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By Faithe Wempen

The “Internet,” “links,” the “web,” the “cloud” . . . people and the media bounce around many online-related terms these days, and folks sometimes use them incorrectly. Your first step in getting familiar with the Internet is to understand what some of these terms mean.

The Internet is a large network of computers that contain information and technology tools that anybody with an Internet connection can access. The Internet is the “big tent” under which all the individual technologies reside.

One of the main features of the Internet is the World Wide Web (or web for short), a huge collection of documents with links to one another. An individual document is a web page. A related group of web pages published by the same person or company is a website.

To get around on the web, you use an application called a browser. Browsers offer tools to help you navigate from website to website and from one web page to another.

Websites have many purposes: For example, a website can be informational, function as a retail store, or host social networking communities where people can exchange ideas and thoughts. When you conduct business online, such as buying or selling items, it’s known as e-commerce.

E-commerce includes business-to-business transactions such as banks exchanging data with one another, business-to-consumer transactions like a person buying something at an online store, and consumer-to-consumer transactions like an individual selling an item on an online auction site or creating a classified ad.

A cloud is a password-protected area of the web in which registered users can safely store and retrieve files, run applications, and look up information that may not be available to the public.

For example, Microsoft’s OneDrive service, which is free to anyone who signs up for a Microsoft account, offers free, secure online file storage, as well as access to web-based versions of popular Microsoft applications such as Microsoft Word, Excel, and Outlook. Clouds are becoming more and more popular these days.

An intranet is an information storage and retrieval system that works on the same technologies as the Internet does, but is private inside a certain company. Employees can access private company information on the company’s own servers using the familiar interface of a web browser.

Besides the web, the Internet also enables several other types of online activity. For example, you can send and receive email, participate in video conferencing, and exchange instant text messages with others.

The figure shows the relationships between some of the terms you just learned, so you can keep them straight in your mind.

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Notice that technologies like email and instant messaging overlap somewhat with the web. That’s because they are essentially separate from the web technologically, but there are optional web interfaces available for them that make them seem like part of the web.