Welcome to the world of the Web! We're very pleased to see you!
As most of you know by now, the first thing you'll need to start surfing is a networked machine and an account or user number. If you are a student, go to your university computing services branch, and they'll sort you out with an account, with which you can access web software. There are a few different web software packages; Netscape and Mosaic are the most common in the UK. The nice techies at your computer facilities should give you some instructions for operating this software, but here's a few basics:
Web pages, or sites, have addresses, also known as URLs (Universal Resource Locators). When your application opens, you'll see a text box in it with an address, and a flashing cursor. The address will be your university's 'homepage', a menu summarising all the information under its aegis. By deleting this and inserting another address, you can take yourself to another site. For instance, below is the screen as you would see it if you choose to visit UK Archaeology on the Internet, an excellent place to start exploring archaeology and electronic publishing in Britain.
The Homepage of UK Archaeology on the Internet as it appears using 'Netscape' software.
You'll soon begin to identify aspects of the address. If you've used e-mail before, you'll recognise one part already - 'nottingham.ac.uk' - which indicates that this page is from a file kept at Nottingham University ('ac'), England. In the States, a university domain will have the tag 'edu'. These are known as domains. Other domain types include 'com' (usually a company or other commercial institution), 'net' (a 'gateway' or administrative host for a network), 'gov' (a government site), 'mil' (a military site) and 'org' (organisations which don't comfortably sit in the other classes). Once you know the tag of a university, you can visit anywhere in the world by typing in the domain and then '/index.html' ("index" often denotes a homepage). Nottingham's is at 'http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/index.html', while the University of Michigan's centre would be 'http://www.umich.edu/index.html'. Alternatively, you may find homepages by specifying the address with a "/" afterwards, e.g. 'http://www.shef.ac.uk/~assem/'.
The prefix 'http' indicates that the file is a HTML or Hyper Text Mark-up Language document. A hypertext document is one that not only contains information, but also contains references to other documents relating to the topic in hand. It's the same principle as footnotes and bibliographies, except you don't need to shuffle off and get the other documents, you just need to click on the 'marked-up' text. You'll recognise where there is a 'hotlink' because the text will be coloured, and when you run your cursor across it, the normal arrow will turn into a hand. No need to type in all that gobbledigook. Point, click and go. Pictures are often hotlinked too; on the UK Archaeology on the Internet homepage you'll see a map of Britain and Ireland, a mortarboard and a trowel, each of which leads to another page where there are lists of specific types of organisations.
Once you start wandering through different web sites you'll sometimes want to get back to a site you visited earlier. There are three ways of doing this. If it's just the last page you visited you can just click on the 'Back' button. If the page is further back pull down on the 'Go' caption on the tool bar and you'll be presented with a list of the last few pages you've travelled through. Release on the site of your choice and you will be returned. Finally, if there's a site you think you'll want to visit in another session, you can place a bookmark (again, on the toolbar at the top), while you are still at that site, which you can then recall in the same way you would open any Windows˘ file.
Now you can really start to surf!
[If you would like to know more about the Web, try the excellent site The Online Netskills Interactive Course or the very friendly Netscape Navigator Handbook, particularly their "Heartwarming Introduction Page".]