determine where you came from before arriving at a site. By itself this information means little, but some people have concerns that this information could be used to create a fairly comprehensive profile of your web viewing habits. Again, it is probably a matter of personal opinion, but some people would find this distasteful.

Cookies can also protect you, however. Some sites use them as a part of the security measures to see that the people entering the site should be there. Often, disabling the "cookie" feature means losing your access to access that is important to you. Most browsers do allow you the choice of turning cookies on or off; how often you want to change the settings then becomes a personal preference.

What are protocols?

In information technology, protocols are the special sets of rules that two computers "agree" to use to communicate. One basic purpose of protocols is to make it possible for computers and networks of differing platforms to communicate. The different platforms could refer to hardware (e.g. a mainframe computer at a large company, an individual PC, or an Apple computer) or to software (e.g. MS Windows, Unix, or Mac OS). Each platform performs communications, and accomplishes most other tasks, in very different ways. Protocols which can be implemented across, or without regard to platforms make it possible to bridge these differences.

If you've been around computers, or read about them, you've probably heard about some protocols. Even if you didn't know it. If you've been on the Internet, or read about it, you can't help but to have heard about protocols. One you have probably seen mentioned is HTTP (Hyper-Text Transfer Protocol). This is the protocol that computers use to transfer web pages, and is one of the higher level protocols common on the Internet.

To understand protocols, you will want to understand that computer networking consists of multiple layers of protocols. We don't need much more detail than that for our purposes, but you should keep in mind the fact that there are different layers. We referred already to HTTP as a higher level protocol. This means that it, and others like it, are used at the level of your application software (e.g. Netscape Navigator, or MS Internet Explorer). Some of the others like it are SMTP (Simple Mail Transfer Protocol), FTP (File Transfer Protocol), NNTP (Network News Transfer Protocol), and Telnet (which you might be pleased to know, does not have an acronym).

You may recognize some of these from the beginning of URL's you've typed into a web browser. These protocols determine how specific information is requested, sent, and received between two computers. When you type a URL that begins with something like "http://", "ftp://", or "telnet://" into your browser, it is requesting that information be transferred using that protocol. (There are other ways besides a web browser to accomplish this, but the concept is the same.) If the requested service is available, the remote computer opens up a connection of that type between your (client) software and the remote (server) software. If the remote machine offers more than one of these services, there is server software running for each of them, and the protocol determines which one is going to handle your requests. Any client or server software can communicate with any other, regardless of the version, as long as they both adhere to the protocol. This is why you can use Netscape, Outlook, Eudora, Pine, Elm, or a host of other software packages to read and send e-mail. They all "talk" SMTP.

You may reasonably wonder why one such protocol isn't enough, and it's because they each do different things. For instance, SMTP delivers e-mail from one specific user to other specific user(s). Usenet newsgroups use NNTP, and these messages propagate themselves throughout the Usenet system so that anyone connecting to an NNTP server can view them. They are an open discussion forum, and access is not limited to any specifically targeted user(s). Simple file transfers use FTP (e.g. downloading a new version of your web browser software for installation). The Telnet protocol provides an interactive command shell (similar to a DOS command-line) that executes commands on the remote machine that you enter on your local machine. For example, you could make a telnet connection from home to your office and do things like renaming files, making and deleting directories (folders), and just about anything else you could do if you were actually sitting at the computer in your office. So you can see that each of these provides much different functionality to the user, and consequently needs different rules or protocols for accomplishing its own tasks.

Below this layer of networking protocols are others that operate at a lower level. Logically, we've presented these in reverse order since each higher level is built upon the lower ones. The order we chose here is because the higher ones are more important for the purposes of this discussion, but there is one set of lower level protocols to which you'll see frequent references. That is TCP/IP, which plays a fundamental role both in how the information is broken down into pieces (packets) which can physically be transferred over the network, and also in making sure those packets get to and from the proper locations. Basically, once your computer has made a connection with a remote computer and has agreed upon a higher (or application level) protocol, the baton passes to TCP/IP for the job of actually transferring the information on behalf of that particular protocol. That's kind of a mouthful, but the following might help if you've gotten this far, and care to continue a little bit further.

"TCP/IP (Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol) is the basic communication language or protocol of the Internet. It can also be used as a communications protocol in the private networks called intranets and in extranets. When you are set up with direct access to the Internet, your computer is provided with a copy of the TCP/IP program just as every other computer that you may send messages to or get information from also has a copy of TCP/IP.

TCP/IP is a two-layered program. The higher layer, Transmission Control Protocol, manages the assembling of a message or file into smaller packets that are transmitted over the Internet and received by a TCP layer that reassembles the packets into the original message. The lower layer, Internet Protocol, handles the address part of each packet so that it gets to the right destination. Each gateway computer on the network checks this address to see where to forward the message. Even though some packets from the same message are routed differently than others, they'll be reassembled at the destination.

TCP/IP uses the client/server model of communication in which a computer user (a client) requests and is provided a service (such as sending a Web page) by another computer (a server) in the network. TCP/IP communication is primarily point-to-point, meaning each communication is from one point (or host computer) in the network to another point or host computer. TCP/IP and the higher-level applications that use it are collectively said to be "connectionless" because each client request is considered a new request unrelated to any previous one (unlike ordinary phone conversations that require a dedicated connection for the call duration). Being connectionless frees network paths so that everyone can use them continuously. (Note that the TCP layer itself is not connectionless as far as any one message is concerned. Its connection remains in place until all packets in a message have been received.)

Personal computer users usually get to the Internet through the Serial Line Internet Protocol (SLIP) or the Point-to-Point Protocol (PPP). These protocols encapsulate the IP packets so that they can be sent over a dial-up phone connection to an access provider's modem."