Guest Blogger Ralph Pombo Answers: What is the internet? Why do you care about it? How to use the internet to your business advantage?
Many people and business owners are in the dark about the internet and how it works. They shy away from using the internet for business or pleasure due to the fears of the unknown. In this series of articles, I would like to cover the basics of the internet and why it is good for you and your business to have an active presence there. I plan to start with the simplest of explanations. My hope is to clarify the subject of the internet enough to calm any fears and questions that you may have. This is not a step by step tutorial on how to use the internet to promote your business. This is only a simplified explanation that will help to make you more comfortable with internet related decisions and actions.
1. What is the internet?
The internet is actually very simple when you step back and look at the big picture. In short, the internet is a network, or group of connections, that joins billions of computers together and allows them to communicate with one another. Imagine that you could take a flat map of the world and mark the location of every individual computer on it with a single dot. Then draw a line from one computer to another close by it and from there another line to the next computer. Repeat this until all of the dots are joined with lines between them. Now backup far away from the map. You will see that all of the lines showing these connections would look like an immense spider web. This is how the phrase the World Wide Web was coined. It simply resembles a huge spider web shaped network that shows connections from every computer to every other. By looking closely at this web structure, you can see how there is now a path between any two computers on the entire map of the whole world. You may need to zigzag through the maze of connections, but the path will be there nonetheless.
According to estimates, more than 1.5 billion people currently use the internet each year. Each internet connected computer is joined to the World Wide Web by either a wired or a wireless method. Each computer is using basically the same method to communicate and search for information making the internet very efficient to use.
In addition to all of the home computers using the internet, you also have smart phones, tablets, cash registers, parking meters, intersection cameras, and any other devices with an internet connection. Can you imagine how quickly this becomes a complex mess? It is truly a monumental task to keep it all straight and organized.
2. Where does all of the information on the internet come from?
The information has been gathered over the years from millions of websites but no one computer can hold all of the information. In order to store all of the data that you see on the internet and to run the functions behind websites, such as eCommerce (buying and selling things), there are much more powerful computers called “servers” that are joined within this same network. As you view a website, you are connecting to one of these servers that holds the website information that you are seeing. Websites, large and small, reside on one of these server machines and all function in theoretically the same manner.
3. What is a browser and why do I need one?
So, you may ask, why does my computer need a browser to connect me to websites? Microsoft Internet Explorer, Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Apple Safari, and Opera are all browsers. These are software programs that provide you with everything that you need to by able to view websites. When you type in a web page address (domain name) such as “www.allaboutcookies.org” into your browser or if you click on a link that you see on a website, you will be directed to a new website. Your browser looks at the domain name and connects to the correct server that has the information that you want to see. The new web page in its entirety is not actually stored on a server ready and waiting to be delivered. In fact each web page that you request is individually created in response to your request. It is the browser’s job to request one page at a time and display it for you to see. Your request is first sent to the server, the browser next receives the information that you are requesting back from the server, and then manipulates it and displays it in a way that you recognize and can understand. All browsers have unique software and may work better on some websites than they do on others. They may also be specific to the brand of computer (Apple vs. PC) or smart phone (iPhone vs. Android). It is a Web Developer’s job to make sure that the website can be seen easily by as many people as possible, no matter what computer, smart phone, or browser they are using. If you switch to a different computer, the website might even look slightly different but if it works well and is readable then the developer has done his job.
4. What if you want to find some information on the internet, what should you do?
One of the largest companies on the internet today is a company called Google. I think that you may have heard of it. It is so popular that the company name is actually used as a verb when people would like to search for some information. Google is one of many search engine companies that have, as their main function, the ability to scour the internet, find information, and then present it to you when you request it. Search engines are very simple in concept. Their complexity quickly becomes evident when you examine how they work in detail. We will cover more about them in future articles. They are tireless and work slowly and methodically all day, every day crawling through websites one link at a time. Search engines determine which information is useful to their users, they gather the information from websites and rate it as to how high it should be ranked, and then they save a link to the information in an index that allows them to find the information again quickly. When you go to Google (Bing, Yahoo, or any other search engine), you will type into a search box what you are looking for. Search engines have huge banks of servers where they have stored the links to the information. It searches the index and displays the links to you with a small description of what information and website the link will lead you to when you click on it. They have decided, for you, what they believe the most important links are and they show them in order, most important (or relevant) to least important (least relevant). This rating system is known as the Page Ranking. You can then look at the list of links and decide where you want to look first when trying to find your information. Most people choose a link off of the first or second page. This order of importance is crucial to your business and we will discuss how you can use this to your advantage in later articles. When referring to a link that leads to a business website, you can see why a high ranking will be important.
5. Why should you care about the internet?
Whether you like it or not, the internet is now a large part of our lives. Remember that you are never required to use the internet, but just like you not being required to drive a car, it sure makes life easier. It is even your choice to turn a blind eye to it, but, in the case of a business, the internet will not turn a blind eye to you. Any time that someone is happy with your product or service, or worse, unhappy with your product or service, they have the ability to post their comments on the internet. Many companies, such as Yelp, act as a collection point for these pro or con reviews. Whether or not you are involved in the process is up to you, but these comments will be seen by thousands of people each and every day. Think about it like a bunch of kids on the playground gossiping about you behind your back. Wouldn’t you want to know what they are saying so that you can defend yourself and address an unhappy customer or at the very least take the “Kick Me” sign off of your back before it is too late?
Unlike most modern conveniences, the internet should be viewed as a living organism. It is constantly evolving and growing. The internet collects information 24/7 and never sleeps. Internet information and how it effects you personally is a vast subject on its own, but let’s concentrate on the discussion of how the internet relates to your business. The internet has become so large and powerful that if you ignore it, it could be your downfall in the end. Just like the “Kick Me” sign, your business could take hit after hit on the internet reviews as you will be struggling to understand the downturn in your business revenues. So, what is the solution? You may be asking yourself. The first solution is to stay aware. You should understand how the world perceives your business and work to protect your reputation. We will touch on this some more in future installments on this subject, but for now just do a quick search on your business name and see what pops up on the search engine. The results may shock you or, hopefully, leave you smiling for the rest of the day.
Let’s keep this discussion as simple as possible for now. There are hundreds of books written that guide you through the internet maze and how it functions. There are also thousands of businesses that will gladly help you navigate internet business best practices for a hefty fee. We should begin with the internet business basics. In the next article, we will be discussing websites. Why do you need one for your business? Why your website needs maintenance and care? What is the cost of a good website? What functions does the website need to serve?
Ralph Pombo is the Vice President of Software Development for the Nnvent Corporation, a web development corporation that specializes is eCommerce software solutions. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, or visit our corporate website.