5 Really Simple Things Everyone Should Know About the Internet
I spend most of my days working on Web sites. It's what I do for a living. So, naturally, I also answer a lot of questions about the Internet from people who don't know how to do things I consider simple, everyday tasks. Sometimes, this can be frustrating, but I then remind myself that mechanics change the oil in cars every day and I couldn't tell you how to do that, so what do I know?
Still, when I go to the mechanic, I have enough knowledge about my car to explain what is wrong or what needs to be done. I also know enough to keep from getting billed for things that aren't necessary. The same should go for your knowledge of the Internet, a place you visit far more often than you do your mechanic. Based on years of being asked similar questions, here are the five most basic questions and answers.
5. What is a URL?
The Internet is loaded with acronyms. In this case, URL stands for "uniform resource locator." In short, the URL is the address of every Web site. So, http://www.houstonpress.com is the URL for the Houston Press Web site. Additionally, http://blogs.houstonpress.com/hairballs is the URL of the Hair Balls blog. This can go all the way down to the actual page, like my last blog post, for example: http://blogs.houstonpress.com/hairballs/2013/03/and_then_there_were_two_fillin.php
These addresses are designed to make it easier to find a particular Web site or page of a Web site, for reasons that will soon become clear.
4. What is the difference between a domain name and a Web site?
In short, houstonpress.com, fark.com, google.com, these are domain names. Just the text. That's it. The Web site is what shows up when you type one of these names into your browser. In essence, the Web site is just a bunch of files that have code in them. They allow you to read what you are reading, see images, leave comments, etc. Think of a domain name as being like the address to your house and your house like the Web site.
In fact, the domain name is basically a shortcut to a Web site. The addresses used behind the scenes are simply a combination of numbers that would be much more difficult to remember -- and not nearly as interesting -- as names. Just as the address to your home is easier to remember than zone c, grid 5, plot 207.3 or a set of coordinates.
Bottom line: No one would confuse their house for their address. Don't do that with domain names and Web sites.
3. How do I choose a browser other than Internet Explorer (or Safari) and why should I?
Choosing a browser on your computer or your phone is very easy. You're not required to use Internet Explorer (IE) or Safari (though it could be argued you're doing fine with Safari). In fact, there are quite a few browsers out there on the market and none of them cost a cent. There are plenty of arguments about which browser is best, but it is basically universal that IE is the worst in most respects -- speed tests have recently shown newer versions to be faster than alternatives, but it still doesn't handle displaying Web sites well.
Your other primary options are Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox, though there are others, like Opera for desktop and iCab for mobile. Most offer more options and better ease of use than IE (some even better than Safari). Give them a shot. Once you get used to them, you'll be glad you did.