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Internet goes Multimedia

by Klaus Mayer

The Internet services Gopher and WorldWideWeb offer a wide range of information to the scientific public. The segment with information for social scientists is growing daily. This article introduces these services to those who do not know them yet.

Until about 1990 there was only one possibility to get access to information from the world’s largest computer network, the Internet: to learn a set of Unix commands which seemed like secret codes to the lay person. These hieroglyphs were transmitted from one Internet generation to the next. But now the exclusiveness of the Internet Club is being seriously called into question. Meanwhile millions of Windows users are able to participate in Internet, because new menu-oriented programmes with graphical surfaces were developed. These programmes give access to the whole Internet just by clicking the mouse. No further knowledge is needed.

The background to this new software generation is the Client Server Principle. This principle is widely used now for many purposes. Those who want to offer information install a server programme on their computers and connect it with their databases. Those users who want to retrieve information run the Client programme on their computers and start a dialogue with it. All they have to know is how this software works. These programmes are in general very easy to handle. The connection to the different servers and everything that is needed to retrieve specific information is done by the Client programme, invisible for the user.

One of the first tools of the new generation was the Gopher software which was developed in 1991 at the University of Minnesota. The Gopher Client programme presents a hierarchically structured text-menu to the user which is retrieved from a Gopher server. The items within this menu can be chosen simply by clicking the mouse.

Gopher gives world-wide access to information resources such as online library catalogues, textual information on various topics, software and data archives. The best way to get an impression of its content is to start the programme and then navigate around the Gopher space by clicking at items in menus. The user digs himself/herself deeper and deeper into the Internet (see figure 1) until the target with the needed information is reached. Before he/she has found this information, the user may have dug through 10 or 20 menu levels. In order to facilitate searching one can use the very efficient Veronica programme. Veronica searches through all gopher servers in the world for user-defined terms. The figure 2 shows the result of a Veronica search for the term Maastricht. The list contains 37 items, e.g. the full text of the Maastricht treaty, which can then be stored on the local harddisk. It is irrelevant to the user which computer type in which country offers the text. In most cases he/she does not even know it.

A logical further development of the text-oriented Gopher is a new Internet service - the WorldWideWeb, or WWW for short. The WWW system pools all previously known services including Gopher under a new comfortable graphical Hypertext surface. Each part of a document can be linked to any part of any other document. In addition WWW supports the transmission of graphics, sounds and videos so that every WWW session can turn into a multimedia event. By clicking the mouse one moves from one WWW server to the other. Even unexperienced users face no problems.

The possibilities within WWW are enormous. To give an example: it is possible to start at a WWW server in Geneva to wander through a virtual map on the screen and undertake a multimedia walk through cities and landscapes of any country (see figure 3). These places can be visited by navigating the mouse. To enter the WWW the user has to install a Client software. The most popular software of this type is a Windows programme called Mosaic.

WWW is the Internet tool of the future. The well-tried servers that can only be accessed by using the proper command language will gradually disappear. New developments make the Internet attractive and very helpful not only for computer experts.

Dipl. Math. Klaus Mayer
University of Mannheim, EDZ, D-68131 Mannheim
Phone: (+49) (0)621 - 292 5737