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Q&A

Q1:If the Net "just happened," who's in charge? What keeps it going?
A1: That's one of the really neat things about the Internet: Nobody's in charge. (Microsoft, Netscape, and America Online want to be in charge, but that's different.) There are volunteer committees that handle such things as making sure every computer gets its own, unique Internet ID (which is essential to the workings of the Net) and approving the standards for such things as the way Web browsers communicate with Web servers. But nobody really controls the Internet, and nobody owns it.

It's the standards that keep the Internet going. The Internet is made up of privately owned computers and networking equipment, whose owners have put them on the Net for their own reasons. But because that hardware is part of the Net and obeys its standards, you get to use it, too. It's really a big fat co-op, an amazing example of how independent parties collaborating for their own self-interest can inadvertently create a public good.

As you'll learn in Hour 3, "Choosing an Internet Provider," you generally pay a subscription fee to an Internet provider in order to use the Internet, but that fee covers the provider's costs (plus profit) in maintaining its service. You're not paying "The Internet" a dime, since there's no actual organization to collect your money. In principle (if not always in practice), the Internet is free.

Q2:You just mentioned America Online. Isn't that the same thing as the Internet?
A2: No and yes. As you'll learn in Hour 3, America Online (AOL) is a commercial online service. It provides its subscribers with a range of information and services that are not on the Internet, and it also provides those subscribers with access to the Internet, just like any other Internet provider. Lots of folks use AOL, but the majority of Internet citizens use other Internet services.
Q3:I have this funny rash on my elbow. Is it psoriasis?
A3: Stick to the subject. Or, better yet, learn to search for information on the Web (as you will in Part III, "Finding What You're Looking For"), and you can find out everything you ever wanted to know about rashes.

In the meantime, dab on some cortisone cream, don't walk on it for a few days, and call me if it gets worse.


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