Chapter 1 - Introduction to the Internet

 

The study of Internet law is distinguishable from other areas of legal study for several reasons, not the least of which is the prominent role played by technology. Detailed analysis of Internet law issues, whether privacy, electronic commerce, or freedom of speech, frequently results in a debate of the merits of technological regulation versus traditional legal regulation. Accordingly, a key aspect to rulemaking online is an understanding of the technology that underlies the Internet. There are many instances of courts struggling with complex Internet cases due, in large measure, to their lack of understanding of the technology that underlies the issue. Without such an understanding, lawyers, regulators, and judges simply cannot be expected to prescribe realistic solutions to Internet problems or to identify instances where a hands-off approach is warranted.

That is not to say, however, that Internet law need be an arena only occupied by the technologically adept. In fact, quite the opposite is true. Unlike other technology law areas long dominated by lawyers with a technology or engineering background (such as patent law), Internet law demands the creativity and divergent perspectives that a multiplicity of backgrounds yields. This is particularly true given the breadth of topics covered in Internet law including aspects of property, contracts, torts, criminal, constitutional, intellectual property, and business law.

This chapter provides the building blocks for understanding the technology and the history behind the Internet. It begins with an excerpt from a recent article by the author that summarizes the historical development of the Internet.

The Reality of Bytes: Regulating Economic Activity in the Age of the Internet (Michael Geist - 73 Washington Law Review 521 (1998)) [citations omitted]

Frequently characterized as a network of networks, the Internet grew out of two concerns: the high cost of computing and the potential vulnerability of the U.S. communications network to nuclear attack. Founded in 1958 by President Eisenhower, the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) was created to consolidate some of the country's most advanced research. In the 1960s, the agency found that there was a significant shortage of costly computer equipment. In particular, researchers working on similar issues at different institutions were all requesting their own computers. Bob Taylor, director of ARPA's Information Processing Techniques Office (IPTO), noted the rising costs and wasted duplication and suggested developing electronic linkages between computers to enable researchers to pool their efforts and make more efficient use of precious computer resources. The ARPA cost concerns coincided with security concerns voiced at the RAND Corporation regarding the vulnerability of the national communications network. RAND researchers noted that the country's ability to launch a counterstrike against an attack depended upon the operational survival of the national long-distance networks.

The design of the initial network, dubbed ARPANET, reflected these joint concerns and helps explain the structure and limitations of today's Internet. The first distinguishing characteristic of ARPANET was the use of a distributed network. Responding to the need for a network that could withstand nuclear attack, the distributed network model avoided using a central command. The network consisted of numerous stand alone computers or nodes, each connected to a neighboring node, with the graphical appearance of a fish net or spider web. The distributed model ensured that a single message could take many different routes to get from point A to point B. If part of the network was incapacitated, a message could still travel through an alternate route.

The second distinguishing characteristic of the network was the use of fractured messages, later known as packet switching. Packet switching broke single messages into a series of smaller blocks or packets. When a message was sent, the computer created a series of packets, each containing a final address, which would be transported using different routes and then reassembled at their final destination. Along the way, each node would use packet switchers to direct the packet toward its destination, using whichever path was quickest based on current data traffic patterns. This approach added security to avoid interception of the entire message and allowed for network resources to be more efficiently allocated by maximizing use of the various routes.

In 1968, the consulting firm of Bolt Beranek and Newman (BBN) was commissioned to develop packet switchers called Interface Message Processors (IMPs). Within two years, ARPANET was a reality with IMPs installed at four institutions: UCLA, Stanford, UC Santa Barbara, and the University of Utah. The network grew at a pace of roughly one new node per month in the early 1970s with additional IMPs installed at institutions on both coasts including MIT, Harvard, and Carnegie Mellon.

The transformation of ARPANET into today's Internet began with the development of the Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) networking protocol in 1972. Prior to TCP/IP, networks such as ARPANET could only communicate internally. The TCP/IP protocol, universally adopted in enabled different networks to interchange data without making any internal changes to the network. The protocol used global addressing, which allowed computers to find network addresses by numeric address with no correlation to geographic location.

Foreshadowing the potential uses of the modern-day Internet, email and site information quickly became the network's most popular uses. In fact, a 1973 ARPA study found that three quarters of network traffic was email, a major surprise given the original purpose of resource sharing. An IPTO study later in the decade concluded:

The largest single surprise of the ARPANET program has been the incredible popularity and success of network mail. There is little doubt that the techniques of network mail developed in connection with the ARPANET program are going to sweep the country and drastically change the techniques used for intercommunication in the public and private sectors.

Early users of the network began to look for news and other information online. As early as 1973, the Stanford node was connected to the Associated Press newswire, which attracted visitors throughout the network. In response to the growing availability of resources, an industry publication, ARPANET News, began to include a "Featured Site" series in which system managers from host computers could describe what was available at their site.

The new network resembled today's Internet in certain respects, but network security was not one of them. In the early 1970s, a computer scientist at Stanford's Artificial Intelligence Lab created a "FINGER" command that allowed users to identify the last time another user had logged on to the network and whether the user had read his or her mail. When some users began to express privacy concerns, the command was altered to enable users to prevent others from using FINGER to access such information. Viewed through today's prism of widespread concern for online privacy, it is somewhat ironic that the creator of the altered command was strongly criticized as being "spineless" and "socially irresponsible" for limiting the network's openness.

The Internet might have remained the province of scientists and the academic community were it not for Tim Berners-Lee, a researcher at the CERN atomic research center in Switzerland. Weary of the trial and error process of finding information on the CERN network, in 1989, Berners-Lee proposed a series of software and network protocols that created the power to browse and navigate among documents by point-and-click commands of the mouse. The new protocol, called Hyper-Text Markup Language (HTML) used hyperlinks to enable users to click on highlighted text and immediately "jump" to a new document. By applying the hyperlinks protocol to the Internet, users could transparently jump between documents on the same computer or on a computer located at the other end of the world - hence the label,World Wide Web.

The final critical innovation in the Internet's growth came in 1993 with the development of advanced (for the time) Web browsing software. Although Web browsers, which enable computers to read HTML, began circulating around the Internet soon after the appearance of the World Wide Web, most were quite primitive and inaccessible to the average computer user. Marc Andreessen, a University of Illinois student, worked at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) to develop a browser with widespread appeal. The result was Mosaic, a browser far more stable and advanced than its predecessors, which allowed incorporation of images onto the Web (until that point the Web had been text only). Mosaic employed an intuitive graphical interface that allowed users to easily scroll up and down pages, return to previously viewed pages, and more easily jump between hyperlinks. Mosaic, available on the UNIX, Windows, and Macintosh operating systems within a year, quickly became the most commonly used Web browser, igniting interest in the Internet that continues to grow unabated.

The Internet has grown from the initial four host computers to nearly thirty million host computers in 240 countries and territories, with an annual growth rate of forty to fifty percent. In the United States alone, there are an estimated sixty-six million Internet users, fifty million of whom have used the World Wide Web. Although the Internet now supports audio, video, and software enhancements such as Java, the underlying structure remains relatively unchanged from its initial design as a communication and resource sharing tool for the scientific community.

This initial design, featuring an open, distributed network, packet switching, and a universal communications protocol, is responsible for both the power and limitations of the Internet. A regulatory structure designed to operate effectively in the virtual environment must take this design into account. Regulators constrained by current technologies should consider the Internet's gradual technological changes, including the development of HTML and the Web browser, and appreciate that today's Internet may not be tomorrow's Internet. As the founders of the Internet themselves admitted in a recent paper:

One should not conclude that the Internet has now finished changing. The Internet, although a network in name and geography, is a creature of the computer, not the traditional network of the telephone or television industry. It will, indeed it must, continue to change and evolve at the speed of the computer industry if it is to remain relevant.

NOTES:

  1. The historical development of the Internet is marked by open systems and the absence of centralized control. Do you think this characterization will remain valid in five years? Ten years? How will attempts to develop proprietary standards impact the Internet's development?
  2. Who will exert the greatest influence over the Internet's development? The technologists? Governments? Corporations? Individual Internet users? Might the answer not be a "who" but rather a "what", such as changes in social structure, or new technological developments?

As noted in the following study commissioned by Industry Canada, the Canadian Internet experience closely mirrors the American experience. In recent years, the Canadian Internet infrastructure has grown at an incredible rate with the expectation that the latest Internet backbone, CA*Net3, will provide Canadians with the fastest network in the world.

Regulation of the Internet: A Technological Perspective - Gerry Miller, Gerri Sinclair, David Sutherland & Julie Zilber (March 1999, commissioned by Industry Canada; available online at http://strategis.ic.gc.ca/SSG/it05082e.html)

THE CANADIAN EXPERIENCE (FROM R&D TO COMMERCIAL)

The history of the Canadian Internet closely parallels the American experience. In the 1970's, there were regional networks in a number of locations interconnecting Universities in the region.

These networks used proprietary communications protocols, and, typically, interconnected large mainframe computers. The main use was for transferring large files of information.

At the start of the 1980's, newer networking technologies started to appear. CDNnet, a research network founded to develop email standards was established and connected a number of Universities in the country. NETNORTH, the Canadian equivalent of BITNET in the US, was established with the help of funding from IBM Canada by the University community as a national network, and was connected to similar networks in other countries.

Email became a way of life for the academic community. Towards the end of that decade, the first TCP/IP networks were established in Canadian Universities in Ontario and British Columbia. These were connected directly to the US backbone with cross-border links, and part of the Canadian academic community became members of the burgeoning Internet community.

In 1989 the NETNORTH board of directors, made up of representatives from the Canadian University community, developed a strategic plan to carry NETNORTH forward and transform it to a TCP/IP technology. Funding was sought from the federal government and a $2,000,000 start-up grant was awarded by the National Research Council (NRC). In-kind contributions were also received from IBM Canada.

The NETNORTH community incorporated a not-for-profit organization to operate the network, called CA*Net Networking Inc. The board of directors was made up of one representative from each province in the country as well as representatives from the University of Toronto, the network operator and from NRC. Most of the board members were from the University community.

At the same time, regional academic networks were established in each province:

British Columbia: BCNet

Alberta: ARNet

Saskatchewan: SASKNet

Manitoba: MBNet

Ontario: Onet

Quebec: RISQ

New Brunswick: NBNet

Prince Edward Island: PEINet

Nova Scotia: NSTN

Newfoundland: NLNet

CA*Net interconnected these regional networks and provided three connections to the NSFNet in the US through Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal. The original connections were 56 Kbps, but the rapid growth of Internet traffic in 1990 and 1991 drove the need for increased network capacity.

In January of 1993, the federal government announced the formation of CANARIE, an organization created to stimulate industrial research and development on broadband network facilities and applications. One of its first initiatives was the upgrading of the CA*Net backbone to T1 speeds, or 1.54 Mbps. Similar upgrades were done in regional networks. At the same time, CANARIE funded the connection of Canada's north by funding links to regional networks in the Northwest Territories and the Yukon.

Internet growth in Canada paralleled the experience in other countries. It became exponential, and further upgrades were required to T3 speeds or 45 Mbps. In some cases multiple T3 connections were needed, particularly on the US links.

In 1995, the University of Toronto stopped operating the network, and, after a tender process, network operations were awarded to Bell Advanced Communications.

In 1996, it became evident to the CA*Net board of directors that the Canadian Internet had

evolved beyond its origins as an academic research and development network to a fast-growing commercial network. The board then decided the time had come to transition the Canadian Internet to a commercial one, and after another tender process Bell Canada was awarded the network. It now operates as a commercial Bell offering. In recognition of the work of the founding CA*Net community, CA*Net and Bell Canada created the CA*Net Institute, a funding organization dedicated to promoting the use of the Internet in the spirit of the original CA*net. This organization is in place and the first awards have been given to a wide variety of Internet-related projects.

At the present time, this backbone network is one of many in Canada. Companies such as Sprint, BCT.Telus, and MetroNet as well as Bell are installing and upgrading national Internet backbone networks, connecting to the global Internet through a number of locations. Speeds of these backbones are up to 655 Mbps, 12,000 times faster than the original CA*Net nine years ago.

Theoretical speeds using new broadband network technologies are up to 1.5 Tbps, another large increase. Since the unit cost of bandwidth becomes cheaper as overall network speeds increase, the availability of higher speeds encourages network growth and its use by a widening clientele in both the public and private sectors.

These networks are connected to the global Internet through cross-border connections to the US, Europe and Asia. As well, there are many private connections outside Canada for corporate Intranets. While the number of cross-border Internet connections is not easily determined, it is large and growing.

The volume of traffic on the Canadian Internet is growing at typical rates, doubling every 4-6 months. Since there are a number of national Internet backbones, and since such information is proprietary for competitive reasons, determining total traffic is difficult. However, it is certainly now in the hundreds of gigabits per second, and is rapidly approaching terabits per second. The other fundamental change in the Canadian Internet has been the shift from research traffic to commercial use. Just a few years ago, the majority of the traffic was for research and education purposes. Now, of course, the traffic is overwhelmingly commercial.

 

NOTES:

1. For a detailed look at the Internet's development, consider A Brief History of the Internet, an essay written by several of the Internet's founders. The essay can be found on the Internet Society's Web site at http://www.isoc.org/internet-history/brief.html.

 

ACLU v. Reno, the well-known challenge to the Communications Decency Act, marked the first time the U.S. Supreme Court faced the issue of Internet regulation. As the case wound its way through the U.S. court system, the district court provided a helpful review of Internet access and activities that provided both the litigants and the judiciary with the background necessary to effectively adjudicate the case.

 

AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION v. RENO, 929 F. Supp. 824 (E.D. Pa., 1996)

How Individuals Access the Internet

Individuals have a wide variety of avenues to access cyberspace in general, and the Internet in particular. In terms of physical access, there are two common methods to establish an actual link to the Internet. First, one can use a computer or computer terminal that is directly (and usually permanently) connected to a computer network that is itself directly or indirectly connected to the Internet. Second, one can use a "personal computer" with a "modem" to connect over a telephone line to a larger computer or computer network that is itself directly or indirectly connected to the Internet. As detailed below, both direct and modem connections are made available to people by a wide variety of academic, governmental, or commercial entities.

Students, faculty, researchers, and others affiliated with the vast majority of colleges and universities in the United States can access the Internet through their educational institutions. Such access is often via direct connection using computers located in campus libraries, offices, or computer centers, or may be through telephone access using a modem from a student's or professor's campus or off-campus location. Some colleges and universities install "ports" or outlets for direct network connections in each dormitory room or provide access via computers located in common areas in dormitories. Such access enables students and professors to use information and content provided by the college or university itself, and to use the vast amount of research resources and other information available on the Internet worldwide.

Similarly, Internet resources and access are sufficiently important to many corporations and other employers that those employers link their office computer networks to the Internet and provide employees with direct or modem access to the office network (and thus to the Internet). Such access might be used by, for example, a corporation involved in scientific or medical research or manufacturing to enable corporate employees to exchange information and ideas with academic researchers in their fields.

Those who lack access to the Internet through their schools or employers still have a variety of ways they can access the Internet. Many communities across the country have established "free-nets" or community networks to provide their citizens with a local link to the Internet (and to provide local-oriented content and discussion groups). The first such community network, the Cleveland Free-Net Community Computer System, was established in 1986, and free-nets now exist in scores of communities as diverse as Richmond, Virginia, Tallahassee, Florida, Seattle, Washington, and San Diego, California. Individuals typically can access free-nets at little or no cost via modem connection or by using computers available in community buildings. Free-nets are often operated by a local library, educational institution, or non profit community group.

Individuals can also access the Internet through many local libraries. Libraries often offer patrons use of computers that are linked to the Internet. In addition, some libraries offer telephone modem access to the libraries' computers, which are themselves connected to the Internet. Increasingly, patrons now use library services and resources without ever physically entering the library itself. Libraries typically provide such direct or modem access at no cost to the individual user.

Individuals can also access the Internet by patronizing an increasing number of storefront "computer coffee shops," where customers -- while they drink their coffee -- can use computers provided by the shop to access the Internet. Such Internet access is typically provided by the shop for a small hourly fee.

Individuals can also access the Internet through commercial and non-commercial "Internet service providers" that typically offer modem telephone access to a computer or computer network linked to the Internet. Many such providers -- including the members of plaintiff Commercial Internet Exchange Association -- are commercial entities offering Internet access for a monthly or hourly fee. Some Internet service providers, however, are non-profit organizations that offer free or very low cost access to the Internet. For example, the International Internet Association offers free modem access to the Internet upon request. Also, a number of trade or other non-profit associations offer Internet access as a service to members.

Another common way for individuals to access the Internet is through one of the major national commercial "online services" such as America Online, CompuServe, the Microsoft Network, or Prodigy. These online services offer nationwide computer networks (so that subscribers can dial-in to a local telephone number), and the services provide extensive and well organized content within their own proprietary computer networks. In addition to allowing access to the extensive content available within each online service, the services also allow subscribers to link to the much larger resources of the Internet. Full access to the online service (including access to the Internet) can be obtained for modest monthly or hourly fees. The major commercial online services have almost twelve million individual subscribers across the United States.

In addition to using the national commercial online services, individuals can also access the Internet using some (but not all) of the thousands of local dial-in computer services, often called "bulletin board systems" or "BBSs." With an investment of as little as $2,000.00 and the cost of a telephone line, individuals, non-profit organizations, advocacy groups, and businesses can offer their own dial-in computer "bulletin board" service where friends, members, subscribers, or customers can exchange ideas and information. BBSs range from single computers with only one telephone line into the computer (allowing only one user at a time), to single computers with many telephone lines into the computer (allowing multiple simultaneous users), to multiple linked computers each servicing multiple dial-in telephone lines (allowing multiple simultaneous users). Some (but not all) of these BBS systems offer direct or indirect links to the Internet. Some BBS systems charge users a nominal fee for access, while many others are free to the individual users.

Although commercial access to the Internet is growing rapidly, many users of the Internet -- such as college students and staff -- do not individually pay for access (except to the extent, for example, that the cost of computer services is a component of college tuition). These and other Internet users can access the Internet without paying for such access with a credit card or other form of payment.

Methods to Communicate Over the Internet

Once one has access to the Internet, there are a wide variety of different methods of communication and information exchange over the network. These many 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:

(1) one-to-one messaging (such as "e-mail"),

(2) one-to-many messaging (such as "listserv"),

(3) distributed message databases (such as "USENET newsgroups"),

(4) real time communication (such as "Internet Relay Chat"),

(5) real time remote computer utilization (such as "telnet"), and

(6) 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, visual images (i.e., pictures), and moving video images.

One-to-one messaging. One method of communication on the Internet is via electronic mail, or "e-mail," comparable in principle to sending a first class letter. One can address and transmit a message to one or more other people. E-mail on the Internet is not routed through a central control point, and can take many and varying paths to the recipients. Unlike postal mail, simple e-mail generally is not "sealed" or secure, and can be accessed or viewed on intermediate computers between the sender and recipient (unless the message is encrypted).

One-to-many messaging. The Internet also contains automatic mailing list services (such as "listservs"), [also referred to by witnesses as "mail exploders"] that allow communications about particular subjects of interest to a group of people. For example, people can subscribe to a "listserv" mailing list on a particular topic of interest to them. The subscriber can submit messages on the topic to the listserv that are forwarded (via e-mail), either automatically or through a human moderator overseeing the listserv, 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. Users of "open" listservs typically can add or remove their names from the mailing list automatically, with no direct human involvement. Listservs may also be "closed," i.e., only allowing for one's acceptance into the listserv by a human moderator.

Distributed message databases. Similar in function to listservs -- but quite different in how communications are transmitted -- are distributed message databases such as "USENET newsgroups." User-sponsored newsgroups are among the most popular and widespread applications of Internet services, and cover all imaginable topics of interest to users. 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. Some USENET newsgroups are "moderated" but most are open access. For the moderated newsgroups, all messages to the newsgroup are forwarded to one person who can screen them for relevance to the topics under discussion. USENET newsgroups are disseminated using ad hoc, peer to peer connections between approximately 200,000 computers (called USENET "servers") around the world. For unmoderated newsgroups, when an individual user with access to a USENET server posts a message to a newsgroup, the message is automatically forwarded to all adjacent USENET servers that furnish access to the newsgroup, and it is then propagated to the servers adjacent to those servers, etc. The messages are temporarily stored on each receiving server, where they are available for review and response by individual users. The messages are automatically and periodically purged from each system after a time to make room for new messages. Responses to messages, like the original messages, are automatically distributed to all other computers receiving the newsgroup or forwarded to a moderator in the case of a moderated newsgroup. The dissemination of messages to USENET servers around the world is an automated process that does not require direct human intervention or review.

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. Once the messages reach the approximately 190,000 receiving computers or computer networks, they are available to individual users of those computers or computer networks. Collectively, almost 100,000 new messages (or "articles") are posted to newsgroups each day.

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 people on the Internet. In its simplest forms, "talk" allows one-to-one communications and "Internet Relay Chat" (or IRC) allows two or more to type messages to each other that almost immediately appear on the others' computer screens. IRC is analogous to a telephone party line, using a computer and keyboard rather than a telephone. With IRC, however, at any one time there are thousands of different party lines available, in which collectively tens of thousands of users are engaging in conversations on a huge range of subjects. Moreover, one can create a new party line to discuss a different topic at any time. Some IRC conversations are "moderated" or include "channel operators."

In addition, commercial online services such as America Online, CompuServe, the Microsoft Network, and Prodigy have their own "chat" systems allowing their members to converse.

Real time remote computer utilization. Another method to use information on the Internet is to access and control remote computers in "real time" using "telnet." For example, using telnet, a researcher at a university would be able to use 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.

Remote information retrieval. The final major category of communication may be the most well known use of the Internet -- the search for and retrieval of information located on remote computers. There are three primary 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.

The World Wide Web

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, sound, animation and moving video. 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, one 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 people to locate and efficiently view related information even if the information is stored on numerous computers all around the world.

Purpose. The World Wide Web (W3C) was created to serve as the platform for a global, online store of knowledge, containing information from a diversity of sources and accessible to Internet users around the world. Though information on the Web is contained in individual computers, the fact that each of these computers is connected to the Internet through W3C protocols allows all of the information to become part of a single body of knowledge. It is currently the most advanced information system developed on the Internet, and embraces within its data model most information in previous networked information systems such as ftp, gopher, wais, and Usenet.

History. W3C was originally developed at CERN, the European Particle Physics Laboratory, and was initially used to allow information sharing within internationally dispersed teams of researchers and engineers. Originally aimed at the High Energy Physics community, it has spread to other areas and attracted much interest in user support, resource recovery, and many other areas which depend on collaborative and information sharing. The Web has extended beyond the scientific and academic community to include communications by individuals, non-profit organizations, and businesses.

Basic Operation. The World Wide Web is a series of documents stored in different computers all over the Internet. Documents contain information stored in a variety of formats, including text, still images, sounds, and video. An essential element of the Web is that any document has an address (rather like a telephone number). Most Web documents contain "links." These are short sections of text or image which refer to another document. Typically the linked text is blue or underlined when displayed, and when selected by the user, the referenced document is automatically displayed, wherever in the world it actually is stored. Links for example are used to lead from overview documents to more detailed documents, from tables of contents to particular pages, but also as cross-references, footnotes, and new forms of information structure.

Many organizations now have "home pages" on the Web. These are documents which provide a set of links designed to represent the organization, and through links from the home page, guide the user directly or indirectly to information about or relevant to that organization.

As an example of the use of links, if these Findings were to be put on a World Wide Web site, its home page might contain links such as those:

THE NATURE OF CYBERSPACE

CREATION OF THE INTERNET AND THE DEVELOPMENT OF CYBERSPACE

HOW PEOPLE ACCESS THE INTERNET

METHODS TO COMMUNICATE OVER THE INTERNET

Each of these links takes the user of the site from the beginning of the Findings to the appropriate section within this Adjudication. Links may also take the user from the original Web site to another Web site on another computer connected to the Internet. These links from one computer to another, from one document to another across the Internet, are what unify the Web into a single body of knowledge, and what makes the Web unique. The Web was designed with a maximum target time to follow a link of one tenth of a second.

Publishing. The World Wide Web exists fundamentally as a platform through which people and organizations can communicate through shared information. When information is made available, it is said to be "published" on the Web. Publishing on the Web simply requires that the "publisher" has a computer connected to the Internet and that the computer is running W3C server software. The computer can be as simple as a small personal computer costing less than $1500 dollars or as complex as a multi-million dollar mainframe computer. Many Web publishers choose instead to lease disk storage space from someone else who has the necessary computer facilities, eliminating the need for actually owning any equipment oneself.

The Web, as a universe of network accessible information, contains a variety of documents prepared with quite varying degrees of care, from the hastily typed idea, to the professionally executed corporate profile. The power of the Web stems from the ability of a link to point to any document, regardless of its status or physical location.

Information to be published on the Web must also be formatted according to the rules of the Web standards. These standardized formats assure that all Web users who want to read the material will be able to view it. Web standards are sophisticated and flexible enough that they have grown to meet the publishing needs of many large corporations, banks, brokerage houses, newspapers and magazines which now publish "online" editions of their material, as well as government agencies, and even courts, which use the Web to disseminate information to the public. At the same time, Web publishing is simple enough that thousands of individual users and small community organizations are using the Web to publish their own personal "home pages," the equivalent of individualized newsletters about that person or organization, which are available to everyone on the Web.

Web publishers have a choice to make their Web sites open to the general pool of all Internet users, or close them, thus making the information accessible only to those with advance authorization. Many publishers choose to keep their sites open to all in order to give their information the widest potential audience. In the event that the publishers choose to maintain restrictions on access, this may be accomplished by assigning specific user names and passwords as a prerequisite to access to the site. Or, in the case of Web sites maintained for internal use of one organization, access will only be allowed from other computers within that organization's local network.

Searching the Web. A variety of systems have developed that allow users of the Web to search particular information among all of the public sites that are part of the Web. Services such as Yahoo, Magellan, Altavista, Webcrawler, and Lycos are all services known as "search engines" which allow users to search for Web sites that contain certain categories of information, or to search for key words. For example, a Web user looking for the text of Supreme Court opinions would type the words "Supreme Court" into a search engine, and then be presented with a list of World Wide Web sites that contain Supreme Court information. This list would actually be a series of links to those sites. Having searched out a number of sites that might contain the desired information, the user would then follow individual links, browsing through the information on each site, until the desired material is found. For many content providers on the Web, the ability to be found by these search engines is very important.

Common standards. The Web links together disparate information on an ever-growing number of Internet-linked computers by setting common information storage formats (HTML) and a common language for the exchange of Web documents (HTTP). Although the information itself may be in many different formats, and stored on computers which are not otherwise compatible, the basic Web standards provide a basic set of standards which allow communication and exchange of information. Despite the fact that many types of computers are used on the Web, and the fact that many of these machines are otherwise incompatible, those who "publish" information on the Web are able to communicate with those who seek to access information with little difficulty because of these basic technical standards.

A distributed system with no centralized control. Running on tens of thousands of individual computers on the Internet, the Web is what is known as a distributed system. The Web was designed so that organizations with computers containing information can become part of the Web simply by attaching their computers to the Internet and running appropriate World Wide Web software. No single organization controls any membership in the Web, nor is there any single centralized point from which individual Web sites or services can be blocked from the Web. From a user's perspective, it may appear to be a single, integrated system, but in reality it has no centralized control point.

Contrast to closed databases. The Web's open, distributed, decentralized nature stands in sharp contrast to most information systems that have come before it. Private information services such as Westlaw, Lexis/Nexis, and Dialog, have contained large storehouses of knowledge, and can be accessed from the Internet with the appropriate passwords and access software. However, these databases are not linked together into a single whole, as is the World Wide Web.

Success of the Web in research, education, and political activities. The World Wide Web has become so popular because of its open, distributed, and easy-to-use nature. Rather than requiring those who seek information to purchase new software or hardware, and to learn a new kind of system for each new database of information they seek to access, the Web environment makes it easy for users to jump from one set of information to another. By the same token, the open nature of the Web makes it easy for publishers to reach their intended audiences without having to know in advance what kind of computer each potential reader has, and what kind of software they will be using.

NOTES:

  1. Consider that this judgment is now over three years old. How much has the Internet changed during the course of those three years?
  2. When this judgement was written, most judgments and articles written about the Internet began with an introduction to the Internet (much like this book). Is this still necessary? Has the Internet become sufficiently integrated into our everyday routine such that we should be able to assume ready knowledge of the Internet?