With Prodigy and CompuServe offering World Wide Web browsers and America Online about to follow suit, it's clear that the Web is becoming the vehicle of choice for getting around in cyberspace.
But assuming you have or will soon get access to the Web, how on earth do you find anything amid the vast and growing array of Web offerings? The truth is, Web navigation is really pretty easy; that's sort of the point of the Web. The Web itself contains all the indexing, pointers and assistance you're likely to need, as long as you know where to look.
So let's start at the beginning. Each time you tell your browser to plug into the World Wide Web, it will in all likelihood pull up a "home page" first. My browser, Netscape, pulls up the Netscape home page, for instance, unless I tell it to start elsewhere.
Many home pages contain links to Web searching tools. Some browsers even have built-in buttons to take you to a sort of front-end that pulls together access to various Web resource databases. It's really important to know about these places on the Web; they can serve as a terrific gateway to everything else out there in Web-land.
One of my favorite such organizing sites is the Yahoo Page, accessible at http://www.yahoo.com. Established by a couple of Stanford University graduate students, Yahoo has grown into a huge and wonderful index of much that is worth seeing and doing on the Web. Resources on Yahoo are organized by subject, but you can also search Yahoo's index for whatever you're after, and it will generate a custom menu for you.
My other favorite World Wide Web starting point is O'Reilly & Associates' terrific Global Network Navigator, at http://gnn.com/. Like an increasing number of really good Web sites, this one asks you to register, but there is no charge. Once you're in, you'll find all kinds of goodies, including the Whole Internet Catalog, which brilliantly organizes Internet resources for you, even offering a preview before you go. And let's not forget http://www.cern.ch/, the Web's original home, in Switzerland.
Sometimes when you access the Web, it's surfing you have in mind, but on other occasions you're likely to be looking for something specific. Those are the times you'll want to consider one of the means of searching various Web servers for what you're after.
Probably the best-known Web search tools are Lycos at Carnegie-Mellon University (http://lycos.cs.cmu.edu) and WebCrawler at Washington University (http://webcrawler.cs. washington.edu/WebCrawler/). If you prefer one-stop shopping, several places offer access to a variety of Web search engines. One I use is at http://home.mcom.com/home/internet-search.html.
Generally, you will be asked to type in a word or phrase, and the search tool you've chosen will look for Web page addresses or descriptions that contain your search term.
So now you know how to find Web resources on gardening, for instance, or thermodynamics. The fun of the Web, of course, is in finding what you aren't looking for, and so with that in mind let me just run through a few of my favorite Web sites. Maybe you'll find a few of these worth checking out (remember to use your browsers' bookmark function when you find a place you like).
My latest favorite gee-whiz site is Roy Williams' Jan Vermeer page at http://www.ccsf.caltech.edu/roy/vermeer/. You can get biographical and other material here, but what's really grand is the "clickable map" showing all the painter's works, each in thumbnail size. Click on any one and there it is, a Vermeer right on your screen. Try The Milkmaid, from the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. It's just astonishing.
Speaking of Amsterdam, I got some useful information for a recent trip there by using City.Net, at http://www.city.net/. City.Net has information of varying quality about cities from Aachen to Zwickau, including even places like Yankton, S.D., which doesn't get a lot of tourism unless you happen to need a respite from the delights of Rapid City. When I used City.Net to look up Amsterdam, I found a map, information about museums, dining, Dutch currency, transportation and so forth.
On the subject of art, quite a few museums are reachable through the Web, which is an ideal medium for this sort of thing. Perhaps the best-known site of this kind is an entirely virtual institution, Nicolas Pioch's WebMuseum at http://www.emf.net/louvre/. This incomparable resource offers a host of great paintings from many museums, including the Mona Lisa. For an Impressionist with something to say, check out Gustave Caillebotte.