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Wiring the World / The New Age of Global Telecommunication : Catching On to the Internet

July 26, 1994|LESLIE HELM

What it is: A worldwide network of more than 40,000 central computer nodes at universities, government laboratories and corporations, connected by communications lines. Each node may include hundreds of computers, which are in turn connected to thousands of individual users.

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Who uses it: About 23 million people.

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Who built it: The Department of Defense created it in 1969 to connect defense researchers at universities. It was quickly expanded. The National Science Foundation provides about $24 million a year in subsidies.

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How to sign on: For workers at universities or government institutions, it's provided free. For a list of commercial services, call (800) 444-4345. Buy a modem and plug into cyberspace.

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What's on it:

Free software. Several universities maintain libraries of "shareware" on computers that are publicly accessible. Just sign on and download the software desired.

Government information. Securities and Exchange Commission documents, minutes of committee meetings and White House press releases.

Contacts with people with common interests. The "Usenet" contains thousands of forums or bulletin boards where people can share information on pets, comics, fan clubs, gardening, etc.

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Warnings:

The Internet uses arcane codes and isn't user-friendly. You can expect to get hopelessly lost for hours on your way to those treasured SEC documents.

Giant "traffic jams" occur, delaying messages. The computer may freeze up.

For every great nugget of information, mountains of garbage must be waded through. Many people throw every trivial and unfiltered thought onto the network.

E-mail can be brutal. Don't get too personal or ask silly questions, or you may get nasty responses.

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Happening now:

A free program called Mosaic, similar to Microsoft Windows, makes it easier to navigate the Internet. A growing number of entrepreneurs are using Mosaic to launch electronic publishing operations. They gather material and put it on a computer, making it available to millions of users. Ways to make money? Sign up corporate sponsors or require a credit card number to get the password that allows access.

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