This stand-alone lesson teaches someone with no computer experience to retrieve and read any World Wide Web page using a Microsoft Windows® computer attached to the global Internet. It also tries to make better known the vast amount of material one can obtain this way.
By completing this lesson, the student acquires an enormously powerful skill for modest effort. This should help motivate additional study of computing and the Internet as well.
This lesson was created to serve users of the Buchanan-Haralson County Public Library in Georgia, USA.
RIGHT FOR SCRIBBLING NOTES!
In this lesson you will use a computer keyboard, but not a computer mouse. Please don't be afraid to experiment at the keyboard when using the computer. The library staff can always easily restore the computer as it was!
The World Wide Web, or Web, is arguably the largest library ever built. It never closes and all its contents can be accessed anywhere on Earth one can operate an Internet-connected digital machine like a personal computer, or "PC". No items in its collection are ever out of stock. Originally designed (1989-1991) for the delivery of simple texts, the Web now can serve up sounds, graphics, images, videos and a vast range of interactive utilities like vending machines, tests of skill, surveys and video games. Many millions of people use it daily.
The Web consists of a collection of pages, each of which has a globally unique address. Anyone using the Web can almost immediately receive a copy of any page by providing this address. It is very analogous to a telephone "fax-back" system. Accessing the Web is simple. For example, you can use a PC in the Buchanan-Haralson County library. (All are run by the Microsoft Windows® operating system.) Here is what you do.
Entering the Web page address
Use the keyboard of your PC. Since you will read far more than write, it is not a great disadvantage if you cannot type and must instead hunt for any letters you need to tap or hold down. Soon their positions will grow familiar to you!
( 1 ) Start by tapping either "Windows" key, both of which are located at the keyboard bottom two keys away from the Space Bar. (A rectangular box listing a "menu" of choices will be displayed on screen until you type again; ignore it.)
( 2 ) Tap the letter "R" key. A small rectangular box (called a window) then appears, into which you will enter the Web page address.
( 3 ) Type the Web address; you can correct typing errors by using the "Backspace" key. Take as much time as you need. When you are finished typing, hit the "Enter" key and the window will disappear, or "close".
But take care - if you make even one uncorrected mistake when typing, you will either fail to retrieve any Web page or retrieve the wrong one, and you will have to start over. A typical Web address will use letters, perhaps numerals and some other things like the period, and always a colon and at least two forward (not backward) slashes. Do respect letter case - hold down the "Shift" key if you want to tap out an upper-case (capital) letter. (Aside: It is possible you will see confusing reversed-color letters as you type; this is "autocompletion" and you should simply ignore these letters for now - they don't count.)
A new rectangular box (another window) will appear. Soon it will display the Web page you requested! How long this takes depends on how busy the remote computer making and transmitting the copy of this page to you is at the time.
(Aside: In some cases, on some computers, an additional window may appear - it is probably what is called a "pop-up ad" used to help defray the cost of providing the information you are retrieving. If this window obscures the actual page you want to see, hold down the "Alt" key while you tap the key at the top of the keyboard labelled "F4", and it will disappear!)
Reading the Web page
( 1 ) The window displaying the Web page may be smaller than the screen. Most people prefer that it fill the screen. To make it do so, hold down the "Alt" key next to the Space Bar on the keyboard, while tapping the Space Bar itself. Then tap the letter "X" key. The window will now (nearly) fill your entire screen.
( 2 ) The Web page may still be too big for the limited confines of your screen. Typically, the page will be taller than your screen is. This is very like an ancient paper scroll which is mainly rolled up, with only the small portion being read visible. Just as you can advance a paper scroll, we say you can "scroll" your Web page to reveal unseen portions of it. To do so, use the "Page Up" and "Page Down" keys in the block of scrolling keys just to the right of the letter keys. A small part of each successive scrolled image will overlap with the previous one for the sake of continuity.
Adjacent you will also find the "Home" and "End" keys, which scroll the Web page to, respectively, its top-most and bottom-most extremes. Below these keys there are four "Arrow" keys. They allow you more granular control over scrolling. Note that they not only let you scroll in the typical vertical dimension, but also in the rather less likely horizontal dimension, too.
Saving your work
If you desire, the librarian can help you print out a copy of the Web page for a small fee (US 15¢ as I write this). As you become more experienced, you may instead prefer to save a copy on a small removable memory device like a "floppy disk" or a "flash memory drive", because it is all but free. A floppy disk, which as I write this costs US $1 at the library and a small fraction of this in bulk elsewhere, can hold the entire text of a whole printed book!
Rather than save the Web page itself, you may prefer to save a copy of its address, a process often called "bookmarking" for obvious reasons. This lets you retrieve the page at a later time without having to type in its address again. (Of course, the page kept at a particular address may be re-edited or even completely removed by its author at any time. But some limited free centralized third-party archiving of old Web pages is regularly done.)
Over time, people collect dozens, hundreds or even thousands of such bookmarks! Nearly all Web pages have a title associated with them, as well as an address. (The title is displayed at the top of the screen when viewing the page.) Often people use these titles to label their bookmarks as a form of identification. Again, a removable memory device is a convenient place for storing your bookmarks, because of the many places in the world you can go and use such a device. How to store and retrieve bookmarks is beyond the scope of this short lesson.
If you like, you can "close" the window showing a Web page you are looking at. Just hold down the "Alt" key while you tap the key at the top of the keyboard labelled "F4". (Note to experts: this will close the window which "has focus".) When you close the window showing a Web page, your computer is free to erase its copy of the page whenever it chooses, even immediately. Of course that action has absolutely no effect on the remote computer from which it got the page copy over the Internet in the first place. The original of the page is not erased. (Neither will you end up with an overflowing wastebasket of crumpled papers as you would when throwing away a page copy in the real world!) What you are doing is more like turning a TV set on and off. You cannot destroy a TV program which is being broadcast, or even modify it in any way, merely by turning your set on and off.
Viewing more than one Web page
By repeating the procedure outlined above, you can open another window showing a different Web page. You may elect to open several Web pages at once this way, without closing any of them before going on to the next one. Each time you open a new window, it will cover all the others which came before it, just as a new piece of paper on the top of a physical desk will cover the papers underneath it. (And just because a page is covered does not mean it has been erased or trashed!)
If you have multiple Web pages open, it is possible to shuffle which one is "on top" of the stack for viewing. To sequence between the Web pages you have open, do the following. Hold down the "Alt" key. Then tap the "Tab" key as many times as needed to preview the window holding the page you want, releasing the "Alt" key to actually display that page on the top of your "stack of papers".
As you tap the Tab key again and again, you will see a small rectangle in your screen center in which the various open windows are represented. As each window is previewed, its title is displayed. For windows which hold Web pages, this is the title of the Web page.
Sequencing between related Web pages
We have learned that one can view a copy of a Web page by typing in its address or by using a bookmark stored previously. But the thing which gives the Web much of its awesome power is the ability to "jump" between ASSOCIATED Web pages at the "click of a button". This is called "linking" or sometimes "hyperlinking".
The Web page copy on your computer not only contains the visible text you can read, but additional hidden annotating material. By this means, a Web page author can associate any word or phrase you see with the address of ANOTHER Web page. By activating this phrase, the Web page in a window is replaced by this new page.
So these links act just like the "footnotes" of a traditional paper book, but with one critical difference - they are "alive" and can be used to AUTOMATICALLY retrieve a copy of the cited page! A pedestrian use of linking is to sequence a series of Web pages in a linear chain, much like the sequentially numbered pages of a traditional printed book. But a Web page can contain more than "previous page" and "next page" links. It can contain as many links as the Web page author desires, and each can point to any Web page of any Web "book" (conventionally called a "Web site") in the entire World Wide Web!
It is unusual for Web page authors to use "previous page" and "next page" links at all. They might even put some material they want read from beginning to end without interruption within a single very long page, knowing that the user can scroll down a page of enormous size if needs be. (Aside: A link can actually point to a specific place in the middle of a Web page if desired by the author.)
If one were to pictorially diagram all the ways to sequence between the many pages of the World Wide Web, it would not look like a chain, but rather like a highly irregular spider's web! That is how it earned the name by which we know it.
A minimal amount of order is imposed on each "Web site". Every Web site has a special page called its "home page", which acts like the title page of a book. Many visitors to a Web site will go there first and look for suggestions how to best use the site. That is why it is often crafted with the most care.
How does one identify and optionally activate these "living footnotes" called Web links? One uses the "Tab" key. Each time the Tab key is tapped, the next link on the Web page is identified by a thin fencing line around it for a highlight. If one taps the "Enter" key, the highlighted link is activated, and the new Web page corresponding to it replaces the one we are viewing in the window. (Aside: More rarely, Web authors leave the original Web page alone in its window and open the linked page in a new window.)
As one taps the Tab key repeatedly, the Web page is automatically scrolled as required so that we can always see the highlighted link. Once the bottom of the page is reached, the next tap or so of the Tab key "wraps around" to the top of the Web page where the first link on the page is highlighted. One can even "drive in reverse". By holding down the "Shift" key, each tap of the Tab key moves us through the sequential links in the opposite of normal order. (Aside: Some non-link features are ALSO selected in using the Tab key. More on this later!)
Finding useful Web pages - portal pages
Some of the most popular Web pages consist of little more than a list of annotated links to other Web pages, according to a theme peculiar to that page. Such pages are often called "portals" because they are like the waiting lounge of a bus station or airport terminal. One useful portal like this, assembled for the users of the Buchanan-Haralson County library, can be found at this World Wide Web address:
Portal pages can be thought of as a table of contents. But the portal page author is free to "cut and paste" linked content from multiple Web sites, none of which he has authored, as best suits his ends. This lets him serve as one of innumerable self-appointed "editors" of the World Wide Web. So maybe it is better to think of portal pages as bibliographies which often point to particular pages of a work as well as to whole works.
Portal pages can of course point to other portal pages, too. In this way it is possible to erect giant hierarchies of information. For example, one might use one Web page to point to Web pages corresponding to each of the states in the United States, with each state page pointing to a set of Web pages corresponding to each of its member counties.
Finding useful Web pages - search engines
Sometimes one desires to search for Web pages according to some need. This is accomplished by using a Web "search engine". It is called an engine rather than an index, because it is SMARTER than an index. It can do things like search for the SIMULTANEOUS appearance of MULTIPLE words and phrases on a Web page, rather than a simple word or phrase. It can also respect other constraints which help limit the large collection of Web pages which meet the search criteria.
Today the best-known and most-widely-used search engine is called Google. It is accessed via a single Web page at:
This lesson cannot teach you everything you want to learn about using Google, but it will get you started.
This Web page is more complicated than many others you will encounter. It not only includes links you can sequence between using the "Tab" key, but also a "text input field". This is the short, wide rectangle just above other rectangles labelled "Google Search" and "I'm Feeling Lucky". You can use the "Tab" key to sequence to this text input field. But when you arrive at it, it will not be surrounded by a thin fencing line, as are the Web links you sequence between. Instead, you will see a small, thin, blinking vertical line within it. This indicates that when you type letters, numerals, etc. on the keyboard, they will appear there. The "Backspace" key also works as you expect, to help correct your typing.
To use the Google search engine, type your search terms in the text input area, separating them by spaces, using the Space Bar. When you are done, hit the "Enter" key and Google will look for all Web pages that contain ALL of the terms you typed in. Even if you combine several exotic terms, Google may still retrieve dozens, or even thousands, of pages. When it has found all these pages, it will REPLACE the page you have used to enter the search terms with a new Web page in the SAME window, showing the results. Each of the results is a Web link you can use to explore that particular result. (Aside: As long as you are not highlighting a text input box, the "Backspace" key restores the previous Web page shown in any window! It can be used repeatedly to backtrack through a sequence of link jumps.)
Please consider that no one may ever have undertaken the exact search you did. That means the Web page which shows the result has never been seen before! It is not a "static" Web page, but a "dynamic" Web page created "on the fly" within the last few seconds. By using Web pages to connect to computers which can solicit some sort of report request and then dynamically construct Web pages to answer such requests, a practically limitless number of Web pages can potentially be created!
Google cannot search hypothetically generated Web pages, sometimes called "The Deep Web", only the static pages sitting at more-or-less permanent publically-accessible Web-page addresses. Still, the quantity of even these static Web pages is awesome. As I write this, Google knows about over four billion Web pages. Each time you use it to do a search, Google scans a recent copy of ALL of them. It reports its results to you for free, financially supported by nothing more than the demure adverstisements it places on the pages of results.
You, too, can author Web pages
The Web, which grows larger every day, is now so vast that the number of static Web pages now exceeds the number of seconds in your lifetime, and is closing in on the number of people alive on the entire Earth.
Anyone can become a Web page author, and so can get published worldwide without the leave of an editor. There are even firms which will publish your pages for free if you allow them to place small ads on them. How to do this is beyond the scope of this short lesson. But if you publish your work on a Web site, you can get copies into the hands of interested readers merely by giving them the address of its home page. This makes it a cheap and effective way to distribute all sorts of information.
Lately, the term "blog" (short for "Weblog") has come into use to designate easy-to-use "diaries" which help one add content to a Web site. Often such blogs allow anyone on the Internet to add text to a Web site merely by filling in a "text input field" on a Web page and hitting the "Enter" key. Actually, this type of computer-networking-based "bulletin board" facility predates the existence of both the Web and the Internet. It simply has been given new life because search engines make the entire Web so easy to search.
You may even choose to author a Web site which interests no one but you! In this way, you will always have the information it records with you every place where you can access the World Wide Web. With the growth of wireless Internet access - even access through ordinary cell phones using services which read Web pages aloud by computer voice, that "every place where" is rapidly becoming "any place"! One obvious Web page to create is one listing all your favorite bookmarks. That way you need only remember its address - and you can have easy access to all the others you have collected over time. And if you have a PC for your exclusive use, say at home, you can even arrange for this Web page to appear by default if you type "iexplore" (without the quotes) in place of a Web page address. (We don't explain how here.)
Beyond the keyboard and the video display
This lesson taught you how to use the "Tab" and "Enter" keys to move around a Web page to designate and then activate links. If a page has a great many links, you may grow frustrated with the many times you must tap the "Tab" key to get to the place you desire. So, some computers have touch-sensitive screens that let you directly activate the link you desire simply by touching it on the screen with your finger, like a pushbutton. (You may have used something like this at a kiosk in a public space, for example, getting cash from an ATM.)
Sadly, touch-sensitive screens add at least a couple hundred dollars to the price of a display. But for only 1% of that cost, you can use another device, called a computer "mouse", which simulates touching the screen. A mouse looks like a bar of soap with buttons on it and commonly also has a wire attached to it, which looks like its tail. (Because you rest your arm on your desk while using a mouse, users find it is more comfortable to use at length than the touch screen of a display not flush with a level desktop.) You will want to learn to use one. (A facility in Microsoft Windows® called "MouseKeys" lets the numeric keypad on your keyboard simulate a mouse.)
An interesting use of the mouse is to mark the ends of a passage of text, that it might be copied from one place to another place. Basically every facility you will use on the computer will have this capability. We have written a special Web page which lets you copy a passage of text to a audible-speech-producing engine. Simply copy any text and it will be read aloud to you! You activate this engine merely by opening a particular Web page and leaving it open as long as you want text read aloud. (You can, of course, open as many other Web pages as you desire to read at the same time, leaving the "speaking" page hidden under the others.) Find this Web page, useful to those unable to read, or even see well, here:
Surf the Web!
Now you have the basic skills you need to start exploring the vast resources of the Web. I think you'll be astonished at the things you can find and this will motivate you to extend your computer and Internet skills even more! Start here:
Who "invented" the World Wide Web? The simple answer is that it was an English engineer working in Switzerland named Tim Berners-Lee, who now heads the World Wide Web Consortium ("W3C") located at MIT. But there were many related antecedent efforts, some of which became mass-market products, like Apple's HyperCard (1987). To learn more, see the history at:
Of course the identity of the first person who realized that one document might cross-reference another is lost in the mists of antiquity. But probably the person who originated the idea of AUTOMATING cross-referencing through links, inventing what we call "hypertext", was USA engineer Vannevar Bush. He described a hypothetical microfilm-based device called the "memex" in a popular article titled "As We May Think" appearing in the July 1945 issue of "The Atlantic" magazine. You can read the entire article online here:
While today's computers, unlike Bush's memex, don't use microfilm for quick access to records, many do rely on rapidly spinning optical disks which remember data in submicroscopic Morse-code-like "dots" and "dashes". The screen-keyboard combinations Bush envisioned are manifested as our PCs. And as he guessed, our "memexes" can "be operated from a distance" - indeed are ganged together in a giant collective global memex called the World Wide Web - via the Internet.
Bush was a professor at MIT who worked on electromechanical computers in the early 20th century, and was chosen by FDR to mobilize American science in the service of an anticipated war. As far as I know, he is no relation to another Massachusetts-born Bush who became US president. But if no Gore ever invented the Internet, it certainly is true that it was a Bush who all but invented the Web! Smile please, whatever your political leaning...