Internet for Seniors, Saturday, September 23, 2000, 1-4PM
Northern Virginia Community College, Alexandria
Community, Corporate and Workforce Development
William M. Pegram, Instructor,

There are three primary uses of the internet:

The introductory course will emphasize accessing web pages, but will also spend some time on web email, time permitting.  The advanced course will cover additional topics with accessing web pages and email, and also introduce you to instant messaging and/or chat.

Step I - Getting Connected to the Internet

If you are using a computer at school, at work, at a library, at Kinkos, etc., the computer will almost certainly be connected to the internet and most likely will be connected all the time to the internet.  If you want to access the internet from home, you will need an internet service provider.  There are a number of considerations in choosing an internet service provider which are dealt with in the Appendix.

Step II - Introduction to Internet Addresses

Addresses of web pages will generally begin with http://www, followed by a period, the domain name, followed by a slash, (optionally) the pathname of the folder or directory containing the web page, followed by a slash, and (optionally) the filename of the webpage.  The folder name and the filename will often by case-sensitive, where the rest of the address will not be.

Domain names have endings that depend on the type of organization:

.com - Commercial
.edu - Four-year colleges and universities
.gov - U.S. federal government, except for the military
.mil - U.S. military
.org - Non-profit organizations
.net - Network (e.g. some internet service providers)
.us - states, junior colleges, K-12 schools
.xx where xx is a two letter code for the country

There have been various proposals to create additional endings

Email addresses are of the form name@domainname with the same endings as before. E mail addresses always have an @ sign in the address, but never have a www.  Web page addresses generally have an www but never have an @ sign.  Spaces are not allowed in either web addresses or email addresses.  When specifying a web page address, you need not specify the http:// part; just begin with the www part.

Examples: my web page address is whereas my email address is

Step III - Learning to Use a Browser

To access web pages, you will use a browser.  Microsoft Internet Explorer is the most commonly used browser, and AOL uses a variant of Internet Explorer.   Netscape Navigator/Communicator used to be the most popular browser, but it now trails Internet Explorer.  There are also browsers used in WebTV and in handheld devices, but these will not be addressed here.  If you are using AOL, you can use another browser such as Internet Explorer or Netscape, by connecting with AOL, minimizing it, and then launching the other browser.

Key operations:

(1) Entering a web address into the location field - setting focus, highlighting text and deleting it, putting the insertion point and editing text
(2) Following links
(3) Forward, back, and stop buttons

Step IV - Ways to Find Web Page Addresses

 There are at least three ways to find the internet address for a organization where you know the name of the organization:

(1) Guess -

(a) Organizations will try to use their whole name in the address.  Multiple names will be combined, for example, Best Buy will probably be bestbuy.  However, if the resulting name is over about fifteen characters, the organization will generally use a shorter name.  For example, General Motors is probably gm.

(b) The second aspect is to guess what extension would be used based on the type of organization.  Best Buy and General Motors are both companies, so the addresses will probably be and

(2) RealNames

Recent versions of Internet Explorer and Netscape have a real names capability where a large number of organizations have registered a name and thus one can type the name of the organization with spaces in the browser window and the browser will come back with various possibilities.  Thus one would type Best Buy in the location bar, or General Motors -- without the www, with spaces, and without an extension.  If you are not using a browser with this capability, you can type into the location bar and the resulting website will provide this capability.

(3) Search Engine

Yahoo! is a good search engine for finding the website address of a named organization.

Class Exercise

(1) Write down the names of organizations you deal with regularly: for example, Bell Atlantic, AARP, your bank or other financial institution, the state of Virginia, your city or county within Virginia, or that you expect to deal with in the next few weeks.  Put one entry per line.  Although web site addresses generally begin with http://

Name of Organization

Guess of Internet Address

Actual Internet Address if Different

















(2) Write down your guess as to what the internet address of the organization would be.  Do this for only the first organization.

(3) Enter this guess into the location bar of the browser, hit enter, and see whether your guess is right -- i.e. whether it takes you to the right website.

(4) If your guess is wrong, make another guess, or if you have no idea, try using the "real names" capability by typing the name of the organization in the location bar.

(5) Repeat the process for each organization on your list.

Step V - Keeping Track of Web Addresses by Using Internet Explorer Favorites

As you become experienced in using the web, most of your time will be spent at sites you have visited before.  Most browsers enable you to keep track of web addresses so that you don't need to type in the web address each time you want to visit the site.  In Internet Explorer, these are called "favorites."  In AOL, these are called "favorite places".  In Netscape and Opera, these are called "bookmarks."  Each browser does this in a similar fashion.  In each case, you enter the web site address into the location bar, hit enter, and go to the site.  Once you are at the web site, you use the browser to save the address under a name you specify.  To visit the same site in the future, you open up the list of favorites and select the appropriate address by name with your mouse, and no typing of addresses is required.  All of these browsers provide the capability to organize your favorites into folders.

Internet Explorer Directions:

(1) To add the current page to the list of favorites, on the menu click Favorites, then Add to Favorites.  A box will appear with a suggested name for the favorite, which can be changed.  If one clicks OK, the favorite is added to the list of favorites at the bottom

(2) To create the current page as a favorite but place the favorite within a folder, on the menu click Favorites, then Add to Favorites, and then Create In, and then select the folder or subfolder where the favorite should be stored.  Alternatively, one can create a new folder or subfolder where the favorite should be spaced.

Note: The box "Make available offline" marks the favorite.  If one then clicks, Tools, then Synchronize, the latest version of the page will be obtained from the Internet, so that the latest version of the page will be available for viewing within Internet Explorer when not connected to the internet.

3) To reorganize the list of favorites, click Favorites, then Organize Favorites.  This allows one to delete or rename folders, and move a favorite from one folder to another, or to move an entire folder.

Class Exercise

1. Look at the existing lists of folders on your computer.  Pick one and look at the list of favorites within the folder.

2. Think of a website that belongs in the folder but which isn't there now.  Go to the website, either by guessing the address or using the "real names capability" in the browser.

3. Once you are at the proper website, add the favorite to the appropriate folder.  Make sure to name the favorite the way you want it.

4. Click on Favorites, Organize Favorites, open up the folder, and make sure your new favorite is there.  If you want to move it to a different place in the folder, you can "drag and drop" it to another location.

5. Repeat for another site but put the favorite in a new folder that you create.

Step VI - Using Search Engines

Search engines can be used for a variety of purposes:

1) To find web site addresses for an organization (e.g. when guessing or "real names"  doesn't work), or
2) To find a web page that contains information on a given topic or answers a particular question.

To understand how to use search engines, it is helpful to understand, at a basic level, how they work.  Search engines index millions of web pages.  If they have indexed a given page, if you type in any of the words that appear on that page as a search term, the search engine will return a link to that page.  The only exceptions are extremely common words such as articles (e.g. a, the), prepositions (e.g. for, with), etc.  The results that the search engine returns to you will be ranked by some criterion, often relevance.  A link to the page will generally also be returned even if your search term does not appear on the page but is one of the descriptors that the author of the web page has used to describe the web page.

This automated indexing of millions of web pages is an impressive feat, but there are several limitations:

1) No single search engine indexes all web pages -- the most comprehensive only indexes approximately 30% of web pages

2) Because of the mammoth amount of indexing by a search engine, pages that have been created or changed recently may not be reflected in the indexing.

3) Web sites are increasingly data-driven.  Examples would include the following:

In all of these cases, the web page that one views when one visits the web site has been dynamically generated by the web site computer in response to your request for information.  Search engines, on the other hand, index static web pages and thus by and large will not index such dynamic web pages.

4) If one enters search terms that are too common, too many results are produced.  On the other hand, increasing the specificity of search terms may lead to too few or no results that satisfy the search.

I have grouped the more common search engines by category and have described each one briefly.  Three to highlight here are the following:

Class Exercise

Use search engines or other web tools to obtain the following information:

1) What is the state flower of Virginia?
2) What genealogical information is available on the web concerning people with your last name?
3) What public colleges and universities are located in Virginia?

Step VII - Finding Good Sites

Although search engines are the best way to answer the sort of questions posed above, most of your time on the web will be spent in other ways  -- e.g., buy something on line, check your investments, the news, or the weather, etc.  As you become more experienced, you will likely spend most of your time in return visits to sites you have used previously and found useful.  That is why favorites/bookmarks are so useful.

But what are the good sites?  First, use the web sites of organizations you deal with outside of the internet -- the information you find on these sites is likely to be of higher quality than what would be found on the sites you find using a search engine.  Second, some magazines and newspapers regularly have articles about particular websites.  For example, the Washington Post Sunday Travel section articles will discuss websites as does Newsweek.  Cut out the article or write down the address, and after you visit it, decide whether it should be added to your list of favorites.  Leslie Walker, an internet columnist for the Washington Post, has compiled a list of her recommended sites for investing, insurance, home buying, travel, etc.

Step VIII - Using Web Email

There are a variety of free web email accounts (e.g. hotmail, yahoo, excite).  Instead of connecting to the internet through your internet service provider and using an email program on your computer to read your email, you connect to the internet and use a browser to go to the web page associated with the internet-based email provider, log in to your email account, and then views your email with the browser.  The key difference is that with traditional email you access your email account through your internet service provider, typically from the same computer.  To use browser-based email, you can use anyone's internet connection and anyone's computer.  

Web email accounts are thus very convenient for those who wish to access their email from a variety of computers -- e.g. at home and at work, or when one is traveling -- or do not have an internet service provider.  For example, one's access to the internet could be limited to public libraries and still have their own email account to send and receive email.   In addition, just like multiple screennames in AOL, they provide a way for one to have different email accounts for different purposes and/or to disclose different amounts of information about oneself across email accounts.  They also provide a "lifetime" email address which does not change whereas traditional email accounts change when one changes internet service providers.  

Although I have not used these accounts very much, it seems to me there are several disadvantages of such email accounts.  First, the email programs such as Microsoft Outlook or Microsoft Outlook Express, Eudora, or Netscape Messenger are more sophisticated than the email programs used in internet-based email.  Second, one is limited in file space on the email server (e.g., 1.5 MB for Hotmail, 6 MB for Yahoo) for one's email.  Third, email must be read and composed online, whereas traditional email allow one to read and compose email when one is not connected to the internet.  Fourth, reading and composing messages for web email is probably slower than traditional email.  

Some web email programs offer additional features which address these disadvantages.  For example, one can easily set up Yahoo mail to forward messages sent to your Yahoo address to another email address.  Thus the Yahoo address could function as a lifetime address but you could be reading your mail at another account with a traditional email program.  Alternatively, one could set up your other email address to access mail sent to your Yahoo address.

Finally, if you want to continue to use a traditional email address but have the capability to access it from any computer (e.g., while traveling) , you can set up your web email account to access your traditional email account.

Class Exercise

Go to and sign up for a web page email account.  You can choose any member name you like.  You can choose one that suggests your name, or that has nothing to do with your name.  After you have signed up for an address, exchange email addresses with someone else in the class.  Then practice sending email to each other, or to other people in the class.  Practice some or all of the following: sending a message, replying to a message, forwarding a message to someone else, sending a message with an attachment, and entering a name and email address into an address book.

Revised: September 22, 2000; comments to William Pegram,