The following series of articles appeared in the February 20, 1994 issue of the Seattle Times.
Living On The InternetIs it an information superhighway, or an anthill?
Everybody understands a highway. Roads connect with other roads. Cars go to specific places. It's systematic, logical.
And there's always a map if you get lost.
An anthill, on the other hand, doesn't make much sense. The ants go every which way, stopping and starting, zig-zagging back and forth.
What's going on here? Only the ants know.
The rapidly growing Internet, the closest thing to the information superhighway as exists today, is a hodge-podge of hobbyists, businesses, schools, government agencies and institutions tied together by computer networks, modems and phone lines.
To an outsider or newcomer, it is unfathomably byzantine.
But it works just fine for the ants.
Millions of users daily send e-mail all over the glob, even to President Clinton. From their computer, they can search government databases as well as catalogs of the Library of Congress, Cambridge University library and Seattle Public Library, to name a few.
They can post want-ads, get involved with "use-groups" of like-minded people, and even role-play games, adopting a pseudonym, personality and gender that have nothing to do with your real life.
They can do and be just about anything on the Internet...as long as they're one of the ants.
If they're not, the Internet might as well be Egyptian hieroglyphics.
The Internet is just one lane of the prophesied information superhighway, which is expected to offer movies on demand, interactive viewer-customized television, games, educational software and access to huge databases.
For those who cruise the highway today - the "infonauts" of the future - logging onto the Net at work, at home and in school is as second nature as turning on the television.
Hop onto the highway with them. Just be careful not to step on any ants.
DESKTOP LAUNCH PAD LEADS THOSE WHO WANT TO EXPLORE IT TO A WORLDWIDE COMPUTER NETby Bill Dietrich
When infonaut Tom Sparks blasts into cyberspace from home each evening, his launch pad is a Macintosh computer in a cubicle not much bigger than a Catholic confessional.
At the push of a button, the confining walls seem to fall away, and his monitor becomes an entrance to the Internet.
With a flexibility that puts TV channel-surfing to shame, his phone line becomes a twisting trail leading to millions of computers around the world.
This is a new-language universe of MUDs and MOOs; of Gopher, Archie and Veronica; of Telnet and Mosaic; of SLIP and World Wide Web.
This is information anarchy: unfiltered, unmetered, uncensored, unedited and unhierarchal.
In other words, Sparks doesn't have to be a politician or an expert or a teacher to speak up in an electronic town hall on a subject: He just has to be able to type.
The building contractor, who lives in the Fremont district, has also joined a literature study group plumbing the meanings of Irish author James Joyce. No one asks for credentials.
In one Multi-User Object Oriented game-and-social group, or MOO, Sparks has programmed in his own stage set - a darkened theater and bar - and created an electronic booth where visitors can sit down, have a drink and "listen to" (read) an erotic stream of consciousness from seatmate and Joyce character Molly Bloom, lifted from "Ulysses."
On one recent evening, Sparks bounced around the Net like a superball, at one point leaping into an electronic discussion of the philosopher Kant.
"Oh, it's in German," he said, disappointed.
Sparks goes as far in this electronic wilderness as his Internet skills take him.
"In two years I have hardly scratched the surface," he said. "I like its size, the fact you keep looking and never find the end."
For computer users who prefer not to leave the electronic wilderness trail and like the developed facilities of a national park, there are commercial services such as America Online, GEnie, CompuServe and Prodigy that are easier to navigate.
On-line communication can be time-consuming, initially bewildering, occasionally frustrating and sometimes disappointing.
"The Internet has so much on it that there is a lot of chaff among the wheat," Sparks noted.
It can also be timesaving, fascinating, relatively inexpensive, thought-provoking and inclusive.
Some examples of what is available to the recreational user:
- When Spark's daughter had to do a school report on the prime minister of Pakistan, he used the Internet to access English-language stories from the Pakistani News Service.
- Boeing computer engineer Jeff Silverman's 11-year-old daughter wanted to dig for dinosaur bones during her summer vacation. Silverman used the Internet to send an electronic message asking paleontologists for suggestions where to dig - and got several replies.
- School librarian Nancy Kunitsugu uses a free Internet connection offered by the Seattle Public Library to trade craft hints with cross-stichers as far away as New Zealand.
Sparks' wife, Flora Goldthwaite, a graphics designer at Microsoft, said she has little interest in roaming the Net at night after working on computers all day. And any infonauts who spend hours making electronic friends run the risk of becoming a hermit to their families.
For Sparks himself, roaming the alternate worlds of MOOs and MUDs (an acronym for Multi-User Dungeon, taken from the "Dungeons and Dragons" board game) occupies some of his Internet time.
These are electronic, imaginary "places" - a dungeon, cave, mansion, town, etc. - in which participants often help invent, and describe, new rooms.
Game players often have pseudonyms. In one of his MOOs, Sparks is Tarquin and participates in conversations with Glinda, Stargazer, Arius and Noma.
By typing descriptions of what they are doing ("I am going south") and thinking, players can move, meet, chat, argue and, in some MUDs, acquire treasures, fight, kill and even have sex.
The fantasy worlds have spawned complex codes of etiquette and moral dilemmas. When a Seattle woman playing a MOO was virtually "raped" by an anonymous player describing himself as a kind of wicked clown, furious electronic debate broke out between the clown's free-speech right to tap out his fantasies and the woman's right to privacy and respect.
In the end the clown was "toaded," a term stemming from the fairy-tale act of turning someone into a toad.
A "wizard" operating that part of the Net wiped out his electronic account.
Most MOOs and MUDs, though, are usually polite, friendly and sometimes serious. In Sparks' MOO, Glinda recently solicited players for poetry she could edit for the Chicago Review, a publication.
In one experiment she started a poem and invited players to finish it. The poem grew by several stanzas, and then when on user typed in an obscenity about poetry, a new debate broke out.
It is obvious when surfing the Internet that giving people the ability to say something doesn't mean they always have something worth saying.
But in its freewheeling breadth it is like the Western range before barbed wire.
SETTING UP SHOP ON THE HIGHWAYby Paul Andrews
The toy-strewn front yard of Kirk Moore's Eastside home holds little suggestion of the global communications stream running beneath it. Nor does the nondescript suburban rambler seem a likely repository for six computer workstations, thrumming with the electromagnetic buzz of a miniature power substation.
But once inside, in a living room obstructed by stacks of computer boxes, at a dining table dominated by a huge monitor, and on a kitchen counter piled with computer innards, it becomes apparent that Kirk Moore dwells in a separate realm.
Off Moore's kitchen is Connected Inc., where everyone from big corporations to Joe and Jill User log onto the Internet.
Two years ago Moore, a digital cowboy who helped pioneer electronic bulletin boards in the Northwest, saw that Internet usage was about to explode. He shut down his espresso stand, scraped together enough bucks to bootstrap a business, and set up shop on the Net.
Today Moore has 83 phone lines, 1,600 customers, a handful of large corporate clients, a 50 percent investor and a tiger by the tail.
Two hundred new users are signing up with Connected each month, and he has had to hire a sales staff, bookkeeper and technical assistant. And some high-visibility accounts loom on the horizon, including The Seattle Times, which recently signed with Connected.
Providers like Moore, and there are half a dozen or so in the Internet's transportation system. For $13 or so a month, you can dial into Moore's system with a free local call and hop onto the Net. Outside Seattle, Moore has set up POPs, or points of presence, in Spokane, Bremerton, Yakima and Olympia, so clients there can access his service with a local call.
From the Moore abode, it's off to the world at large. Connections to him hop onto a major fiber-optic line to Stockton, Calif., and from there to any point on the globe. Before services like his, Internet users in most cases had to work for a government agency or large corporation, or attend an academic institution. Now anyone can log onto services like Connected, Halcyon, Eskimo North, and Cyberspace for a nominal fee.
The advent of Internet service providers has meant an explosion of single-car commuters on the information superhighway, creating traffic jams but suggesting an upheaval in the global village's ability to communicate.
Computer lore is riddled with stories of little guys with a dream working out of their garage. Moore is the Internet's version. His garage is half taken up by Connected's array of modems, 19-inch monitors, and computer workstations with power once limited to room-size main-frame computers.
"The big boys (phone and cable companies) can't do what I do", he said with characteristic bravado. "They don't know how. They don't understand the system."
Moore sees his role as part technical guru, part sales and marketing whiz, part system troubleshooter and all evangelist. At 35, the fundamentalist Pentecostal Christian and father of three believes his mission is to expand the Internet while keeping it free of commercialism and censorship.
A Rush Limbaugh fan and former Republican precinct officer, Moore nonetheless allows files about sex with animals in a bulletin board called alt.sex.bestiality to be accessed, uncensored, by his subscribers. Moore sees crusaders like himself as the Net's upholders of civil rights.
"Personally, I hate that stuff (bestiality)," he said. "But I'm absolutely in favor of free speech. I don't support homosexuality either, but gays are welcome to the system."
Moore sees the Internet as the same kind of liberating technology that personal-computer pioneers accorded desktop terminals in the mid-1970s. where personal computers became largely productivity tools, however, Moore sees broader communications and educational vistas for the Internet.
"He has very firm convictions about getting the kids onto the Internet," said Peggy Soong-Yaplee, eighth-grade science teacher at Asa Mercer Middle School, where 900 students have access to about 200 computers.
Moore came to his current station haphazardly. A track standout who at age 15 could run the 100-yard-dash in 9.9 seconds, Moore "blew my life apart with drugs: between 17 and 27.
For years he supported himself as a baker but had to give it up when he developed an allergy to cooking grease. He married Linda, enrolled in business school, and tried his hand at selling computers and then espresso before founding Connected Inc.
"I wanted to get into the Internet five or six years ago, but it was $35,000 for this and $100,000 for that," Moore said. To the rescue, eponymously enough, came Moore's law, named after computer scientist Gordon Moore, who found that computer power roughly doubles (or, put another way, prices halve) every two years.
Economies of scale are in Moore's favor, he said. Small providers like him can offer Internet links inexpensively, and can afford to lure newcomers with free temporary accounts. "There are two types of users," he said. "We have people who are computer literate and Internet literate, and then we have problem children." The latter call in and say, "My name is Joe and I saw the ad, and what is the Internet, anyway?"
At heart, "they're really good people," Moore said, "but arrgggghhhh!" Frustrations over the latter led him to begin offering Internet classes, open to all comers for a fee.
Will the superhighway keep adding lanes to and beyond the Internet: interactive TV, movies on demand, video mail? Moore sees no limits, provided he is allowed to compete "on a level playing field" with the phone companies. In a perfect world, everyone would have equal access, and electronic democracy would prevail.
"Anyone with a little cash and half a brain can get into this," Moore said. "You just have to have" - he searches for the right word - "impetus."
BEYOND PEN PALS: NETWORKED BELLEVUE STUDENTS FIND 'KEY' PALS AND ONLINE CHATSby Katherine Long
Moving the flashing cursor on her computer screen as deftly as another student might wield a pencil, Yanet Ochoa zips around screens of type and, in a keystroke, zips around the globe.
From her classroom at Phantom Lake Elementary School in Bellevue, 11-year-old Yanet sends a letter she has written in Spanish on a journey to classrooms in Germany, Iceland, Canada, Australia and all over the United States.
"How do you know how to do that?" a student asks, leaning over Yanet's shoulder.
"I just know, O.K.?" she said.
What may be even more amazing than a fifth-grader knowing how to search the globe for a Spanish-speaking pen pal is that Yanet doesn't even consider this particularly amazing.
But her teacher does. Whenever he talks about the Internet, 45-year-old Chris Held can hardly contain his excitement.
His class's pen-pal project brings the power of the Internet down to a level so simple that even elementary kids can grasp it.
They're not even pen-pals anymore, as student Muyguek Taing points out. They're key pals. No pen is involved.
Without fussing over envelopes, paper and trips to the post office, a student can scan through thousands of letters written by colleagues worldwide looking for a key pal. The student can mail a response by typing it out, then hitting a few keys. Letters to students in the United States take seconds to arrive. A letter to Australia crosses six time zones and an ocean within minutes.
In Held's classroom, Yanet has two key pals in Chicago. Muyguek has key pals in Canada and Texas. Jennifer Phillips' are in Texas, Wisconsin and Tennessee. Doug Livas, Matt Merz and Craig Kipper write to Chris Huston in Canberra, Australia.
"This network just opens up the world," Held said.
In the Puget Sound area, a handful of public-school systems - including most Eastside school districts - are connected to the Internet. The Kent School District plans to have districtwide access March 15. Some Seattle Public Schools teachers have guest accounts on the Internet now, but the school district will have broader access in May.
The Bellevue School District has a high-speed direct link, making it unique among area school districts. And Held has become something of a pioneer, learning how the system works and teaching other teachers how to use it.
Hooking up with key pals is just one tiny part of the Internet. But it's something kids can understand.
The key pal requests are posted on KIDCAFE, part of the KIDLINK Society, an all-volunteer organization headquartered in Saltrod, Norway. Through KIDCAFE, every letter sent to the master list is posted in the mailbox of every user signed up with KIDLINK. Students at Phantom Lake receive more than 100 pieces of electronic mail a day from other kids around the globe:
"I live in Bologna. My city is very nice. It has two towers."
"I am 12 years old from Athens, Greece..."
"We're two cool dudes! We're from Iceland! We need key pals now!"
It is not easy to snag a key pal, teaching assistant Susan Brown explains. Foreign students are inundated with letters because there are more American than foreign students on the Internet. And in order to get a reply, the Phantom Lake students have to make their letters compelling or they will be ignored.
Besides learning to compose decent letters, Brown said, the kids are learning reading and writing, geography, social studies, politics and, of course, basic computer skills.
Writing to key pals isn't the only way Held's class uses the Internet.
A few days after the recent Los Angeles earthquake, his students spent a few hours using "Internet Relay Chat," a link that allowed students to "chat by typing their conversation instead of speaking it.
Every time students typed a line into the computer, it immediately appeared on the computer screen of every other person who was plugged in to that particular channel.
"You could just see the kid's brains going," Held said.
"They could see this really is a different time, in a different place. We probably underestimate the value of this, cognitively."
Held is continually amazed by the power of the Internet, but his students seem to take it for granted.
"The kids don't appreciate it yet," he said. "They don't realize we're pushing the edge of the envelope."
WHAT'S ON THE NET?Compiled by Seattle Times
copy editor Miguel Llanos
Here's just a taste of the free resources on the Internet:
E-mail list names(approximately 1,200):
- White House (get press releases as they are issued)
USENET(nearly 6,000 groups):
This is an almost anarchic system of bulletin boards. It actually predates the Internet, but now the Internet is used to transfer much of the USENET's traffic. Categories include biology, computers, education and recreation, but most of the growth has been in the alternative (alt.) groups.
- rec.music (many subgroups)
- rec.sport (many subgroups)
- soc.veterans (military)
Databases and gateways(several thousand):
- FedWorld (federal agencies)
- Library of Congress
- National Library of Medicine
- Spacelink (NASA)
- Federal Register (government contracts)
- White House press releases
- State Dept. travel advisories
- Supreme Court rulings
- Department of Education (educational games)
- Securities and Exchange
- Commission (business filings)
- CancerNet (fact sheets for patients and doctors)
- CIA World Factbook
- Envirolink (world's largest environmental network)
- University of Washington
- NBA, NFL, NHL (scores/info)
- United Nations
- Online Career Center (8,000 jobs listed)
- Cyberion City (science taught "aboard" space station)
- Women's WIRE
- Dallas Museum of Art (view exhibits)
- Lawmakers rating (as seen by special-interest groups)
- Friends & Partners (U.S.-Russia news and history)
- National Indian Policy Center
- Song lyrics
- Recipe archives
ONLINE TERMSSeattle Times staff and Chicago Tribune
- Bits per second. Refers to data-transfer speed; 14,400 is the current personal-computer standards.
- Short for bulletin board system, the electronic equivalent of the cork kind where people post messages and ideas.
- Chat board:
- A service that enables users to "talk" live, via their keyboards, to one another.
- Moving software files, graphics, photographs, sounds, etc. from one computer to yours.
- Messages sent electronically between computers.
- Users have many symbols to communicate employing colons,
semicolons and parenthesis to form sideways facial expressions called
- :) - a smile
- ;) - a wink
- :( - a frown
- :0 - a yell
- Fiber-optic cable:
- A bundle of glass strands that carry light pulses to transmit information. This mode of transmission can carry much more information than copper wires.
- A virulent and usually personal attack against someone online.
- A software tool that enables users to find files on the Internet more easily. Other tools include Telnet, ftp (file transfer protocol:, Archie, Veronica, WAIS and World Wide Web.
- Log on:
- The procedure used to sign on to a computer in order to use it.
- An electronic storage area where a user on a network receives electronic messages.
- Allows information to travel between computers along phone lines.
- Acronym for Multi-User Object Oriented, a role-playing game involving multiple participants at separate computers.
- Acronym for Multi-User Dungeon, taken from "Dungeons and Dragons" game and referring to an electronic place where participants play different roles.
- Connecting to computers using a modem.
- Moving files electronically from your computer to another.
A GLOBAL WEB OF PEOPLE AND INFORMATIONAssociated Press/Seattle Times
The Internet is a network of computer networks dating back to the '60s. It evolved from a U.S. government military network called ARPANET. Today, millions of people use this worldwide web of interconnected computer networks to exchange electronic mail, transfer computer files, search databases and "chat" in real time with other users.
- The Internet does not have any physical location. It is usually thought of as a "cloud", because its structure is unimportant to the user. There is no "master computer" that everyone dials into; it is simply a web of interconnected computers scattered across the world.
- An individual with a computer can access the Internet from home by dialing into a computer that is on the Internet.
- Access system
- A computer using the TCP/IP protocol suite. It might be at a business, school or other location.
- Other users
- The Internet can be accessed from anywhere in the world, as long as there is a correctly connected access computer to dial into.
- The bulk of Internet traffic is electronic mail.
- Commerce is the fasted-growing part of Internet.
- Among the organizations liked through the Internet: Ralph Bunche School in Manhattan, the Library of Congress, San Diego Supercomputer Center, NASA Science Internet, Cleveland Free-Net, Fermilab, AT &T Bell Labs, National University of Singapore, Czech Technical University (in Prague), Keio University (Japan).
WITH DRIVER'S ED ON INTERNET, YOU CAN RIDE INFORMATION SUPERHIGHWAYSeattle Times Staff
The Internet, the mother of all mother lodes of information, is a loose international federation of networked computers that share databases, messages and other features. Users of the "Net", as it's often called, have access to everything from government records to the Library of Congress to museums in Europe.
The Internet actually dates to the late 1960s and has its roots in a Defense Department computer network called ARPANET, which served as a prototype for networks across the world. Out of that grew the Internet. Until recent years it was used primarily by academic institutions, corporations and governments.
The growth since has been phenomenal. In 1969, there were four Internet hosts - that is, computers directly on the Net. As of last month there were more than 2.2 million hosts. Estimates say the number of Internet users ranges from three to 10 users per host.
Unless you're with a company or university with an Internet connection, you need a modem and an account with a dial-up service provider, usually a local company that gives you an on-ramp to the Internet.
Once online you'll need a friend, reference book or other guiding hand to become roadworthy. Some systems provide a screen menu to basic Internet services, including electronic mail, gopher (a tool to help search for files), ftp (file transfer protocol, used for accessing files once you identify which one you want), and the Usenet (groups of subscribers who share a hobby, avocation, profession or other interests).
One other systems, you'll be faced with a simple command prompt (the percentage sign - %) for UNIX, the operating system used in developing the Internet. It's up to you to tell the computer what to do, which requires learning a little about UNIX and rudimentary commands. See the list to the right [below] for some references that could help.
Some resources could help simplify the Internet in the way the Macintosh and Microsoft Windows made personal computers easier to use. A Seattle company, SPRY, Inc., is developing an easy-access system called Internet-in-a-Box, due out in March. And a free software program called Mosaic helps to "window-fy" the Net for users with the right connection.
Be patient. Give yourself time to take baby steps. Unlike learning to drive, your can't wreck the car on the information superhighway.
How to get on the Net
Test-driving the InternetThe Seattle Public Library has several Internet databases mounted on its online system. Using your modem, dial 383-4142 and type library at first prompt.
Companies offering dial-up Internet accounts
- Connected Inc.: $13/month or $48/6 months; 820-6639 (voice), 820-5131 (modem)
- Cyberspace: $9.95/month; 282-4919 (v); 286-1600 (m)
- Northwest Nexus (Halcyon): $20 setup fee, $20/month; 455-3505 (v); 382-6245 (m)
Free e-mail accountsIt's not access to the databases on the Internet, but it is no-cost e-mail throughout the Net.
- Connected: 820-6639 (v), 820-5131 (m)
- Northwest Nexus (Fry): 455-3505 (v); 462-0674 (m)
- SEANEWS: 747-NEWS (m)
Commercial online servicesThe most obvious difference between the Internet and commercial services is price. Commercial services generally charge at least $2 an hour, whereas a flat fee provides unlimited dialup access to the Internet. Some commercial services, including these major ones, allow e-mail service on the Internet: America Online: $9.95/month (includes 5 hours, $3.50 for each additional hour; no e-mail charge: (800) 827-6363.
- CompuServe: Startup fee $39.95; $8.95/month for basic services (unlimited use); extended services are $4.80/hour at 2400 baud; 5 cents per page of e- mail after the first 60 packets each month. (800) 848-8199.
- GEnie: $8.95/month for basic services (includes e-mail, four hours use), $3/hour after that at 2400 baud during non-peak hours, $9.50 during prime time.
- Prodigy: $14.95 for unlimited use to core features, (includes two hours of plus features, after which it's $3.60 for each additional hour); 25 cents per e- mail after the first 30 each month); (800) 776-3449.
- "The Internet Complete Reference" (Osborne McGraw-Hill), by Harley Hahn and Rick Stout.
- "The Internet Navigator" (John Wiley), by Paul Glister.
- "The Whole Internet User's Guide and Catalog: (O'Reilly & Associates), by Ed Krol.