Anything in blue is basic knowledge
Anything in red is advanced knowledge
One way of seeing the Internet is as a fortified city with thousands of entrances on its walls. When you start off you walk from your house down a road and get charged for the distance you walk, for this reason it makes sense to make your way to the city entrance that is closest to you. When you reach the city gate someone either asks you for a certain fee for passing by the gateway or if you have made an arrangement with the guard so that you only have to pay once a month then you simply show your pass and go on in.
Now that you are inside the city there are no more charges, though certain shops will insist that you pay if you want to visit them. Inside the city there are many roads, large ones, small ones and even absurdly tiny ones. Depending on the number of people on a road of a given size, you will notice a difference in the time from going from your gateway to the place you wish to go to. Along these roads you will see many people rushing back and forth, some people are pulling large carts with all sorts of stuff and some people are carrying little notes which look like a list of things to do. When you get to the building that you want to visit you hand over a list of things you want and then in order to view them you carry them home. Sometimes because the roads you have to use are very small, you can't use the large carts that some people use, so you have to carry the information bit by bit, so this takes a long time.
The city of Internet is a very peculiar city as things simply appear and disappear without notice. Sometimes a building that you were visiting only yesterday completely disappears, sometimes while you are in it. Sometimes some of these buildings have notices on them saying 'Closed for Repairs' or something similar, so you have to go away and come back another time. Another thing that you would not see outside the city are junctions that completely disappear so you have to go back to the previous junction and find another route.
There are some people who have lots of money and they can rent the roads between their house and the city and also have access to some of the largest gateways on the city wall. Theses guys are usually the ones with the largest carts and tend to hog the roads.
Some shops are very difficult to get into because their doorways are very small, so it doesn't matter how big the street outside it is, it will simply take a long time getting the things out of the shop.
On some days a new shop opens up and lots of people rush to see it, sometimes making things very slow on the roads around that shop.
Some shops realise that some people on the other side of the city are having to go a long way to get their stuff and are therefore finding it very slow finding what they want. Another reason is because there are more people visiting the building than it can handle. To sort out this problem part of, or all of, the shop is duplicated brick for brick in another part of the city so people don't have to travel so far. This usually makes the people on that side of the city very happy, though there is always the odd person who hasn't heard of it or does not trust it and therefore insists on visiting the original on the other side of the city.
When you send or receive mail via the 'City of Internet' you have to rent a mailbox at your gateway. Every time you want to check your mail you have to go up to the wall and see if your mailbox has anything in it. Some of the the richer people who have rented a road to the city can have their mail sent to a mailbox at their house. When you send mail you have to place it in a mailbox located at your gateway.
The great thing about the city is that the mail service is very efficient and gets to its destination very fast. Sometimes if a sorting house can't get the mail to it destination it will send you some mail telling you what problems it had or is having.
If you want to send mail to many people it very easy to do and it costs very little to do. Since it is very easy, it is also very easy to accidently send a copy of the letter to many people, so you have to be careful when addressing your mail.
With the increasing number of people living in the city, you are getting people who insist on being unpopular. These people will often try selling something to you that you don't really want. Popular people will have these adverts in their shops or pay another shop to provide space for an advert. The unpopular people will go round the city stuffing your mailboxes full of junk, and since it costs them nothing they won't care how the recipients feel.
If someone gets annoyed with someone else in the city, maybe because they insulted them, they will walk over to their mailbox and either put a nasty message in it or stuff it full of useless messages so that they have to go through the junk before they can read the real post.
People from around the city have questions about all sort of things and so want answers. To help with this news groups are set up on a certain topic and people who are interested in the topic will ask questions and even try answering other people's. The way this works in the city is by each gateway having a sort of notice board where the question and answers can be put. When a new notice is put up a messanger will jot down a copy and take it to all the other notice boards around the city, so that everyone else can see what is new. In most cases if you want to read a notice, you can only look at the notice board at your gateway.
The people who run the gateway will sometimes have their own local topics, that aren't passed on to other notice boards, and sometimes they refuse to accept certain topics, this is either because the notices take up a lot of room or because they don't agree with the sort of things that are discussed.
Buildings in the City of Internet all have very complicated numbers that are very difficult to remember, such as 100.231.563.673, so to help with this problem the people in a building will rent out an understandable equivalent in words, this name will eventually get to many of the gateways on the Internet along with many of the junctions. The junctions usually have a very long list of how to get to certain buildings. So when you decide to visit a building on the Internet, say named 'www.mybuilding.com', you give this address to the guard at your gateway and he will find the real number for you, since the city does not understand the words used by the people outside the city. Once you have that number you can visit the building that you want to go to. If after looking through his address book he can not find the equivalent building number the guard will tell you that you can't go in if you don't know where you are going.
The city is a wild place, and there are a number of people who roam the streets wanting to see if they can get into places that they aren't meant to. For this reason certain shops, and certain gateways have decided to hire a security guard to check that you are only carrying the type of information you been authorized to. So, if you are cought carrying something that you aren't allowed you have to drop it and carry on about your business.
The City of Internet allows all sorts of things to happen, because the inhabitants feel that they should be allowed to say what they want to say. For this reason children are often accompanied by their parents so they don't go wondering into the wrong places, such as the local red light districts. The inhabitants also feel that if you don't like a place, then it is up to you not to visit there, after all the people wondering those parts can't see anything wrong with it.
Sometimes you get to a shop you don't see it, sometimes this is because you are speaking the wrong language (consider ftp, http to be languages) or because they have vanished. To help you decide whether it is there you can send out a scout who will go and look for it. If he finds it he will get back to you saying 'yep it does exist' and maybe even tell you how many seconds it took him. If he can't find it, either by exausting all possible routes or giving up, he'll get b ack and tell you 'If its out there I sure can't find it!'.
This guy works like the scout except he makes a map of all the junctions that he passes in getting to the destination and gives it back to you. The City of Internet being such a strange city sometimes causes you to go to the other side of the city just to get to something that is next door because there is no closer street that takes you there or because the nearer are a bit too congested.
Its all very fine understanding the internet is this pictureque fashion, though if you are going to be speaking to 'techies' and the highy aquainted you are going to have to use their language.
City Speak Techie Speak Junction Router Road Size Bandwidth Gateway Gateway (provided by a service provider) Shop Server Building Server
In reality a network is a collection of computers connected together, an internet is a network of networks (short for inter-network) and the Internet (with a capital 'I') is the network of computer networks that covers the planet.
I have tried to simplify the Internet in a way that is both easy and enjoyable to understand. There is certainly more than this, though in most cases you probably need not know about, though if you find an area that could do with an easy to understand explanation the let me know and I will try to find one, on the condition that I understand it first ;-)
If you are the sort of person who loves to know where things have come from, then you might want to check the following links:
The City of Internet
by André-John Mas
First written January 1997, updated November 2005
This document is copyright André-John Mas, though you can copy it and use it on the condition you do not sell it for money.