Volume 14, Number 3, Sept 1992, pp.19-27

Islands in the Net: A Guide to the Internet

by Walter Henry

Much of the information in this article is obsolete.
Some addresses have been updated since the printed edition

Anyone who has spent more than three minutes in my presence has been subjected to one of countless passionately rhapsodic and largely interchangeable discourses on the joys to be found on the Internet. You can identify me at social functions by a nerdly circle of repugnance formed by the rapid retreat of perfectly charming folks who have reached their saturation point with endless talk about that really smashing computer in Finland that has a full set of Old Norse translations of the latest Ethernet standards or the exciting weekend I had trying to locate a Vax in Dubai. Despite appearances, I really do realize that these things can be just too boring to live and have tried hard to keep from riding my hobby-horse onto WAAC's playing fields, but alas, the spirit of Toby Shandy is upon me, and you, good friends, are in for the ride.

The Internet (with an emphatically capital "I"), is a global Network of Networks. That is, it ties together a large number of computer networks (over 2,200 a couple of years ago), allowing machines (and the people welded to them) on one network to communicate and share resources with systems on other networks. These component networks can be anything from a small LAN (local area network) to a global network that ties together thousands of machines ranging from supercomputers to micros. One of the most familiar of the networks participating in the Internet is Bitnet, a network of academic and research institutions around the world (in Canada it is known as NetNorth and in Europe as EARN, but it is effectively a single entity). There are also individual machines connected directly and indirectly to the Internet.

Technically, the Internet is a set of standards and protocols (the TCP/IP protocol suite) that describe methods for connecting heterogeneous computer systems, coupled with hardware and software to implement those standards and protocols. "The Net," however, is actually an extension of the "true" Internet, since many networks running incompatible protocols are able to "talk" to the Net for one purpose or another. For example, Bitnet, one of the largest networks on the Net, can easily exchange mail with "true" Internet sites, but Bitnet users do not have access to other Internet services such as remote login (telnet, rlogin) and file transfer (ftp).

This is probably as good a time as any to confess that the description you read here, like any description of the Net, is to some extent a fiction. The network is a remarkably complex organism and any attempt to describe it will suffer from inevitable simplification. Even technically adequate descriptions fail, because they can't comprehend and don't convey the social reality.

Created in 1983 by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Internet proper was formed out of what had been the ARPAnet (created in 1969), a network connecting universities and defense research firms doing work for DARPA's predecessor ARPA, to facilitate communication between defense researchers and to develop advanced networking technology. ARPA's role in running the Internet has dropped off recently because a semi-private concern (Merit Inc.) has taken over administrative matters.

Resources and Services

The services available on the Net are many, but most are based on one or more of these three things: electronic mail, remote login, and file transfer.


Electronic mail, usually called email, allows you to send messages to other people on the Net. The mail metaphor is in some ways a bit strained, but it holds good in several ways. First, your messages are physically (i.e., electronically) transported from one place (machine) to another. That is, you do not need to be on the same machine as the recipient (there are some systems for which this does not hold true, but for our purposes, these are not true email systems, but simple messaging systems). Second, a message is delivered from one "mailbox" to another, and sits there until the recipient decides to read it. Unlike a phone call, the recipient does not have to be online to receive the message. Also unlike a phone call, the sender has no way to know when (or if) the message has been read. Some systems will provide notification that a message has been "received" by the recipient's computer, but this is no guarantee that it has been read or that the recipient even knows it is there.

The length of time that it takes for a message to move from one machine to another can vary a great deal depending on the networks involved. In many cases the message will be transmitted virtually instantaneously. In others, there may be a delay of hours or (in pathological situations) days. As a practical matter, communication is remarkably quick and discourse via email is much closer to telephonic communication than to ordinary post.

telnet, rlogin

Remote login (telnet, rlogin) allows you to log-in to a machine anywhere on the Internet, provided that you have permission to do so (note that telnet has nothing to do with Telenet, which is a commercial wide-area packet network).

For example, a researcher needing access to a supercomputer halfway across the country could arrange for an account on that machine but access it from her "home" computer. Similarly, a traveling researcher could acquire a courtesy account at an institution where she is visiting and use it to run programs on the computer back at her home institution. I did this last summer when I continued all my electronic correspondence and kept up the operation of the Cons DistList on my machine in California while I was taking a course at Columbia.

There are also many cases in which a machine allows remote login (telnet) anonymously (i.e., you don't need an account and password on the remote host) in order to deliver a particular service. One common and very valuable service of this type is public access to library catalogs. In the past few years, several hundred libraries around the country have opened up their OPACs (Online Public Access Catalogs) to Internet users. Thus, if you are doing research on a subject, you can browse the catalogs of many of the country's great libraries without leaving your desk. Even five years ago, this was unheard of. At the moment most of the Internet-accessible OPACs are in the U.S., but they are starting to turn up in other countries as well.


File transfer (ftp) enables you to log-in to a remote host in order to transfer files, both binary (such as computer programs, word-processing files, etc.) and text, from the host to your own computer, and vice versa, usually at very high speed. Many computer systems allow you to log-in anonymously (as with anonymous telnet) in order to obtain copies of files that are provided in special publicly accessible directories. The Net is rich with such ftp sites, many of which specialize in files of a particular type. For example, there are several huge repositories of public domain and shareware software for virtually every type of computer extant, all of it accessible free of charge. There are also repositories of information files such as technical reports, mailing list archives (discussed below), "electronic texts" (i.e., literary works that have been scanned into a machine-readable form) and, of course, more computer tech stuff than a human could process in a lifetime.

Mailing Lists

The aspect of the Net that is, without doubt, the most interesting for most people is an innovation that first appeared very early in the development of electronic communications: the mailing list. Computer people figured out early on that it is pretty much as easy to send a message to a hundred people as it is to send it to one. All computer mailing lists are variations on this simple premise, but there are several variations you will encounter during your travels on the Net.

The most "primitive" and in many ways the most powerful form of mailing list is a simple mail reflector. In this model, there exists a single network address, usually with an appropriate name like


This address is really a list of other addresses, and when a message is sent to:


it is automatically redistributed ("reflected") to everyone on the list. Discussions carried out via a reflector can have much of the fresh quality of a real-time conversation, since there is not much delay between messages. However, if there are a large number of participants and everyone has a lot to say, you can end up being buried in messages. I've been on reflector-style lists where there were more than 100 messages a day, but this is, I admit, exceptional.

A more "sophisticated" model is the digest, in which messages are mailed to a central address and are accumulated there until there are enough to package up into one large message which is sent to everyone on the list, perhaps with a title like "Sharklovers-Digest." This may be done automatically by a program, manually by a list owner, or by some combination thereof.

Lists, whether reflectors or digests, may be moderated. In this case, a human jumps into the picture somewhere between the time the message is received by:


and the time it is redistributed to all the list members. Minimally, the moderator will block messages that don't have anything to do with the list subject (e.g., administrative matters, such as requests to subscribe or unsubscribe). In other cases she will see that the discussions stay on the subject ("I'm sorry, but your posting on blue whales has been rejected..."). In the case of a digest, the moderator may do some layout work, reformatting paragraphs, perhaps quietly correcting spelling, perhaps cutting extraneous material. All this varies from list to list and is part of what makes up the distinctive character of the list.

All variations of list management have their virtues and their failings. Unmoderated reflectors can be free-wheeling, lively town meetings or they can be noisy chaotic brawls. Actually, some are intended to be noisy chaotic brawls and are much prized by their bloodied participants. Digests, whether moderated or not, can slow down the exchange of ideas, but often this is a benefit, as it gives participants a chance to form arguments, do research, etc. It is a commonplace on the Net that lists be rated according to their signal-to-noise ratio; moderated lists almost always have a higher signal-to-noise ratio, unmodified lists lower.

A separate class of list is the electronic journal (ejournal). In this case, the editorial function has expanded beyond that of a moderator, and what is sent out is a serial publication equal in status to a printed journal. It normally has a regular publication schedule, an ISSN, and may have a board of editors and peer reviewers. Other ejournals are more modest in scope and are analogous to newsletters (some of these are really just moderated digests with grant funding). A few ejournals depart somewhat from the mailing list model itself. For these hybrids, a message is sent to each recipient saying that a new issue is ready, and giving a table of contents. The recipients then retrieve individual "articles" (files) from a central repository or file server. This mode of transmission has, obviously, a very high signal-to-noise ratio, since you get a chance to determine what you consider noise.

Selected Lists

There are thousands of mailing lists available. Until a few years ago, the bulk of them dealt with computers, networks, engineering, and such matters of which a Net is made, but in the past few years there has been a mass migration of people from the humanities and social sciences which has changed the face of the Net dramatically. I'll limit this discussion to a few lists of obvious interest to WAAC members, but there is enough out there to keep even the fastest reader buried in information.

Much of the information in this article is drawn from various Lists of Lists available on the Net. My favorite of all these is the "Directory of Scholarly Electronic Conferences," a group of files usually known as the ACAD files, compiled by Diane K. Kovacs, Kent State University Libraries, who says (as if it were the most ordinary statement imaginable), "This directory contains descriptions of 776 electronic conferences on topics of interest to scholars." It is available from: LISTSERV@kentvm.kent.edu.

Conservation DistList

Operating since 1987 (making it the second oldest library and museum oriented list), the Conservation DistList is devoted to discussions about all aspects conservation, whether technical, administrative, theoretical, or practical.

Because it happens that libraries, having been involved in computer operations for several decades, joined the Net earlier than museums, the bulk of the group consists of people from the library world, but as the group grows, and more institutions and individuals find their way to the Net, the scope of participation will broaden to include all spheres of conservation. As it is, our numbers include more than 400 people from 7 countries, including conservators from several specialities, scientists, curators, archivists, librarians, and academics from a number of disciplines. I hope that all WAAC members will find their way onto the Net and join us on the DistList.

There are currently three main initiatives:

  1. An online forum, known as the Cons DistList. A moderated digest, this is issued as often as participants send in material to be distributed. It is open to anyone who is professionally involved--and this is interpreted very liberally--with the conservation of cultural materials. Typical topics include queries and answers about technical issues, attempts to clear up rumors, announcements of events of interest to the participants, etc. It is extremely informal and geared toward quick dissemination/discussion, rather than carefully developed argument. We think of it as something along the lines of a conference-call or passing around stacks of postcards, rather than as a publication. Back instances of the Cons DistList are available.
  2. A directory of email addresses for conservation professionals. As part of the process of signing up for the Cons DistList, you are asked to fill out a very short questionnaire, giving your email addresses, specialty, professional interests, etc. The directory is updated regularly and distributed via email.
  3. The FileList, a list of text files that are available by sending a message to consdist-request@lindy.stanford.edu. Topics include information on using the networks, preservation survey techniques, disaster planning, etc. This is a great way for you to pass around something you've written that you'd like to share, but that you don't have time to work up into something publishable (and a great chance to run your soon-to-be-submitted draft past your colleagues for friendly comments before the editor rips it to shreds).

    NB: The FileList is no longer available, having been replaced by Conservation OnLine

To participate, send a message as follows.

consdist-request@lindy.stanford.edu On the Internet: consdist-request@lindy.stanford.edu From Compuserve, send to: >INTERNET: consdist-request@lindy.stanford.edu From MCIMail, at the "To:" prompt, type: Walter Henry (EMS) then, at the "EMS:" prompt, type: internet then at the "Mbx:" prompt, type: consdist-request@lindy.stanford.edu

If you mention WAAC, it will speed the processing a bit. Once you get through, I can give you a hand navigating the Net and gAtting at all the other goodies therein.

Museum discussion list

This list is relatively new and still trying to get up some momentum; it should be required reading for WAAC members. Covering issues pertaining to a full range of museum activities, Museum-L has recently featured discussions on exhibition techniques and virtual reality. The only thing keeping this list from taking off is the relatively small group of participants.


Coordinated by Peter Graham, Exlibris deals with rare books, manuscripts, and special collections. The group consists of curators, bibliographers, scholars, and conservators, and discussion is always lively, usually scholarly, and occasionally brilliant. A mark of the consistent richness of this list: when my schedule gets hectic, I frequently unsubscribe to busy lists, but I've never once been tempted to drop Exlibris.


Archives (Archives & Archivists e-conference) is for all persons involved and/or interested in archival theory and practice. It is a very active list, with animated discussions on such matters as archival education, certification, professionalism, the role of the archivist, etc. It also deals with practical, operational, and administrative issues. As in Exlibris, conservation issues are occasionally discussed.


The Arts Libraries Society list is just one of more than fifty lists that focus on library issues.

Leonardo Electronic News and Fineart Forum

Two closely related ejournals that will probably be of interest to WAAC members are Leonardo Electronic News (LEN) and Fineart Forum. LEN, according to its maiden issue,

...will carry items linked to Leonardo, the International Society for the Arts, Sciences, and Technology, including Words on Works, Book Reviews, Leonardo calls for papers, Member News, as well as other items, and an abbreviated calendar. Leonardo Electronic News will be published on the 15th of each month. Fineart Forum will continue to be published by Leonardo/ISAST, on the first of each month, on behalf of the Art Science Technology Network. Fineart Forum issues will be guest moderated by ASTN members.

When you subscribe to LEN you will also receive a subscription to Fineart Forum. Dedicated to international collaboration between artists and scientists, the purpose of Fineart Forum is to disseminate information regarding the use of computers in the fine arts. Request subscription to Leonardo Electronic News (LEN) from: fast@garnet.berkeley.edu by sending the message SUB LEN along with your name, email address, and postal address.


This list covers topics that "reflect the diversity of art critical discourse: postmodernism, marxist and feminist theories, curatorial practices, funding and any issue which affects artists, critics and art viewers."


This list covers such matters as textile/clothing sciences, textile engineering, and computer applications in textiles. Short Listings

Obviously, there are too many lists to annotate here, but just to give you a taste of what's out there, here is a sample of lists that will probably be of interest to WAAC members.

Miscellaneous Art Lists

ARTNET@UK.AC.NEWCASTLE        Art that is concerned with the network
ART-SUPPORT@NEWCASTLE.AC.UK   Art related matters
CAAH@PUCC                     Art History Forum
CGE@MARIST                    Computer Graphics Education
DESIGN-L@PSUVM                Basic Design (Art and Architecture)
DKB-L@TREARN                  DKB Ray Tracer and art work created with it
FACXCH-L@PSUVM                Art, Architecture, Design Faculty Exchanges
GRAPH-L@YALEVM                Yale University Graphics Users
GRAPHICS@OHSTVMA              OSU Computer Graphics Discussion
IDFORUM@YORKVM1               Industrial Design Forum
IMAGE-L@TREARN                Image Processing and Applications
L-ARTECH@UQAM                 Les arts et les nouvelles technologies
PHOTO-L@BUACCA                Photography
STUXCH-L@PSUVM                Art, Architecture, Design Student Exchanges

Miscellaneous Chemistry Lists

CHEME-L@PSUVM                 Chemical Engineering
CHEMED-L@UWF                  Chemistry Education
CHEMIC-L@TAUNIVM              Chemistry in Israel
CHEMSERV@UKANVM               American Chemical Society
CHEMISTRY@OSC.EDU             Computational Chemistry
CHIMIECH@FRMOP11              Correspondants Scientifiques du GS Chimie
CHIMIECT@FRMOP11              Correspondants Techniques du GS Chimie
CHIMIEGS@FRMOP11              Groupement Scientifique Chimie Moleculaire
CHMINF-L@IUBVM                Chemical Information Sources
CONFOCAL@UBVM                 Confocal Microscopy
HIRIS-L@IVEUNCC               High Resolution Infrared Spectroscopy
ICS-L@UMDD                    International Chemometrics Society
IFPHEN-L@WSUVM1               Discussion Group on Interfacial Phenomena
INTERF-L@TAUNIVM              Israeli Group on Interfacial Phenomena
MAT-DSGN@JPNTOHOK             Forum on Materials Design by Computer
MOSSBA-L@USACHVM1             Mossbauer Spectroscopy, Software & Forum
SHARE-L@FRORS12               Spectroscopic Happenings on Actinides
SUP-COND@TAUNIVM              Superconductivity
ORGCHE-L@RPIECS               Organic Chemistry

Miscellaneous Physics Lists

CVNET@YORKVM1                 The Color and Vision Network
DASP-L@CSEARN                 Digital Acoustic Signal Processing
FISICA-L@BRUFMG               Physics
OPT-PROC@TAUNIVM              Optical Computing and Holography
PHYSICS@MIAMIU                Another physics forum
PHYS-STU@UWF                  Physics Students' Discussion Group
PHYSIC-L@TAUNIVM              Another physics forum
POLYMERP@RUTVM1               Polymer Physics Discussion

Peripheral--but Valuable

Even lists rather far afield from those that we usually think of as conservation-related can prove to be valuable resources. For example,

JANITORS@ukanvm (College and University Housekeeping Information) regularly carries interesting and quite technical traffic on subjects such as cleaning materials, solvents, and other matters that can be important to conservators who work in or with institutions. Along similar lines, FACSER- L@wvnvm, the Facilities and Services e-conference, covers topics including physical plant operations, security and public safety, environmental health and safety, etc.

FORENS-L@acc.fau.edu (Forensic Medicine and Sciences Interest Group) deals with a variety of topics related to all aspects of forensics, and despite its focus on criminological concerns, often has information on analytic techniques that should be of considerable interest to conservators.

Vision-L's (VISION-LIST@ads) domain is vision and its automation, and discussion ranges over image processing algorithms, machine vision, physiological theory, artificial intelligence, etc.


The following discussion of ways to gain access to the Net is, of necessity, a bit on the cursory side. There are many services available that may fill individual needs, and if you are interested, please get in touch with me and I will send you additional information. In particular, a topic that is beyond the scope of this article is connecting your lab's computer system (e.g., LAN) directly to the Internet, so that you have full high- speed access to Net services from your desktop. If you need some leads on this, get in touch with me and request the file "CONNECT.NET". There are also other services that are available in particular geographical areas that are not represented here but are discussed in "CONNECT.NET". Some services (e.g., Western Union EZ-Link) are not covered because I was unable to find useful information about them.

University Computer Centers

Many colleges and universities offer accounts to individuals and/or commercial firms on machines that are on the Net. Some may limit access to the Net, so you should be sure to make it very clear to the office folks that you are interested in Net access. You will also need to make sure that you can get dial-in access via ordinary phone lines (as opposed to dedicated lines).

An advantage to this method of Net access is that you may be able to take advantage of other Net services besides mail; e.g., remote login (telnet) to other machines on the Internet and file transfer (ftp) from other Internet machines. Costs will vary and will in many cases be somewhat more expensive than what the universities charge their own constituents. As an example, at Stanford rates are as low as $1/connect hour for off-peak use.


Compuserve (CIS) is a commercial service, offering online discussion groups and a wide variety of services, one of which is the ability to send and receive electronic mail via the Internet. CIS runs its own network, so to connect to their machine, you dial up a local access number and, one hopes, limit your phone charges to a local call. There are some limits to the size of message that CIS will allow (50K/message at present) to avoid bottlenecks, but there are no charges to send or receive electronic mail. Also, because of certain legal restrictions on "commercial" use of the Internet, CIS is required to block messages between itself and MCIMail and AT&T mail (this is beyond CIS's control).

Conservators in private practice may find many of the services available on CIS of special value; for example, you can do credit checks online, send faxes, and send paper (i.e., printed) mail. On the negative side (and this is to the credit of CIS), people tend to get addicted to CIS, so bills can grow large easily. There are several payment options, depending on what sort of services you need. There are special communications programs available that make it easy to offload messages so that you can read and write messages offline and save connect charges. There is an initial sign-up charge and a very small monthly charge. In general you are charged for connect time ($6.00/hr for 300 bps, $12.50/hr for 1200/2400 bps, $22.50/hr for 9600 bps).

If your needs are modest, Compuserve offers a flat-rate plan ($7.95/month) which gives you unlimited access to a set of "popular services" and allows you to send or read 60 Internet messages of moderate size per month. Additional messages (whether sent or read) cost 5 cents/2,500 characters. If you want to use optional services, such as special interest forums, there is a connect-time charge similar to those listed above. Phone: 800 848-8990


MCIMail is a commercial email service very popular with business people. You connect to MCIMail via an 800 number, so telephone charges are not an issue. Software is available to facilitate offline creation of messages and downloading of received mail. For example, Norton Commander can be used to check periodically to see if mail is there, and since there are no telephone charges, there is no cost to do this. You are charged an annual fee and a per-byte charge for sending messages. There is no charge for receiving messages, so you can sign up for mailing lists without fear.

The Well

The Well (Whole Earth 'Lectronic Link) is a very popular commercial service, based on the West Coast but serving the entire country. A UNIX-based conferencing system, they provide more than 200 different forums in addition to Internet and Usenet access. The Well costs $10/month and $2/hour, and long-distance users can connect to The Well via Compuserve's Packet (wide area) Network for a surcharge (I believe it is $4/hour). Phone: 800 848-8199

The World

Based on the East Coast (Brookline, Massachusetts), The World is a public access UNIX system run by Software Tool & Die. Access is by direct dial-up or Compuserve's Packet Network. There are a couple of billing options. The basic plan calls for a monthly charge of $5 and a $2/hour connect charge (24 hours a day) plus any surcharge for using Compuserve's Packet Network. They also offer "The 20/20 Plan" in which you pay $20 in advance for 20 hours of online time during a one-month period. This includes the monthly account fee and an additional 1500 blocks of disk space. After your first 20 hours, the cost is $1/hr.

Software Took & Die provide the following additional information:

"Compuserve Packet Network--To access The World via CPN, you first need to find your local CPN number. Dial direct to Compuserve at 800 848-4480 using your modem. Enter the command phones at the prompt or call us direct at 617 739-0202 and our staff will provide your local number.

"After you have your local number, dial it and enter world,domestic at the "Host name:" prompt. Use the password notobvious to gain access to The World.

"Getting an Account--At The World's login prompt, use the login new to begin the account request program. You will be asked a few questions necessary to create your account. Visa or Master Card is accepted for billing purposes. The World will allow you to select your login name. Most people select their name, their initials, or a combination of both. Your login name will be your electronic mail address. Your initial password will be provided by the account creation software. For customers with credit cards, the account is available immediately upon completion of the request. Customers who request postal billing must contact our office for account activation."

Software Tool & Die
1330 Beacon Street
Brookline, MA 02146
617 739-0202


Portal is a commercial service that provides electronic communication services to both business and individuals for a relatively low monthly charge. It offers access to Usenet news as well as email. It also offers additional services, such as a public domain software library and real-time conferencing. Users report that Portal has recently added ftp and telnet to its services. Since it offers unlimited access for a monthly charge of only $13.95, Portal would be a convenient service for people interested in Net access, except for the fact that you need to make a phone call to Cupertino, California. If you are able to make such a call inexpensively, then this service is extremely cost effective. If you are outside the area, Portal can also be reached through Telenet, a wide-area packet network. Using Telenet will increase the cost of connecting by $5.50-$13.50/hour (peak) or $2.50/hour (off-peak). There is a startup cost of $19.95.

One way of handling phone charges for Portal (or any other service that doesn't offer another means of connection) is to use PC Pursuit, a service of Telenet. For a flat fee of $30/month Telenet provides 30 hours of off-peak data communications to many (but alas not all) cities in the U.S. This would bring the total cost of email to $40/month, and would limit you to communicating at night and on weekends.

Portal Communications Company
19720 Auburn Drive
Cupertino, California 95014
408 973-9111


Netcom is a San Francisco Bay Area company that provides several levels of Internet access to firms and individuals. They run a high speed network that runs from Seattle to Los Angeles, called CALNet. For firms with comparatively sophisticated networking needs, they provide a range of relatively inexpensive services based on SLIP (Serial Line Interface Protocol) dialups (using leased lines and in some cases a dedicated port), with cost ranging from $160 - $275/month. This provides a low cost means of connecting your LAN to the Internet.

For individuals, there are personal dialup accounts to a UNIX system offering all Net services (mail, ftp, telnet, Usenet) for a flat monthly fee of $19.50 (or $17.50 if you opt to have your credit card billed automatically) for unlimited, 24-hour access. This provides 80 hours/month of prime-time connection via modem (8 am-midnight). If you connect via telnet, there is no limit, nor is there a limit for late-night modem connections. Additional connect-time costs $2/hour. For all but the most seriously addicted, this amounts to unlimited connect-time. Business accounts are available for $35/month. Netcom services are currently available in the Bay Area and Los Angeles, and an extension to Sacramento is imminent. A personal note: I use Netcom as an inexpensive means of accessing my accounts at Stanford from my home and am quite pleased with the service.

Netcom online communication services:
4000 Moorpark Avenue, Suite 209
San Jose, California 95117
408 554-UNIX (voice)
408 241-9145 (fax)
INFO@netcom.com (email)

America Online

America Online (AOL) may appeal to some conservators because it is fairly inexpensive and is Macintosh-oriented, though PC and Apple II users are able to use the service as well. The service is similar to Compuserve, with a wide variety of services in addition to email. Like Compuserve, AOL is not fully connected to the Internet and therefore can not offer telnet, ftp, or other Internet services. AOL users must use special software, provided by AOL. The basic cost is $7.95/month, which includes 2 hours/month of connect-time. In addition there is a $6/hour connect charge.

An America Online document specifies some limitations that make AOL less attractive than it would otherwise be:

"E-Mail to and from America Online is restricted to 27K on the Macintosh and Apple, and 8K on the PC. Longer mail will be truncated. We do not support FTP, IRC, telnet, Usenet groups, or other advanced features of the Internet, and we request that members not subscribe to mailing lists. We restrict incoming Internet mail to 75 pieces in a mailbox at one time." Quantum Computer Services 8619 Westwood Center Drive Vienna, Virginia 22182 800 227-6364

Single Source

Although Single Source offers a range of sophisticated network services for businesses, one of their services will be of particular interest to individuals and small groups. They provide full access to the Internet, including telnet and ftp, by telephone. For users in the Silicon Valley (area code 408) the cost is $5/hour. Outside the area there is an 800 number, which increases the cost to $11.50. For those who don't want a flat- rate plan, this is one of the most cost effective services.

Single Source Network Systems, Inc.
2360 Qume Drive, Suite B
San Jose, California 95131
408 943-0380
408 435-8197 (fax)


Panix is a public access UNIX system located in New York City, offering Internet mail, Usenet access, telnet, and ftp, as well as other regular UNIX functions. For users outside the area, it can be reached by PC Pursuit. The basic cost for the service is $100/year (or $10/month), but for Internet access there is a $9/month surcharge and a one-time fee of $40, bringing this into the same price range as Netcom.

According to a message from the organizers:

"Panix is a system created solely for the convenience of its users. If there is a program or newsgroup that you want that we don't have, let us know, and we'll try to get it. "If you are interested in subscribing to Panix, you can dial in at 718 832-1525, and log in as newuser . Panix will ask you a few questions and then one of us will call you back shortly. If you'd like to talk to one of us first...call us."

Alexis Rosen, 212 877-4854
Jim Baumbach, 718 965-3768


HoloNet, which describes itself as "an Internet Access BBS," offers Usenet news and full Internet access, including telnet and ftp. There is a high-speed network that runs throughout the Bay Area and there are dial-in numbers in most cities in the area. Users outside the area can access HoloNet using PC Pursuit, PSINet, or Tymnet. HoloNet's pricing schedule is rather involved, but rates are quite reasonable, especially for users in Berkeley who can access the system in off-peak hours for as little as $2/hour. There is a basic fee of $6/month (or $60/year) which includes a $6 credit toward connect-time charges.

You can visit HoloNet as a guest by dialing 510 704-1058 at 1200, 2400, 9600, or 14,400 bps. Once online, you can sample the system's services and register for an account.

Information Access Technologies, Inc.
46 Shattuck Square, Suite 11
Berkeley, California 94704-1152
510 704-0160
510 704-8019 (fax)


Halcyon is a Seattle BBS that is directly connected to the Internet and offers all Internet services as well as Usenet news. Free 30-day trial BBS accounts are available but access to the Internet is blocked during this period. To register for a trial account, set you modem to 8N1, dial 206 382-6245, log-in as bbs , and follow the prompts. There is a $10 signup fee and a flat rate for using the service:

$5/month ($50/year) for a mail-only account
$10/month ($100/year) for mail and news
$15/month ($150/year) for full UNIX services, news, mail, and Internet

There are different rates for businesses, groups,
organizations, K-12 students, etc.

P.O. Box 555
Grapeview, WA 98546-0555
206 426-9298


CONCERT (COmmunications for North Carolina Education, Research and Technology) provides Internet access in North Carolina. Of particular interest are their Public Dial UNIX accounts, which for a flat fee of $30/month ($37.50 for commercial users) gives users near Asheville, Chapel Hill, Charlotte, Durham, Greensboro, Greenville, Raleigh, and Winston- Salem full access to Net services. There is a $100 setup charge.

Center for Communications--MCNC
P.O. Box 12889
3021 Cornwallis Road
Research Triangle Park, NC 27709-2889
919 248-1999

Cleveland Free-Net

Run by Case Western Reserve University, the Cleveland Free- Net is an unusual system dedicated to providing community computing services. Essentially an elaborate bulletin board system (BBS), it is organized like a town, with the following activity centers:

The Administration Building
The Post Office
Public Square
The Courthouse & Government Center
The Arts Building
Science and Technology Center
The Medical Arts Building
The Schoolhouse (Academy One)
The Community Center & Recreation Area
The Business and Industrial Park
The Library University Circle
The Teleport
The Communications Center
NPTN/USA Today Headline News

They do not offer telnet or ftp, but you can send and receive Internet mail. There are no charges for using Free-Net, but there are some connect-time limitations to keep the system accessible. There are local dial-in numbers in Cleveland, but Free-Net is popular, and users report that the numbers are often busy. You can get an account on the Cleveland Free-Net by logging in and following the menu prompts (216 368-3888).

The Community Telecomputing Laboratory
Case Western Reserve University
319 Wickenden Building
Cleveland, Ohio 44106
216 368-5121
Other Ohio Free-Nets

There are other free-nets throughout Ohio. The Cleveland Free-Net is the largest and most popular, but all share a community orientation and all are freely accessible. To visit the following free-nets as a guest, enter the specified user id in lower case letters. Once you are on the system, you can register for an account.

The Heartland Free-Net is hosted by Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois (guest id: bbguest). 309 674-1100

Tri-State Online, based in Cincinnati, Ohio, sponsored by Cincinnati Bell Telephone (guest id: visitor). 513 579-1990

The Youngstown Free-Net is sponsored by St. Elizabeth Hospital Medical Center and Youngstown State University in Youngstown, Ohio (guest id: visitor). 216 742-3072

The Lorain Free-Net is sponsored by variety of supporters and is connected to the Internet via Oberlin (guest id: visitor). You may visit the system as a guest by entering the user id guest (in lower-case letters) at the "login:" prompt.

Medina County Free-Net: 216 723-6732


FidoNet is an international network of local Bulletin Boards Systems (BBSs), nearly all of which are run on personal computers. It is run entirely by its participants, most of whom do the work without compensation. FidoNet connects these BBSs by a very clever scheme for sending messages via ordinary phone calls, in the most cost effective manner possible. For a very small fee, you can send/mail to other people on FidoNet (which also offers a large array of discussion groups on a variety of topics), and, by using a gateway to the Internet, send/receive mail to the Net.

To use FidoNet, you will need to locate a BBS near you that offers FidoNet access (I may be able give you a hand with this, if you have trouble finding one). Then you will need to talk to the system operator (Sysop) and arrange to set up an account. Some systems offer free email (these are usually run by firms whose wide area telephone lines are unused at night), but many will ask for a small yearly fee (often less than $35) and will charge you for each message you send. The fee for an "ordinary" sized message is typically about 25 cents. If you wish to use a system that is more than a local call away, see the information about PC Pursuit under the Portal entry above.

Public Access UNIX Systems

There are many UNIX systems around the country that, like BBSs, offer free (or very low cost) accounts to individuals (I don't know about firms). Because communications has always been a fundamental aspect of life in UNIX, many of these systems are connected to the Net and offer the ability to send/receive Net mail to users. Some also offer other Net services, such as remote login and file transfer. A list of Public Access UNIX Systems is available (if you need a copy, drop me a message requesting the file "NIXPUB").

One word of caution is warranted: UNIX is not (and this is a gross understatement) "user-friendly." While it is not necessary to become a very sophisticated UNIX expert in order to create and send mail, you will definitely need to spend a little time with a good, basic UNIX book before you give this a try. While you will not be able to do anything harmful, it is quite easy to find yourself stranded at an incomprehensible command prompt, with no idea whatever of what is expected of you. (A side note: once the initial learning curve is conquered, UNIX can be a great deal of fun.)

Most of these systems are either free or very low cost. If you wish to use a system that is more than a local call away, see the information about PC Pursuit under the Portal entry above.

Methods That Don't (or Almost Don't) Work

There are several other commercial services that do not at present offer a means of sending/receiving Net mail. Among these are Prodigy (which also places a limit--a ridiculously low limit--on the number of within-Prodigy messages you can send) and Genie. As of this writing, Genie is said to be experimenting with an Internet gateway, so Genie should become an option soon, and there are rumors that Prodigy is doing the same.

Net access is a relatively new and slightly obscure feature on many commercial services, so the sales staff may not know much about it. If you investigate a commercial service, be sure to tell them that you are interested in access to the Internet--and make sure they understand what you're talking about.

Envoy 100 is a large Canadian commercial email service run by Telecom Canada. In general, it is oriented toward whole- business, for whom it provides intra-firm mail systems. GEMDES (Government Electronic Messaging and Document Exchange Service) is a service based on Envoy 100, run by Canada's Government Telecommunications Agency for the use of the Canadian government. For both technical and "administrative" reasons, although there are gateways between the Internet and Envoy 100/GEMDES, in practice it is often rather difficult to figure out how to get your messages through. First, the addressing schemes used in Envoy 100/GEMDES are quite different from those used on the Internet, and you will probably need to get a systems administrator on Envoy 100/GEMDES to give you some assistance at first. In addition, individual firms may have set up their mail systems such that "external" mail is not permitted. Envoy 100/GEMDES pricing varies from organization to organization, but tends to be quite high, in comparison to other services.

The Conservation Information Network (CIN), administered by the Getty Conservation Institute and the Canadian Heritage Information Network (CHIN), is one of the GEMDES systems. It is possible to send messages between CIN and the Internet, but it takes some doing. The biggest hindrance, though, is cost. CIN email charges are, in my opinion, prohibitive. Currently, you are charged 70 cents for each 1,000 characters sent or read (one--and only one--reading is "free"). At these rates, it would cost several hundred dollars a year to subscribe to even a moderately active mailing list.


Once you are on the Net, there is a wealth of literature available to help you find your way to the information and services you need. For those curious about the technical aspects of the Internet, all the details are spelled out in a group of documents called RFCs (Requests For Comment), which constitute the formal standards for the Internet. There are also a few RFCs that are less technical, one of which, Ed Krol's "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Internet" (RFC 1118), should be on everyone's reading list. These are available for anonymous ftp from NIC.Ddn.mil.

Aside from the RFCs, there are a number of beginners' guides available from any number of ftp sites and listservs. My favorite is Chris Condon's "USERHELP." To get a copy, send a message to LISTSERV@bitnic.bitnet with the body of the message GET BITNET USERHELP.

The Conservation FileList carries a number of these files (including "USERHELP"), so once you are online, the easiest way to get started may be to send a note to CONSDIST- REQUEST@lindy.stanford.edu and I can help you get what you need.

There is rather little available in print, so your options for learning about the Net before you plunge in are limited. The classics in the field are:

Quarterman, John S.: The Matrix: Computer Networks and Conferencing Systems Worldwide. Digital Press; Bedford, Massachusetts; 1990. xxvii, 719 p., illus.


Frey, Donnalyn, and Rick Adams: !%@:: A Directory of Electronic Mail Addressing and Networks. 2nd ed. O'Reilly & Associates; Sebastopol, California; 1990. xvi, 420 p., maps.

Both of these books are aimed at networking professionals and describe--in more detail than most non-technical readers will appreciate--the various networks that make up the Internet, outlining the organizational structure, the message transport mechanisms, etc. that characterize the individual networks. Nevertheless, both are quite readable and the curious should find them interesting. An early edition of Frey's book is still available online, for anonymous ftp.

Another document that started out in life as a machine- readable text freely available for ftp will soon be released in printed form:

Kehoe, Brendan: Zen and the Art of the Internet. Prentice Hall Agency, 1992. (Paperbound. ISBN:0-13-010778-6.)

The Network in fiction:

Gibson, William: Neuromancer. Ace Books, New York, 1984. 271 p. Sterling, Bruce: Islands in the Net. Arbor House/William Morrow and Company, New York, 1988. 348 p.

Drop me a note by email when you get online.


About the Author

Walter Henry discovered the Net six years ago. Intrigued by its vast potential for improving the flow of information among colleagues, he originated the Conservation DistList in 1987 with a handful of participants. With exceptional commitment to professional service, he continues to manage and expand the Conservation DistList initiatives in addition to this "day job": Assistant Conservator in the Conservation Lab at Green Library, Stanford University.

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