Methods to Communicate over the Internet

52. Once an individual has access to the Internet, there are a wide variety of different methods of communication and information exchange over the network. These numerous methods of communication and information retrieval are constantly evolving and are therefore difficult to categorize concisely. The most common methods of communications on the Internet (as well as within the major online services) can be roughly grouped into six categories: one-to-one messaging (such as "e-mail"), one-to-many messaging (such as "listserv"), distributed message databases (such as "USENET newsgroups"), real time communication (such as "Internet Relay Chat"), real time remote computer utilization (such as "telnet"), and remote information retrieval (such as "ftp," "gopher," and the "World Wide Web"). Most of these methods of communication can be used to transmit text, data, computer programs, sound, or visual images.

53. One-to-one messaging. The simplest method of communication on the Internet is via electronic mail, or "e- mail," the modern equivalent to a first class letter. An individual can address and transmit a message to one or more specific other individuals. E-mail on the Internet is not routed through any central control point, and can take numerous and varying paths to the recipients. Unlike postal mail, simple e- mail is not "sealed" or secure, and can be accessed or viewed on intermediate computers between the sender and recipient (unless the message is encrypted).

54. One-to-many messaging. The Internet also contains automatic mailing list services (such as "listserv") that allow simple and efficient communications about particular subjects of interest. For example, individuals can subscribe to a "listserv" mailing list on a particular topic of interest to them. The individual can submit messages on the topic to the listserv that are automatically forwarded (via e-mail) to anyone who has subscribed to the mailing list. A recipient of such a message can reply to the message and have the reply also distributed to everyone on the mailing list. This service provides the capability to keep abreast of developments or events in a particular subject area. Most listserv-type mailing lists automatically forward all incoming messages to all mailing list subscribers. There are thousands of such mailing list services on the Internet, collectively with hundreds of thousands of subscribers.

55. Distributed message databases. Similar in function to listservs -- but quite different in how communications are transmitted -- are distributed message databases such as "USENET newsgroups." Like listservs, newsgroups are open discussions and exchanges on particular topics. Users, however, need not subscribe to the discussion mailing list in advance, but can instead access the database at any time. An individual user can post a message to a newsgroup, and the message is then automatically forwarded to all other computers that furnish access to the newsgroups (but not to any individual users). The messages are temporarily stored on each receiving computer, where they are available for review and response. The messages are automatically and periodically purged from each system to make room for new messages. Responses to messages -- like the original messages -- are automatically distributed to all other computers receiving the newsgroup. There are newsgroups on more than fifteen thousand different subjects. In 1994, approximately 70,000 messages were posted to newsgroups each day, and those messages were distributed to the approximately 190,000 computers or computer networks that participate in the USENET newsgroup system. Messages posted to newsgroups are not stored on or channelled through any central computer or location.

56. Real time communication. In addition to transmitting messages that can be later read or accessed, individuals on the Internet can engage in an immediate dialog -- in "real time" -- with other individuals on the Internet. In its simplest forms, "talk" allows one-to-one communications and "Internet Relay Chat" allows two or more individuals to type messages to each other that almost immediately appear on the other individuals' computer screens. In addition, commercial online services such as America Online, CompuServe, eWorld, the Microsoft Network, and Prodigy have their own "chat" systems allowing their members to converse.

57. Real time remote computer utilization. Another method to utilize information on the Internet is to access and control remote computers using "telnet." For example, using telnet, a researcher at a university would be able to utilize the computing power of a supercomputer located at a different university. A student can use telnet to connect to a remote library to access the library's online card catalog program. Or, individuals can link via telnet to a computer to interact directly and communicate with other users linked to the same computer. Accessing a computer via telnet occurs in "real time," and content and communication accessed via telnet is often created only at the time of the communication.

58. Remote information retrieval. The final major category of communication may be the most important and well known use of the Internet -- the search for and retrieval of information located on remote computers. There are numerous methods to locate and retrieve information on the Internet. A simple method uses "ftp" (or file transfer protocol) to list the names of computer files available on a remote computer, and to transfer one or more of those files to an individual's local computer. Another approach uses a program and format named "gopher" to guide an individual's search through the resources available on a remote computer. A third approach, and fast becoming the most well known on the Internet, is the "World Wide Web." The Web utilizes a "hypertext" formatting language called hypertext markup language (HTML), and programs that "browse" the Web can display HTML documents containing text, images, and sound. Any HTML document can include links to other types of information or resources, so that while viewing an HTML document that, for example, describes resources available on the Internet, an individual can "click" using a computer mouse on the description of the resource and be immediately connected to the resource itself. Such "hyperlinks" allow information to be accessed and organized in very flexible ways, and allow individuals to locate and efficiently view related information even if the information is stored on numerous computers all around the world.

59. With the exception of point-to-point mail, no information flows through cyberspace to a particular individual unless the individual requests the information. Listservs, newsgroups, chat lines, telnet, ftp, gopher and the World Wide Web all require an affirmative request by the Internet user prior to the user receiving information over the Internet. Further- more, when a user makes such an affirmative request it is usually clear what type of content will be delivered. Thus, unlike radio or television, there is no significant risk that a user will be "assaulted" with unsolicited and undesired content.

60. The vast majority of transmissions of content from specific sites on the Internet are in response to electronic requests the user could not have anticipated more than a few seconds or moments before making the request. Because information is located on millions of computers around the world, with no central organization or control, a user cannot possibly know which computers might have useful information until starting a search. Instead, the user could access any of dozens of different search databases, obtain a list of sites that might be of interest, and then immediately link to one or more of the sites. Indeed, the very theory of "hyperlinks" and the hypertext markup language (HTML) (the foundation of the World Wide Web) is that the user can jump from site to site to site without ever needing to know where physically in the world the next site is located. Thus, there is no way for a user to pre-register with every computer that might contain useful content on a particular topic. Moreover, when an individual is researching a topic on the Internet, he or she might access dozens of newsgroups, telnet computers, and ftp, gopher, and Web sites around the world in a matter of minutes. If a researcher was required to request access from content providers prior to actually viewing the information (and prove to the provider that the researcher was not a minor), the Internet would be transformed from a dynamic and instantaneous content searching tool into a cumbersome, multi-step, much slower, and much less useful research tool. The vibrancy and immediacy that sparked the Internet's recent extraordinary expansion and development would be lost.

61. The inability to predict where on the Internet a user would want to access information is not limited to research, and applies equally to any attempt by a user to access information on the Internet when the individual does not know in advance the precise location of that information. There are millions of computers on the Internet that contain content, and it would be practically and economically impossible for the tens of millions of Internet users to pre-register with each of those millions of content sites, and equally impossible for those millions of content sites to maintain and instantaneously update lists of registered users.

62. For both the speaker and the listener, communications on the Internet bear virtually no similarity to communications on television and radio. With radio and television, the number of speakers is limited by the available spectrum, the ability to speak is limited by the high cost of speaking, and listeners are merely passive recipients of the communications. With the Internet, the number of speakers is boundless, anyone can speak for pennies a day (or for free at his or her public library), and listeners can respond and engage the speaker in an interactive and on-going dialogue. Furthermore, unlike television and radio, on the Internet viewers and listeners generally receive only the communications they affirmatively request, and are not a passive or "captive" audience. Moreover, unlike with television and radio, on the Internet a speaker can reach the entire world (at no additional cost) yet at the same time can direct his or her speech to individuals who share an interest in a particular subject. In the twenty-first century, the Internet -- if allowed to flourish unhindered by government censorship -- can revive the now-little- used public square and convert it into a global medium of communication and discourse.

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