Internet 101: Beginners Quick Reference Guide

A Cheat Sheet for Online Beginners

The internet and the World Wide Web, in combination, form a worldwide broadcast medium for the general public. Using your desktop computer, smartphone, tablet, Xbox, media player, GPS, and even your car or home thermostat, you can access a vast world of messaging and content through the internet and the web.

The internet is a gigantic hardware network. The internet's biggest readable content is called the World Wide Web, a collection of several billion pages and images that are joined by hyperlinks. Other content on the internet includes email, instant messaging, streaming video, peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing, and downloading.

This guide can fill in your knowledge gaps and have you fluent on the internet and the web quickly. 

How the Internet Differs From the Web

Using the internet to send emails
Lightcome/iStock

The internet, or net, is a term that refers to the Interconnection of Computer Networks. It is a massive conglomeration of millions of computers and smart devices, all connected by wires or wireless signals. Although it started in the 1960s as a military experiment in communication, the internet evolved into a public free broadcast forum in the '70s and '80s. No single authority owns or controls the internet. No single set of laws governs its content. You connect to the internet through a private internet service provider in your home or office or a public Wi-Fi network. 

In 1989, a growing collection of readable content was added to the internet — the World Wide Web. The web is the mass of HTML pages and images that travel through the internet's hardware. You may hear the expressions "Web 1.0," "Web 2.0," and the "Invisible Web" to describe these billions of webpages.

The expressions web and internet are used interchangeably by most people. This is technically incorrect, as the web is contained by the internet. In practice, however, most people don't bother with the distinction.

Web 1.0, Web 2.0, Invisible Web and Dark Web

Web 1.0: When the World Wide Web was launched in 1989 by Tim Berners-Lee, it was filled with plain text and simple graphics. Effectively a collection of electronic brochures, the web was organized as a simple broadcast/receive format. We call this simple static format web 1.0. Millions of webpages are still static and the term web 1.0 still applies to them.

Web 2.0: In the late 1990s, the web started to move beyond static content and began offering interactive services. Instead of only seeing webpages as brochures, the web began to offer online software that allowed people to perform tasks and receive consumer-type services. Online banking, video gaming, dating services, stocks tracking, financial planning, graphics editing, home videos, and webmail all became regular online web offerings before the year 2000. These online services are now referred to as web 2.0. Names like Facebook, Flickr, Lavalife, eBay, Digg, and Gmail helped to make web 2.0 a part of our daily lives.

The Invisible Web: The invisible web, aka deep web, is the third part of the World Wide Web. Technically a subset of Web 2.0, the invisible web describes billions of webpages that are purposely hidden from regular search engines. The webpages are protected by passwords or hidden behind firewalls. These invisible webpages are private confidential pages, such as personal email, personal banking statements, and webpages generated by specialized databases such as job postings in Cleveland or Seville. Invisible webpages are either hidden completely from your casual eyes or require special search engines to locate. 

The Darknet: In the 2000s, a cloaked part of the World Wide Web spawned the darknet, aka the dark web. This is a private collection of websites that is encrypted to conceal all the participant's identities and prevent authorities from tracing people's activities. The dark web is a black market for traders of illicit goods and a sanctuary for people who are seeking to communicate away from oppressive governments and dishonest corporations. The dark web can only be accessed through complex technology. You won't accidentally stumble across the dark web. Most internet surfers never go there.

Internet Terms for Beginners

Beginners should learn basic internet terminology. While some Internet technology is complex and intimidating, the fundamentals of understanding the met are doable. Some of the basic terms to learn include:

  • HTML and http/https
  • Browser
  • Webpage
  • URL
  • Email
  • Social media
  • ISP
  • Downloading
  • Malware
  • Router
  • E-commerce
  • Bookmark

Web Browsers

Your web browser is the primary tool for reading webpages and exploring the larger internet. Microsoft Edge, Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, and Safari are the big names in browser software, and each of them offers good features. There are plenty of other browsers you might like as well, including Opera, Vivaldi, and Tor browser. All internet browsers are free on computers and mobile devices. You open a browser and enter a search term or a URL, which is the address of a webpage, to reach any webpage you are looking for.

Read more about web browsers here:

Mobile Internet: Smartphones, Tablets, and Laptops

Laptops, tablets, and smartphones are the devices we use to surf the internet as we are on the go. Riding on a bus, sitting in a coffee shop, at the library, or in an airport, mobile internet access is a revolutionary convenience. Dealing with mobile internet connections requires some basic knowledge of hardware and networking. Consider the following tutorials to get you started:

Email: How It Works

Email is a massive subnetwork inside the internet. We trade written messages along with file attachments through email. While it takes time, email provides the business value of maintaining a paper trail for conversations. If you are new to email, definitely consider some of these tutorials:

Instant Messaging: Faster Than Email

Instant messaging, or IM, is a combination of chat and email. Although often considered a distraction at corporate offices, IM can be a useful communication tool for both business and social purposes. 

Social Networking

Social networking is about starting and maintaining friendship communications through websites. It is the modern digital form of socializing, done through webpages. Users choose one or more online services that specialize in group communications and then gather their friends there to exchange daily greetings and regular messages. Although not the same as face-to-face communications, social networking is immensely popular because it is easy, playful, and motivating. Social networking sites can be general or focused on hobby interests like movies and music.

Acronyms and the internet

The world of internet culture, social networking and messaging is rife with jargon that has expanded into a language dominated by acronyms such as LOL, BRB, and ROTFL. You may feel lost without a guide to this cryptic terminology. Whether or not you choose to use these communication shortcuts, you need to understand them to know what others are talking about.

Search Engines

With thousands of webpages and files added every day, the internet and the web are daunting to search. Although sites like Google and Yahoo help, even more important is the user mindset. Knowing how to approach sifting through billions of possible choices to find what you need is a learned skill.