Technical Terms: The Internet and the Web

People sometimes use the terms Internet and Web interchangeably. But the Web is just one of the many ways you can use the Internet. The Internet is the global network of computers, whereas the Web is just the part of the Internet we use when we browse web pages using a browser such as Safari. The history of the Internet goes back further than you may think.
Video Transcript / Captions
Closed captioning for this video is available on YouTube: Technical Terms: The Internet and the Web.

Today let's take a look at two terms that I'm sure you use all the time but a lot of people use these interchangeably and they're actually different things.

The first term is the Internet. People will go and say I'm going to use the internet. Do something on the internet. Connect to the internet. They'll also say the same thing about the term the Web. They'll say I'm going to use the web, I'm going browse the web, surf the web, do something on the web. But these terms actually mean different things.

So the internet is defined really by three main factors. It's a global computer network. So computers are connected all over the world. Some of those are computers with a person sitting behind them, some of those are servers that are sitting in a server room serving up different web pages and services and things like that. The other thing about the internet is that they're all interconnected. So all these networks, no matter where they are in the world, if they're part of the internet they're connected to the internet and they can be reached from any other point. The internet is all these computers all interconnected.

The third part is they all use the same standard communication protocols. So they all have an agreed language. When you communicate from your computer to a server. The computer and the server understand each other so that you can actually view content or do something on them. So these are three important factors that define internet.

A little history about the internet. The internet started in the 60's. It was basically a collaboration between the military and the universities in the United States. Basically both were big enough organizations that they had some of these early computers and the need to communicate with each other to send research back and forth. So it was developed and kind of jointly funded between various schools and various military programs to have a system where they can communicate over phone lines. So the earliest computers were connected in that kind of network.

That grew and there were more services and more schools and more military installations added. At the same time other countries started to develop their own versions of this. They used different protocols and different ways for the computers to talk to each other. So in the early 90's then commercial companies started to come in on it. They wanted in on this. They started to have computers as well and they wanted ways to hook into this network. So the network evolved and also countries wanted to talk to each other. So not only were different countries connected to each other but they had to come up with new ways to talk to each other because they were using different protocols.

So in the United States the computers were talking and using one language and in Switzerland they were using another. So they had to basically come up with a standard so that all the computers could talk to each other. Once all that was set up and all these computers all over the world could talk to each other and understand each other then we had the internet. It really was due to international cooperation having all of these different organizations all over the world agree on how computers should be able to communicate with each other.

Now, internet protocols are a whole bunch of different things. This is where people get it wrong when they use internet and the web interchangeably. Because the world wide web is just one protocol used on the internet. An example of another protocol is email. Email is a completely separate thing from the web. In the web you have a web browser like Safari that's communicating with a web server and it's getting webpages. Email you're using a different type of app, like say Mac Mail or Microsoft Outlook, and you're communicating with possibly the same server but a different protocol on it that's an email protocol to send messages back and forth.

There are other types of protocols. For instance, Telnet, and FTP and two ways that developers build the websites. You may never use FTP but someone like me who develops websites, I use it almost everyday. So there are various other ones. Some of them are open standards that you could build apps or services to use. Others are kind of private like, for instance, Netflix will have their own private little way that their Netflix app and their Netflix servers communicate with each other to stream video. Apple Music has it. Spotify music has it. You know all these different ways to use the internet.

They all use kind of standards. They're not reinventing the wheel but you wouldn't access Netflix videos with a non Netflix app. You wouldn't access Apple Music with something that wasn't iTunes. So these are kind of semi private ways to use the internet. Data can be transferred all sorts of different ways. But those are definitely different ways to use the internet than the web.

So when you say I'm going to use the internet it really could mean anything. I could be I'm going to send an email. It could be I'm going to watch a video on TV. I could be I'm going to play a game on your iPhone against other players. These are all ways that you use the internet.

But when you say using the web, that means you're using a web browser, like Safari, to browse webpages and just do things inside the browser like that. So it's a very specific use and, you know, one of the most popular uses of the internet. When people say they're going to use the web they usually are going to use the web. But it's correct to say the web rather than the internet.

Now if you want to know more about the history of how the internet got started an excellent book is Where Wizards Stay Up Late. It's a great book. I read it a couple years ago and it goes into all the details and tells a lot of great stories about those early days of Arpanet and how it evolved into the internet.

Comments: 3 Responses to “Technical Terms: The Internet and the Web”

    10 months ago

    I hope that on a future podcast on “technical terms,” you can clarify your take on “the DARK web” or “the DARK net.” :)

    10 months ago

    Ron: I don’t think that term is one I would cover. Not sure why we would want to discuss that at MacMost. What would a typical Mac user want to use the Dark Web for?

    Sarah Doxiadis
    10 months ago

    Nice overview/clarification. I actually did use several BBS and email “commercial” services in the 80’s, as well as academic and law-related research services, etc. However, your are correct that the concept of “the Internet”reached public awareness mostly in the early 90’s. I sometimes miss the “old days” when you had to have some understanding of protocols to use the Internet, as today most folks seem to just point to what they want, and they arrive on line at the spot the expected to reach.

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