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*originally published in 1998 – now a relic to be read with a degree of nostalgia

This article was published “way back in the day”. The information is obviously dated but we have left it on the site to remind us where we were a scant few years ago. Email was just starting to take off, notebooks were expensive and bulky and the “cloud” was a welcome reprieve on a sunny day. Many of us remember life as being less hectic. We are not sure it was, but the memories are sweet.

Hype about the Internet is everywhere. It seems that every newspaper and magazine (not to mention the odd newsletter) has an article pushing some aspect of this new and ever expanding resource. There is no question that the Internet is reshaping the way we communicate with each other and the way we provide services. The hype is compelling but the question still remains, is the Internet a useful resource for the day-to-day operations of not-for-profit organizations or is it a technology still looking for a purpose in this sector? In this article we will take a brief look at the following:

  • Some of the features of the Internet that could help you deliver service and could be useful in the running of your operation
  • A basic guide on how to connect to and use the Internet
  • Some points to consider when deciding if your organization should set up a website

The first three sections of this article are meant to cover the basics and are intended for those with less than a complete understanding of the way the Internet works. We hope to strip away some of the mystery of the technology.

Making Use Of The Internet
What is the Internet?
The Internet is essentially a world-wide network of thousands of computers. The blanket term “the Internet” encompasses the world wide web, email, newsgroups, gopherspace, etc.
Useful Internet Features For Your Organization
There are four main areas where the Internet could be of future, if not immediate, use to your organization.

    1. Bringing Resources To Your Door
    The Internet is akin to an international, searchable library database. There is much useful and, regretfully, much useless information available online. Not-for-profit organizations can use the Internet to find information on many issues including boards of directors, volunteer development, fundraising, tax and statutory obligations to name just a few. Childcare centres will find that programming information is available through websites and listservs (see the glossary of Internet terms).
    2. Providing Educational Material To Your Public
    There are many educational and other sites providing online instructional programs and games, often without charge. There are sites designed for instructing adults as well as sites for children. In an appropriately supervised childcare setting, children could learn to use the computer while at the same time learning other skills and gaining knowledge.
    3. Using The Internet For Communications
    Email addresses are becoming as common as phone and fax numbers. Communicating electronically, by email or through listservs and/or newsgroups, is a fast way to keep in touch with colleagues. E-mail can also provide an affordable means to communicate with people who have similar interests in a particular field, whether they are part of a local or a global community of specialists.
    4. Marketing your organization’s services
    The media and technology companies have been spinning the web into a sure-thing fortune maker. The truth is many companies and organizations are losing their shirts online. The need to stay current and to look good online can lead organizations to put more resources into their websites than they would normally dedicate to marketing and more than they can afford.

That said, the Internet can provide a great venue for displaying your services and/or wares and information about your organization’s philosophy, location, staff, board of directors, etc. As with any marketing plan, the key to success online is focussing on the needs of your audience and the goals and abilities of your organization.

How to Connect to and Use the Internet
Overcoming Barriers
The Internet is still a relatively new technology and starting to use it can be daunting. While you must acquire some new skills at first, you can use email, surf the web and participate in listservs/newsgroups with only a basic understanding of a few simple concepts.

A trip to a cybercafe or anywhere else that you can test the Internet should be enough to dispel technophobia. Surfing is easy. Surfing efficiently is what takes practice. The incredible volume of information available online is intimidating and sifting through the clutter to what you need can be difficult.

The glossary of terms included with this issue will help you understand the terminology. You don’t need most of the definitions to be able to get online. Knowledge will just increase your efficiency and perhaps your enjoyment.

Cost is often a significant factor, especially if you do not have access to a computer to start with. If your organization does have a computer then getting online need not be expensive. The cost of access has come down substantially in the past few years. Organizations can shop around for an Internet Service Provider (“ISP”) with an account that fits their budget and provides adequate time online. If you do not have access to a computer, consider teaming up with another organization that does to keep costs down.

Connecting To The Internet
Following is a brief guide on how to get started. If you are already online, skip to the next section.

In order to access the Internet you need to connect to it. You have to buy Internet time from an ISP. Think of it like buying basic phone service where the charge is based on time connected. Most ISPs sell Internet access with a charge calculated on an hours-per-month basis. If you exceed that time you are charged by the minute. Your ISP will also provide you with basic software to get started on the Internet. The package usually includes:

  • a dialer to access the Internet
  • a browser to access the web
  • an email reader to communicate
  • programs such as Gopher, Veronica, and WS-FTP to access other parts of the Internet

Using a dialer, either one provided by your ISP or one that is part of your computer’s operating system, your modem dials the phone number of your ISP and connects to their server. Once connected you can write and retrieve email, browse the web and download files at will.

Cruising on the Web
Cruising on the web is similar to taking a car trip. For your web trip you use the browser (steering wheel) to drive your computer (car) using your modem (gas). The web is the road on which you travel. Search engines are the maps that guide you past many URLs (towns and attractions) to the website of your choice (destination).

Searching
The ability to search for information makes the web a useful resource. There are a number of search engines to guide your travels. Search engines have large indexes of websites that are constantly updated. Many of them have also become “portals” or “hubs” so that they can organize search results by topic. Some of the more popular are: AltaVista; Excite; Infoseek; Lycos; Yahoo! Most browsers have a “Search” button that will lead you to one or more search engines. The good news is that use of search engines is free. Their services are paid for by advertisers.

In the early days of the web searches were relatively simple because there wasn’t much out there. Now it takes a bit more sophistication and creativity to find useful information. Search results often include sites that are completely irrelevant to your search, especially if your subject is a popular one or the search word has a broad meaning. As a result, it is worth your while to search using a string of words rather than just a single word. If you have trouble getting what you want, read the help or search tips that come with the search engine that you are using.

Any document on the web may change without warning. Location, design, and worthiness of web pages are all dependent on the abilities, motivations and availability of the people preparing and maintaining the sites. Beware of old dates that can signal out-dated information.

Authors of web pages will usually give you some notice of a migrating page’s change of address. If you miss that notice, a search engine can usually help you to find the new address.

The On-line Community
The Internet is, in part, a big information bulletin board “in the sky”. The number of contributing computers and the large and varied offering of anonymous contacts on the Internet has spawned the growth of so-called virtual communities. Many of these communities have rules of conduct, either implicit or inferred, for their so-called “netizens”. Unlike most other aspects of society the web is ruled by anarchy; it has no centralized control. This anarchy is seen by many as the most precious trait of the online community. Instead of centralized control, users and programmers agree on rules to allow for an orderly exchange of information.

In a system where there is no real watch-dog security is a concern and this is getting a lot of media attention these days. How confidential are email addresses? Very, until someone decides to look yours up. There are programs, called cookies, that copy information to your hard disk so that a particular website can identify you the next time you visit. Sites can also be programmed to generate junk email (called “SPAM”) to addresses of recent visitors. You can, however, block access so that cookies cannot run and so that you will not receive unwanted mail.
In short, security concerns on the web are similar to security concerns in your off-line life in areas such as your phone, mail and banking systems.

Putting Information on the Web
To add information to the Web, you need space on a server. Most ISPs include as part of your monthly/annual contract a modest amount of space on their server for hosting your website. The ISPs generally limit the amount of server space your site can take up and how much traffic it can see (measured in number of “hits”).

If you use this “free” space to host your site, rather than registering your own domain name and paying for website hosting services, your site’s address (its “URL”) will be the URL of the host server followed by an extension referring to your organization. For instance, if we had not registered the domain name www.187gerrard.com we would have an URL that looks something like www.web.net\~cm\index.html – where www.web.net is the URL of our host server, Web Networks. The tilde (“~”) is the web standard for adding a secondary site to a primary address. The “cm” would represent our firm name of Cowperthwaite Mehta and “index.html” is the file name of our home page.

Marketing Online
Before deciding to market your organization’s services and publish information on the web your Board should carefully consider the following questions:

  • who do you want to reach? Are members of that community and your intended audience online? If so, what technology are they likely to have access to?
  • Will your website primarily function as an online brochure or as an information resource?
  • Do you have a newsletter or other documents that could be featured on your site?

What Makes a Good Site?
In our view good sites are simple sites. Surfers have too much information at their disposal to bother with a cluttered site. Think of the ideal website as a well organized home. In a home you enter the front door and are in a hallway that leads to other rooms. Your website should be organized to have a home page that acts as both the front door (friendly) and the hallway (useful). If your homepage is too long (i.e. a visitor has to scroll down through screen after screen) you will loose many of your readers. Pages following the home page can be longer (i.e. have more screens) to accommodate more information. A visitor should never feel like they are lost in the labyrinth of your site. To avoid this, each page should have a clear route back to the homepage and to all the other main pages of your site.

Good graphics can play an important role in making websites look appealing and feel friendly. Having said that, many sites are so heavy with graphics that they take a long time to load and lose the interest of the visitor. You generally want visitors to come for your information, not for web wizardry.

Possible Content For Your Site
Consider presenting the following information on your site:

  • your philosophy or mission statement
  • services and programs provided
  • your location and hours of operation
  • who to contact for information
  • fees and subsidies, if applicable
  • a profile of your board of directors and information on how to volunteer
  • your legal status (e.g. a registered charity and a not-for-profit corporation)

We suggest that you discuss the idea of a website for your organization at a board meeting sometime this year. If your organization decides that there is insufficient value to be gained from hosting a site now, or if you have insufficient resources to produce one, then you can always postpone it to a later date.

Your organization will naturally be concerned with the cost of getting online. While it can cost a small fortune, it doesn’t have to. There are relatively inexpensive ways to make a web presence. You may, in fact, discover that someone on your board or a member of the staff has the knowledge and resources to get a site up and running. If not, we would be pleased to speak with you about other inexpensive ways for your organization to get online.

GLOSSARY OF TERMS

Archie
is software that allows you to search through files much like you would have used a card catalogue in a library. Given a keyword, filename, part of a filename, or a regular expression, it searches an index of registered Internet archives. It then provides pathway information to the computers that have the file(s) for which you have asked.

Bookmarks
are used for jumping to a specific location that you have previously visited and have marked for easy return visits.

Browser
is the program (e.g. Netscape or Internet Explorer) on your computer that allows you to view web pages. Browsers are included with Windows 95/98/NT and with all packages from Internet Service Providers.

Dialer
is a program (such as Trumpet Winsock) that uses your modem to dial another computer. Dial-Up Networking is a dialer that is built into Windows 95/98/NT.

DNS
Domain Name System is the Internet’s naming system consisting of a sequence of names from the most specific to the most general, separated by dots (for example: 187gerrard.com – where “187gerrard” is the specific address and “com” stands for commercial).

Downloading
The electronic transfer of information from one computer to another, generally from a larger computer system to a smaller one (e.g. from the Internet to a business or home computer).

Email
Electronically distributed mail.

FTP
File Transfer Protocol is the standard Internet code used for copying files between computers. Much information is available to the general public from public FTP sites (called anonymous FTP).

Gopher
is a similar system to the Web but it is not as powerful principally because it does not use hypertext (see below). Gopherspace is a term used to describe the aggregate of all the information on the thousands of Gopher servers in the world.

Helper Applications and Plug-ins
are programs the browser calls upon to display content that it cannot handle internally. Some of these programs come with your browser while others can be downloaded from websites for free. Plug-ins are applications that run within the browser whereas helper applications run outside the browser. The server tells the browser what media type the content is (e.g. audio, video) and then the browser determines if this is a type that it can understand. If it can then the object is displayed. If not then the browser requests that you specify what it should do with the object (e.g. save it).

HTML
HyperText Mark-up Language is the language used to program websites.

Hypertext
is text that has been linked to another location on the Internet. By selecting this “sensitive” text (often underlined as in www.187gerrard.com) you are requesting to open the document to which the text refers. When you click on or select hypertext you are transported directly to the page of the linked site.

IP
Internet Protocol is the standard format for electronic information exchange agreed to by users and programmers. IP provides common rules that allow various networks to share information efficiently.

IP Address
is the numeric address of a computer connected to the Internet. It is also called Internet address.

ISP
Internet Service Providers are businesses providing access to the Internet and space on their server to host websites, etc.

Jughead
Jonzy’s Universal Gopher Hierarchy Excavation and Display (we aren’t kidding!) is software that performs keyword searches of all items with a match on selected Gopher sites. Veronica is a similar but more powerful search tool for gopherspace.

Listserv Lists
Listservers are electronic discussion groups conducted by email. Participants subscribe via a central service that is controlled by a moderator who manages the information flow and content.

Portal (or hub)
is a site that used as a gateway to the web. They usually include a directory of websites, a search engine, news, weather and other information. Search engines are increasingly becoming portals as well as indexes of sites. Some leading portals include Yahoo, Excite, Netscape, Lycos, and Microsoft Network. Many larger ISPs also offer portals to the Web for their users.

Search engines
provide indexed lists of site addresses in response to queries by subject or keyword. Search engines have addresses and are reached through browsers as you would any other website. Search engines are to the web as yellow pages are to the phone system.

TCP/IP
Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol is a combined set of protocols that transfers data between computers. TCP monitors and ensures correct transfer of data. IP receives the data from TCP, breaks it down into smaller parts and transfers it within the Internet.

URL
Uniform Resource Locators are like directions to a website. An URL looks like http://www.187gerrard.com/about us.htm and consists of three parts: the method of retrieving the document (http), a machine or server name (www.187gerrard.com) and a pathname (/about us.html). The URL format is an Internet standard.

Veronica
The full-text search engine software for searching in Gopherspace.

WS-FTP
is the most common file transfer protocol software used for transferring files from a remote machine to your own or vice versa.

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