The internet doesnt byte: fromvirtual reality to practicality
A rollercoaster historyAs millions heard during the 2012 Olympics’ opening ceremony, the inventor of the World WideWeb is Sir Tim Berners-Lee - very jolly for the Brits, but the internet has been around for longer:1950-60 ARPA & packet-switching network1973 First intercontinental connection between US universities and UCL1975 Bill Gates creates Microsoft1976 Apple computer is designed and demonstrated1985 AOL is launched1990s Sir Tim Berners-Lee develops the internet’s computer language & address system1991 Sir Tim’s research group makes the world wide web available to all for FREE1994 First internet ordering system created by Pizza Hut and First Virtual1995 Amazon, Yahoo and eBay1996 Google debuts as a research projectBy the early 2000s, the web has had a huge impact on culture and business – think email,messenger, Skype, discussion forums, social networking and online shopping. By 2007 more than97% of all telecommunicated information was carried over the internet. The internet has becomeportable thanks to smartphones and tablet computers. Then there’s wifi (wireless fidelity), whichallows you to surf the net at public places like cafes, hotels and libraries around the world.
A web infographic: 2002-2012http://mashable.com/2012/08/22/the-internet-a-decade-later/Making the most of ITIf the internet were a political regime, it would be a successfulanarchy. It belongs to everybody and no-one. It’s not policed orregulated, although legislation deals with crime and intellectualproperty theft.Yes, there are businesses using it to sell goods and services, but thespirit of collaboration (think Wikipedia) is alive and well. The sheernumber of websites, applications and tools is mind-boggling.However, many people only use its five basic functions:research, email, groups, long-distance computing and filetransfers.• Internet research and email are part of our daily lives – they need nointroduction.• Discussion groups are a world of their own. They covernews, hobbies, learning, niche interests, basically anything you canthink of.• Long-distance computing allows remote working. It is used byemployees accessing their work computers from home or otherlocations.• File transfers include downloads too - think of all the free softwareavailable and e-books. I’d like to mention a free resource calledproject Gutenberg (www.gutenberg.org). You can download their e-books to your PC or Kindle. The internet has also revolutionisedself-publishing – you can write a book in Word and upload it toAmazon, which will sell it for you.Project Gutenberg
What else can the internet do?It can make your everyday life easier - think internet banking, paying bills and shopping. You cando your tax return, contact authorities and get information on anything from renewing yourdriving licence and passport to medical knowhow. Prodigy or Clinical Knowledge Summaries(http://www.cks.nhs.uk/home) is a wonderful research tool on medical conditions.Then there are plenty of websites offering free newsletters in all sort of subjects. I receive local-interest e-newsletters from Transition Cambridge, Kettle Yard and the University of Cambridge.E-learning: file transfers and interactive tools make distance learning an attractive proposition –you can study for recognized professional diplomas and even get a degree with the OpenUniversity. If you are self taught, you can read journals, e-books, register for webinairs (freeonline presentations) and download educational material.
Or you might want to start an online community - Yahoo and Google offer free hosting forgroups. If you have an interest, however niche, you are bound to find a group – thesecan be national, international and often cross-generational.You can purchase almost anything online, from goods to services. If you still want to usea shop, fine, the internet is handy to research products by accessing information andcustomers’ reviews. Plus you can also sell unwanted stuff through eBay and Gumtree.You can watch TV. Recent research discovered that most young Britons don’t own a TVbut use their computer to watch TV programmes and films. They are using subscriptionfilm sites but also free catch-up TV services like BBC iplayer – all main TV channels offerfree On Demand services.The net is also great for gaming at any age. Cbeebies and Poisson Rouge are fantasticfor young children, it keeps them happy while teaching them art, numeracy or literacy.
Then there are chat rooms and instant messaging. They are not only populated byteenagers – think professional users who want to network. Instant messaging isincreasingly used by companies to provide after-sale services – such as helpcustomers to set up software.Last but not least, there’s music downloading. Apple is dominant with its iPod andmusic website iTunes. As high-street music and video rental shops can’t offer acomprehensive stock, the web has stepped in as the main provider of music andfilms. Same goes for computer games and software.And let’s not forget services. In future it will become less easy to buy holidays fromthe high street as many travel agent shops are closing down. All airlines incentivizeinternet purchases by offering better deals. Plus the internet is also useful togather information on locations you want to visit. One of the most popular websitesis Trip Advisor, where you can check resorts and hotels before booking(www.tripadvisor.com).
To quote a song, the internet has not killed the radio star - there are plenty of digital radios that arealive and well, but it has mortally wounded the fax machine. I use my scanner to upload any paperdocument onto my PC then use email to send it. There are fax services you can subscribe toonline, some are even free – but even if you pay a small subscription, it’s a cheaper optioncompared to the costs of a fax line, machine maintenance, paper & ink.The internet is a fab people finder – dead or alive, nothing gruesome, think genealogy and familyhistory. You can locate friends and ex-colleagues through Facebook and LinkedIn.Social media – addictive but full of goodnessAs Wikipedia puts it: “Social media includes web- and mobile-based technologies that are usedto turn communication into interactive dialogue among organizations, communities, andindividuals”. I’m only scratching the surface here, social media could be the subject of severaltalks. There are lots of social media tools with catchy names but the main ones are Linked-In, Facebook, Twitter and newcomer Pinterest. Twitter is defined as a microblogging site, so ifyou are interested in fully-fledged blogging, you can choose between Blogger and Wordpress.
Blogs started like online journals, where you could muse about something and get the oddcomment. They have been increasingly used by organisations as marketing tools, togenerate interest in products, services and good causes. Blogging is also a way to engagewith customers and users. As with groups, there are all sorts of blogs covering a hugevariety of interests. Some blogs have become so popular they attracted book deals – thinkBelle du Jour, the diary of a London call girl, which was also made into a TV series.I have used Blogger since 2005, it’s free and makes blogging easy. If you blog forbusiness it’s best to buy your own domain name and use Wordpress – it needs a bit moreeffort but there are free guides online. Plenty of articles claim you can make a fortuneblogging, but the reality is that advertising revenue is minimal unless you use your blog todisplay and aggressively push links or ads, which can annoy your readers. You can alsojoin an affiliated marketing scheme, but it’s still hard work.Once you start a blog, you enter a new world, there are bloggers’ collectives where you canmake your blog known, interact with other bloggers and get all sort of opportunities.
Companies have realized that bloggers represent a cheap marketing tool – think of theexposure a brand can get by giving away a few free products to test to well-connectedbloggers. Popular travel bloggers are given free holidays to review, which is quite a nicefreebie. Of course you need to have some integrity as a reviewer…Most of you will be familiar with Facebook, which is increasingly used by companies targetingconsumers to showcase competitions, find out what their customers think of their productsand get their brand out at an international level – basically B2C marketing.LinkedIn is the professional equivalent of Facebook and a very popular tool for companiesselling to businesses (B2B) to promote their products and services. It’s also used by recruitersand companies to find staff – temporary and permanent. I got a few freelance jobs throughLinkedIn - having a profile there is also boosting my website.In a nutshell, that’s what social media does, it boosts your business brand, your website, itmarkets your services, it introduces you to potential customers and interesting people that canhelp your business grow or your career take off.
Twitter might be defined as a microblogging site but its real value is news and informationgathering/diffusion. Nearly everybody is on it, celebrities included. Tweets are limited incharacters, so all tweets have to be brief. Journalists are there too, as stories often break onTwitter. I tweet about internet marketing and search engine optimization. It’s a wide and fast-moving sector and Twitter allows me to find out about the newest technological developmentsand read interesting articles.Then there is Pinterest, which was launched in 2010 and dismissed as a hobbyist’s photo-sharing website. Then e-books started to appear on how to use Pinterest for business. Nowmost businesses have their own pinboards. As each photo is linked to a website or blog, it’seasy to see how it can be worthwhile for a business, blogger or organization to join in. Thisstrategy cashes in on the fact that image searches are extremely popular.Social media is also used to promote good causes and share ideas. There are groups onTwitter attempting all sorts of stunts, such as crowdsourcing books for charity.
Weird web & the dark sideGambling and gaming are quite prominent. Self-publishing has really taken off and lost itsstigma, the same goes for online dating.There are some dubious offerings like pornography and unsavoury users groups, so the internethas a dark side. There are nasties, such spam, the electronic version of junk mail; hackers whotry to access your computer to steal information and collectives that enjoy hacking websites ofbanks, governments and multinationals just for the heck of it. Not all activism belongs to the darkside, think of online petitions and websites like Justgiving.Back to the dark side, if you have an email account, you will be aware that there are criminalswho strike through fake lotteries, bogus charities, impersonating dictators who need your urgenthelp to recover money... Do not click any link in an email, no matter how well designed the emailis and remember that friends’ and relatives’ emails can be hacked. Clicking an unsafe link putsyou at risk of getting junk mail, a vicious virus that will infect your computer or spyware, whichreports your actions to a third party. The net offers plenty of information on scams – in mostcases other users will have probably posted information about your dubious email. Be safe!
Jolly jumbleAside evergreen applications like Google Maps, Google Earth, Blogger, YouTube. G+ andGoogledocs, I recommend the Moneysaving forum (http://forums.moneysavingexpert.com/)for a variety of topics and queries. I have seen posts on personal finance, internet scams, whereto sell unwanted books, how to make jam... Other fave websites include:• www.admin.cam.ac.uk/whatson/ to find out about events happening in Cambridge museums• www.cyclestreets.net: plan your cycle journey and save the itineraries• walkit.com: covers several UK cities. It offers very comprehensive directions• www.wordreference.com: dictionaries in several languages• www.flickr.com/creativecommons/: for free photos (but credit the photographer)• www.learn2knit.co.uk : knitting and crochet• www.eventbrite.co.uk : if you need ticketing for an event and great reference for local events• Paid survey sites: I have used Valued Opinions and http://uk.mysurvey.com - they are notpaying huge amounts, but you can exchange points accrued for shopping vouchers.
This is an edited version. Ifyou’d like to read the wholetalk, download it for free atwww.simonecastello.co.uk
Accessing the internet & search tipsSo how do you access all this free bounty? You need a computer/smartphone and a connection –the packages are mind-boggling, though. You can just buy an internet package, do aim for fastbroadband if you want to download software, view images, TV programmes and films. Packagesstart from as low as £2.50. Free internet access has been in the news recently with a companyproviding a free service. That is if you don’t mind watching ads to gain credits. I suppose youdon’t have to, click on the ad and put the kettle on. If you haven’t got a computer or smartphone,head to your local library. Just type google.com or bing.com in the browser and off you gosearching away. There are guides online to teach you how to use internet tools, even videos andpodcasts.There are inexpensive, even free courses if you want to acquire internet skills. Silver surferscomes to mind for the over 50s, you can find out if they are active locally by contacting AgeConcern. In Cambridge, Cambridge Online (www.colc.co.uk/) is a good place to start with. Theyrun tutorial sessions at several locations across Cambridge, and they also cover computer basics.Call 01223 300407 for more information. If you have internet access at home, you can try theironline tutorial.But how do you search? Type what you need - it doesn’t have to be grammatically correct or100% accurate - into Google or Bing then go through the results. You can use the advancedsearch function and choose different languages.Thanks for reading! This is an edited version. If you’d like to read the wholetalk, download it for free at www.simonecastello.co.uk