The public information stored in the multitude of computer networks connected to the Internet forms a huge electronic library, but the enormous quantity of data and number of linked computer networks also make it difficult to find where the desired information resides and then to retrieve it. A number of progressively easier-to-use interfaces and tools have been developed to facilitate searching. Among these are search engines, such as Archie, Gopher, and WAIS (Wide Area Information Server), and a number of commercial, Web-based indexes, such as Google or Yahoo, which are programs that use a proprietary algorithm or other means to search a large collection of documents for keywords and return a list of documents containing one or more of the keywords. Telnet is a program that allows users of one computer to connect with another, distant computer in a different network. The File Transfer Protocol (FTP) is used to transfer information between computers in different networks. The greatest impetus to the popularization of the Internet came with the introduction of the World Wide Web (WWW), a hypertext system that makes browsing the Internet both fast and intuitive. Most e-commerce occurs over the Web, and most of the information on the Internet now is formatted for the Web, which has led Web-based indexes to eclipse the other Internet-wide search engines.
Each computer that is directly connected to the Internet is uniquely identified by a 32-bit binary number called its IP address. This address is usually seen as a four-part decimal number, each part equating to 8 bits of the 32-bit address in the decimal range 0-255. Because an address of the form 18.104.22.168 could be difficult to remember, a system of Internet addresses, or domain names, was developed in the 1980s. An Internet address is translated into an IP address by a domain-name server, a program running on an Internet-connected computer.
Reading from left to right, the parts of a domain name go from specific to general. For example, www.cms.hhs.gov is a World Wide Web site for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which is part of the U.S. Health and Human Services Dept., which is a government agency. The rightmost part, or top-level domain (or suffix or zone), can be a two-letter abbreviation of the country in which the computer is in operation; more than 250 abbreviations, such as "ca" for Canada and "uk" for United Kingdom, have been assigned. Although such an abbreviation exists for the United States (us), it is more common for a site in the United States to use a generic top-level domain such as edu (educational institution), gov (government), or mil (military) or one of the four domains originally designated for open registration worldwide, com (commercial), int (international), net (network), or org (organization). In 2000 seven additional top-level domains (aero, biz, coop, info, museum, name, and pro) were approved for worldwide use, and other domains, including the regional domains asia and eu, have since been added. In 2008 new rules were adopted that would allow a top-level domain to be any group of letters, and the following year further rules changes permitted the use of other writing systems in addition to the Latin alphabet in domain names beginning in 2010.
The Internet evolved from a secret feasibility study conceived by the U.S. Dept. of Defense in 1969 to test methods of enabling computer networks to survive military attacks, by means of the dynamic rerouting of messages. As the ARPAnet (Advanced Research Projects Agency network), it began by connecting three networks in California with one in Utah—these communicated with one another by a set of rules called the Internet Protocol (IP). By 1972, when the ARPAnet was revealed to the public, it had grown to include about 50 universities and research organizations with defense contracts, and a year later the first international connections were established with networks in England and Norway.
A decade later, the Internet Protocol was enhanced with a set of communication protocols, the Transmission Control Program/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP), that supported both local and wide-area networks. Shortly thereafter, the National Science Foundation (NSF) created the NSFnet to link five supercomputer centers, and this, coupled with TCP/IP, soon supplanted the ARPAnet as the backbone of the Internet. In 1995 the NSF decommissioned the NSFnet, and responsibility for the Internet was assumed by the private sector. Progress toward the privatization of the Internet continued when Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a nonprofit U.S. corporation, assumed oversight responsibility for the domain name system in 1998 under an agreement with the U.S. Dept. of Commerce.
Fueled by the increasing popularity of personal computers, e-mail, and the World Wide Web (which was introduced in 1991 and saw explosive growth beginning in 1993), the Internet became a significant factor in the stock market and commerce during the second half of the decade. By 2000 it was estimated that the number of adults using the Internet exceeded 100 million in the United States alone. The increasing globalization of the Internet has led a number of nations to call for oversight and governance of the Internet to pass from the U.S. government and ICANN to an international body, but a 2005 international technology summit agreed to preserve the status quo while establishing an international forum for the discussion of Internet policy issues.
See B. P. Kehoe, Zen and the Art of the Internet: A Beginner's Guide (4th ed. 1995); B. Pomeroy, ed., Beginnernet: A Beginner's Guide to the Internet and the World Wide Web (1997); L. E. Hughes, Internet E-Mail: Protocols, Standards, and Implementation (1998); J. S. Gonzalez, The 21st Century Internet (1998); D. P. Dern, Internet Business Handbook: The Insider's Internet Guide (1999).
Flaming is the hostile and insulting interaction between Internet users. Flaming usually occurs in the social context of a discussion board, Internet Relay Chat (IRC) or even through e-mail. An Internet user typically generates a flame response to other posts or users posting on a site, and such a response is usually not constructive, does not clarify a discussion, and does not persuade others. Sometimes, flamers attempt to assert their authority or establish a position of superiority over other users. Other times, a flamer is simply an individual who believes he or she carries the only valid opinion. This leads him or her to personally attack those who disagree. In some cases, flamers wish to upset and offend other members of the forum, in which case they can be called "trolls." Most often however, flames are angry or insulting messages transmitted by people who have strong feelings about a subject.
Some equate flaming with simply letting off steam, though the receiving party may be less than pleased. Similarly, a normal, non-flame message may have elements of a flame—it may be hostile, for example—but it is not a flame if its author seriously intends to advance the discussion. The word flaming is also sometimes used for long, intensive and heated discussions, even though insults do not occur.
Although the trading of insults is as old as human speech, flaming on the Internet, like many other online actions, started in the Usenet hierarchies (although it was known to occur in the WWIVnet and FidoNet computer networks as well). Recently, several online forums have actively encouraged flaming amongst fellow posters. It may be that computer users are more likely to flame online than insult others in the real world, as the latter may lead to embarrassment and physical altercations, which online "anonymity" can avoid.
A flame war is usually started with what is called baiting: someone deliberately posts a provocative post that would offend some other participants and thus instigate hostilities.
There is no general agreement on the causes of flaming, although a recent study has led to somewhat conclusive evidence. Some common hypotheses are:
Flaming has evolved into a competitive internet sport, with organized rules, cash prizes and a cult following. The original website devoted solely to flaming is www.flame4cash.com, which went online in 2000 and is still online. Created by Jeremy "Ruthless1" Daspin and Redeye, Flame4Cash is where organized flaming started and also where the callout was invented and given formal rules. A callout is a challenge by one poster to another to a flame war (judging optional). The standard format is 3 posts per person, 72 hours between post with the person making the callout taking the first post.