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How I use the Internet?

By Dr. Raj Mehta

(Note: This paper is going to be presented at TWIN(Technical Writers of India) annual meeting to be help on Oct.2, 1998 in Pune. The paper will be read in absentia by Mr. Guru Kamath, one organizers of TWIN)

I have been an Internet user since 1988. At that time, it was mostly exciting to communicate with people on the far corners of the globe very quickly and cheaply and occasionally. In the last few years, specifically since 1993, the Internet has exploded in its potential use and has become a tool to be used by every one. This has happened primarily because the Web has got a graphical interface and Internet has moved from governmental control to private hands. This has allowed commercial activities to take place. You all are probably aware of these developments.

Each day, the use of Internet is growing by leaps and bounds. It is rather hard to prevent its incursion in one’s daily life Through this exposition, I hope that you get a glimpse of what may be over the horizon, as Internet is going to be an essential part of our day to day living whether we like it or not.

Following are the different ways I use Internet in my daily life:

  • Email
  • Read the rapidly changing news and tracking a story
  • Finding people and businesses.
  • Finding and buying products
  • Banking and Trading stocks
  • Searching for Information
  • Use of Web as an extension of your hard disk
  • Using Internet to collaborate on a project
  • Video conferencing over the Net
  • Working on my computer in Bombay from US.

Email

You all are very familiar with this use of Internet. It is the most dominant use of Internet and has proliferated to a large number of people. It is estimated that there are 50 million email users. The reason I bring this up is very few people use email effectively. I receive about 50 messages a day from users of VSNL due to the Guide and the website that I maintain. I reply to all of them. In the process I have discovered a few ways to effectively use email:

  • Always use the Subject field to summarize what your email is about. It helps when archiving the mail.
  • When sending mail always convey two or at the most three points in an email. If necessary number them.
  • When replying to a message—always quote the point you are replying to so the person reading it knows the context.
  • Be as brief, concise and to the point as possible.
  • Be prompt in replying to the email so that the continuity is maintained on both the sides.
  • Follow the nettiquette of not using capital letters to write a message. It is equivalent to shouting.
  • Use emoticons to express yourself better ;-).
  • Avoid using formatted mail e.g. by using Outlook Express. Lot of people still uses email software, which read only plain ASCII texts.
  • Most email software permit the use of filters. These allow you to separate your mail automatically by the criteria you may have specified. In my case e.g. the mail from Mr. Guru Kamath goes directly to his folder (mailbox). One can segregate the mail topic-wise too e.g. personal, official, leisure, mailing lists etc. These programs allow great deal of flexibility in organizing your email messages.

These may seem trivial points but I have found that these simple rules make communication very effective.

Reading the rapidly changing news and tracking a story

Every morning, as I have my first cup of tea, I log on to the Net and read my mail. Then I immediately fire up the browser and log on to news sites. Here are some that I scan every day:

First, tech news:
http://www.sjmercury.com/gmsv/gmsv_first.htm
(Text only good morning silicon valley)
http://www.sjmercury.com/resources/map/map_gmsv.shtml
(Main good morning Silicon Valley page, graphical)

Breaking Tech news:
http://spyglass1.sjmercury.com/business/tech/

Then, national news:
http://www.sjmercury.com/resources/map/map_nation.shtml

Morning news, including INTERnews (including links to stuff not their own)
http://www.sjmercury.com/gmsv/gmsv_morning.htm

Breaking News (non-computer)
http://spyglass1.sjmercury.com/breaking/

Finally, international news:
http://www.sjmercury.com/resources/map/map_world.shtml

Another good one for technical news is:
http://www.news.com

Then of course I turn to general news:

The main sites are:
http://www.cnn.com
http://www.msnbc.com
http://www.abc.com

Then to news from India:
http://www.samachar.com

Of course from there I can log on to the news stories to Times of India, Indian Express, Hindu etc. at just a click of the mouse. Of course I follow the links in the stories which appeal to me on a given day.

Today, Sept. 21 is a historical day. As I write, this President Clinton’s story is breaking. Whilst writing this, in one browser window, I am following these developments with many audio and video clips without interrupting this work.

The point I want to make to you is that Internet news has obviated the traditional newspapers and magazines. Yes, if you are interested in details, in depth, you may get them at the local library. But for a person like me, who is not a news hound, it fits the bill. Of course, I have the option of subscribing to customized newspaper from any of the news sites, but I don’t.

Finding people and businesses via Web

There was time in US, not too long ago, when to find people or any business; I would call the telephone operator. Now if you do that it would cost you about $1.40 per call to the information operator. Instead of calling the telephone operator—I just log on to the web and go to one of the search sites:

http://www.switchboard.com
http://www.four11.com
http://www.yellowpages.com

Of course there are many more such search sites. The main advantage is that one can experiment with different search criteria and somehow find the person. People with whom I have lost touch for more than 20 years; I have been able to locate them within minutes.

Finding products and buying products via Web

E-commerce is here. The laptop on which I am writing this article was bought over the Web from Dell Computer Corporation, after doing lot of research on the Internet. Presently, I am searching for a good PDA or PIM (Personal Digital Assistant or Personal Information Manager) using the Net. A site, which I check frequently, is:

http://www.computers.com

There I find reviews of different current products and their prices. They also give addresses of the sites where these products are sold online. One can buy these products using credit card.

We, in India will have to wait till such a mode of purchase becomes possible. What makes this possible in US is the use of credit cards to purchase the goods. Also, there is some guarantee by the system that if there is misuse of the card by the business they will honor your claim. Our legal system is too slow to redress a person for their loss.

Banking & trading stocks on the Web

In US, many banks have gone online. It is one of the best things that has happened. In Bombay ICICI and IndusInd banks are online. The main difference between the Indian banks and US banks is that in USA one can carry out transactions over the Web. I can transfer funds from one account to the other. Best of all, I can write checks to pay my bills. Of course, if I need cash all I have to do is to go to the nearest subscribing ATM machine and withdraw cash. I can always check all the account history to track my banking transactions. I am, right now on the East Coast of US and my bank is in California and with this facility I don’t feel the need to go to the bank physically. Fairly soon, one will be able to apply for loans over the Internet.

Trading stocks is fast becoming common here. The main advantage is that you can instantly buy or sell your stocks online with very low cost of trade. The

www.e-trade.com

is the fastest growing company in the US that offers this facility. Of course you have to have courage to do this fast buy and sell. Someone I know is making about 25-30% return as compared to bank interest of about 5% of yearly return.

Searching for Information on the Web

This is one of the most important skills to develop. The Web is a massive storehouse of information. There are millions of websites on the Internet. They contain a lot of information. Everybody wants to tap into this resource. Great! But how can one do that? We use Search Engines. Basically there are two common ways to search the information using the present search engines: Boolean Search and Phrase Search.

The details of how to do the searches using these two methods is the subject of another talk which is being presented at this meeting. Refer to Searching the Web Using Search Engines.

Use of Web as a Reference Library

Most probably, all of you use Internet to retrieve the information. This is probably not unusual. I use the Web (and Internet) as an extension of my hard disk for reference work. As I write this paper I am picking up information e.g. the URLs of the sites from the Web by going to the site. Usually, one or two browser windows are open for reference purposes. Specifically, when I am writing about the Internet, I find all the reference material on the Web in one form or the other. I cut and paste this information in a document, which I review later and then, use it to write about that topic. This is the fastest way to find information and make a coherent document. VSNL’s users guide and the Guide website were created in this fashion.

Using Internet to Collaborate on a Project

The idea of collaborating on a project without having the physical proximity is no longer a novel idea with the help of this new technology.

Before, I get into describing the new paradigm I would like to mention software called ICQ, which you can download from the Web:

http://www.icq.com

It affords many tasks. As soon as you get online, it informs you immediately, if a given person on your contact list is on the Net too. It permits you to get into the keyboard chat with several people at the same time. You can transfer files directly to a given person; pass on an URL which you may be viewing etc. You can pass on instant short messages to people who are online. You can imagine the power it puts in your hands when you are connected to the Net.

I use icq for collaborative website development. Peter (a person I work with who is in Philadelphia) and myself, simultaneously log on to the icq chat so that we can view, discuss and make necessary modifications to webpages and develop websites. To view it simultaneously, we have to post the webpage on a webserver, which we both are viewing through a browser. This is how The Guide website and all the other websites I have designed so far have been developed. This mode of collaborating does not require you to be in physical proximity of the person with whom you are working.

Video Conferencing over the Internet

This is one area, which is still in a state of infancy. Basically using Internet Telephony software e.g. NetMeeting or Internet Phone you can not only talk to the person but if you have a video camera, you can even see the person. I use this facility frequently. The quality is not that good but it is still effective.

Whilst being on the video conference, it is also possible to go on viewing, discussing and making changes to a document (e.g. MS Word or MS Excel) you are working on, from either side.

Working on my computer in Bombay from US

This is one application, which very few people are acquainted with. One can use a computer connected to the Internet at an entirely different location. The software, which permits this, is available for download from the following site:

http://www.orl.co.uk/vnc/

The software has to be installed on both the computers. When you are on the Internet you can connect to the other computer via this software and use it as if you are physically using that computer. However, there is, at present, some limitation to this facility—because of the speed at which the data is transferred is very slow. But anyhow, one can still work effectively, though slowly.

Only last week, using VNC, I transferred some files form my PC in Bombay to the laptop in US. It is amazing the way this works.

Conclusion

Like computers, Internet is slated to become an indispensable part of our life. Without realizing, I have now, come to depend on it like one depends on a telephone. What I have enumerated above is how I use it daily. But that is only a very miniscule way to use it. There are probably more ways to harness its power. But in all this, one should remember this is only the beginning.

Personally, use of Internet has enriched my life in a very significant way. It has reduced the world to a global village. I am now in touch with lot of my kith and kin on a daily basis, which was not possible earlier. I have forged many a friendships and relationships online. It never ceases to amaze me that the online friendships in cyberspace, with people one never sees face-to-face or ever hopes to meet in person, can make as much of a contribution to one's life and work as our traditional relationships in the 4-space. Even this endeavor of presenting this paper came about on the Net. I communicate, work, create, and do my chores etc. via this medium. This is the only medium which has afforded me the luxury to be able to do my work and chores from anywhere in the world as long as I have the Internet connectivity.


Copyright 1996, 1997, 1998 Dr. Raj Mehta. All rights reserved.