Internet 101

What is the web and how can you make it work for you?

As you explore the tips on security and safety in Good to Know, you may have some questions about what the web is and how to use popular types of online services. Please take a look at these answers from Googlers to learn more about getting online, finding information and navigating the web, and connecting and sharing online.

Getting online

What is the Internet?

The Internet is a worldwide network of computers all connected to each other. When you connect to the Internet you have access to the World Wide Web, which is like a library full of pages of information.

For further reading, explore Google’s 20 Things that I Learned booklet.

How do you connect to the Internet? What is the function of an ISP?

Before you can start exploring the web, you will need to set up a plan with an ISP. An ISP, or Internet Service Provider, is the company that gives you access to the Internet and other web services. They provide different ways to connect, including dial-up, cable, fibre optics or Wi-Fi. These different connections determine the speed of your Internet access.

How does the Internet get to my mobile phone? Is it different from a desktop?

In general, a mobile phone connects to the Internet with the same wireless signal used to make a phone call. Your phone connects to a mobile tower in the area, which then connects you to the Internet. Because transferring data between mobile devices and the Internet can get expensive, service providers charge for data plans.

Certain devices, like mobile devices running Android, can also connect to the Internet through Wi-Fi. Wi-Fi lets you connect your phone, tablet or laptop computer to the Internet wirelessly and without the need for a mobile signal or data plan. Generally, Internet connectivity on your mobile phone is faster through Wi-Fi networks, but you have to be in an area where Wi-Fi is available. Many cafes, retail locations and sometimes entire cities will offer free Wi-Fi.

What is a URL, an IP address and a DNS? And why are they important?

A URL is the web address you type into a browser to reach a website. Every website has a URL. For example, the URL www.google.co.uk will take you to Google’s website.

Every URL also has an IP address. An IP address is a series of numbers that tells your computer where to find the information you’re looking for. An IP address is like a phone number – a really long, complex phone number. Because IP addresses were so complex and difficult to remember, URLs were created. Instead of typing in an IP address (45.732.34.353) to go to Google’s website, all you have to type is the URL, www.google.co.uk.

Since the Internet has so many websites and IP addresses, your browser does not automatically know where every single one is located. It has to look each one up. That’s where the DNS (Domain Name System) comes in.

The DNS is essentially the “phone book” for the web. Rather than translating “Joe Bloggs” into a phone number, the DNS instead translates a URL, www.google.co.uk, into an IP address, taking you to the site you’re looking for.

What is a browser?

Just as you go to a library to "browse" through books, you can find or explore pages on the Internet using an Internet browser. A browser is a type of software on your computer that lets you access the Internet. The browser acts as a window displaying the various websites where information lives. All you have to do is type a web address into your browser and you are instantly taken to that website.

How do I make the text in my browser bigger (or smaller)?

Sometimes the words on your screen may be too big or too small for you to read them comfortably. To change the size of the words on your browser, press and hold the [control] or [command] button on your keyboard and tap on the plus [+] or minus [-] key. Selecting [+] will make your words bigger, and selecting [-] will make your words smaller.

How do I browse the web with tabs?

If you are exploring one website on your browser and would like to look quickly at another website, all you need to do is create a tab. The tab is basically another window within the same browser. By creating a tab, you can easily jump between websites. How to create a tab will depend on what browser you use. In many browsers, you can create a tab by going to [File] and selecting [New Tab].

How do I update my browser?

Using the newest version of your browser means a faster and more secure browsing experience. Figuring out how to update your browser will depend on the type of browser you are using. Each browser type – like Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer or Safari to name a few – will have a different update process. The Chrome browser, for example, automatically updates whenever it detects that a new version of the browser is available. The update process happens in the background and doesn't require any action on your part.

Finding information online

Search does exactly what it says. It searches. For example, if you type the word “cars” into Google’s search engine, the request is sent from your device through the Internet to us. We look for the correct search results and send them back to your device – all in a fraction of a second.

Search engines achieve these results by crawling and indexing all the information that lives online. The world’s information is doubling every two years and the challenge of connecting people with what they’re looking for isn't getting any simpler – especially for the 16% of searches every day that are new. Engineers constantly need to work hard to improve search so businesses and customers can keep finding each other.

How do I get public transport directions?

If you need to hop on the bus or find the nearest underground station, certain online maps like Google Maps can help you get from where you are to where you need to be. On Google Maps, type in your origin address and your destination address. Select the public transport option – the icon of the bus – to get available public transport directions.

How do I get driving directions?

Looking for the nearest petrol station on your road trip? Trying to get to your grandmother’s house? Getting driving, walking or public transport directions is simple. On Google Maps for desktop and your mobile device, you just need to enter your current location and the address of your destination.

How do I translate text?

Learning a new language or understanding signposts in a foreign country has never been so easy. With online translation tools, you can quickly translate everything from small snippets to entire websites and book chapters.

Google Translate is one of these free translation tools. To get the most from Google Translate, we recommend perusing this guide.

How do I make bookmarks?

Most browsers allow you to save shortcuts to your favourite websites. By bookmarking your most frequented websites, you can quickly navigate to the page without typing in a URL.

You can also store your bookmarks in your Google account. You can access these bookmarks from any computer with an Internet connection from the Toolbar or the Google Bookmarks homepage.

Connecting and sharing

What is cloud computing?

Simply put, every time you use the Internet, you are cloud computing. What this means is that all the information you seek is stored on servers in various locations around the world. Whether you’re watching a video, reading the news or listening to music, you’re getting information from the cloud, not from your computer’s hard drive.

In recent years, cloud computing has started to offer even more benefits. Now we can upload our own personal files (photos, videos, documents, music, etc.) to cloud servers and access them from any computer, protecting us from losing these files to viruses, crashed hard drives or our own human error.

What are web applications and how do they work?

If you play online games, use an online photo editor or frequent web-based services like Google Maps, Twitter, Amazon, YouTube or Facebook, then you’re an active resident in the wonderful world of web apps.

Web applications, also known as “apps” are programmes that live on your browser or on your mobile device. They connect you to Internet services that enable you to do simple tasks like bookmark websites and check emails. They can also do more complex tasks like share photos, navigate cities or listen to music. Your standard car navigation system is a good example of an app. Within this app, you can get real-time information based on your location. You can pan and zoom around the map, get driving directions, find alternative routes and search for specific destinations.

In addition to accessibility, web apps are actually safer. Since they run in your browser, you never have to download them to your computer, protecting you from viruses, malware and spyware. You now have much more access and much safer access than ever before.

For further reading on web applications, explore the 20 Things I Learned booklet.

What is open source?

To understand what “open source” is, it’s important to first know what “source code” is. Source code is the language in which software is written. It’s the language used in web browsers and applications to tell the software how to operate and behave.

“Open source” means the source code is open and available for anyone to look at. You can experiment with, tweak or add, and reuse it for other products or services. The web browsers Chrome and Firefox are examples of open source software.

What is email?

Email stands for electronic mail. Sending an email is like posting an electronic version of a letter. When you send your email, it usually arrives at its destination in seconds. Just like a house address, everyone has a unique email address. You have to create an email account in order to send and receive mail.

If you already have an email address and want to create a new one, it is quick and easy.

How do I chat online?

Chatting online, by video or by text, is a quick way to connect with friends and family who are near and far. Many web services offer online chat features, including Google. On Google, all you need to do to chat is sign in, invite your friends and start a chat.

How do I make calls from my computer?

There are many web services that allow you to use your computer to call someone’s phone. Many of these services require you to install a piece of software or a plug-in, but then all you need is an Internet connection, a microphone and speakers and you’re ready to make calls.

How do I transfer files between computers?

If you have a big file or even a few small files, you can easily transfer them from computer to computer by using a USB flash drive. A USB flash drive is basically a small storage device where you can drop your files. When you plug the device into another computer, you can then drag and drop that file over.

What’s a social network and how do I manage what I let people find about me?

A social network is a website or app allowing you to connect with friends and family, and share stories, news, photos or video. Examples of different social networks include Facebook, Google+, Twitter and LinkedIn. These websites are some of the biggest on the Internet. There are more than one billion people on Facebook, YouTube gets four billion views every day and Twitter has more than 500 million users. Most social networking sites allow you to adjust your settings – helping you to manage what information you share, how you share it and who you share it with.

What is Google+ and how do I use it?

Google+ helps to connect you to who and what you care about. It was built with real-life sharing in mind – and that means that you’re in control. Google+ also helps Google work better for you – making the services you already love faster, more relevant and more reliable. To get the most out of Google+, take a look at more information on the features available to you including Circles and Hangouts.

How do YouTube, Blogger and other web publishing services work?

Websites like YouTube and Blogger allow anyone, anywhere to instantly connect with billions of people around the world. Through a variety of online platforms – social networks, video sites, blogging tools, auction services and many others – Internet users are able to create content, publish information, communicate, and buy or sell goods and services.

How do I upload and share a video on YouTube?

Creating content and broadcasting it to the world is becoming an important part of being an active digital citizen. Uploading your video to YouTube is simple and easy. To start, you will need to create a Google account. Once you've created an account, follow these simple steps to upload your first video.

How do I manage my digital reputation?

As you start to create and upload content online, take a moment to think about what you’re sharing and its impact on others. What you post and the content you upload will represent your online self. This is also known as your digital reputation. Don’t forget the invisible audience – those who might be able to see your content or reshare it without your knowledge. Rule of thumb: if you don’t want your grandmother to see it, don’t post it.

Make sure that you visit your privacy and security settings on social networking platforms like Google+. Google offers several tools for you to manage your settings.