Surfing the Web / Navigating through a Web site

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The Net, the Internet, the Web, and the WorldWide Web (www) - these four words are generally used synonymously by common people as we have learnt in a previous section.

The Worldwide Web consists of many sites or web sites and moving from one site to another is known as surfing the Net. Each site contains information on something. You may move on endlessly jumping from topic to topic or you may keep on looking for more or different information on the same topic. Since the Worldwide Web literally consists of billions of web sites, unless you move systematically and in a planned manner, you will soon get 'lost'. This chapter will attempt to guide you to surf the Net in a planned manner so that you can easily get the information you are looking for.

The program or application you use to surf the Net is called a browser. You knew that already, didn't you? So if surfing the Net is your intention, you will first have to open or launch your browser such as the Internet Explorer, Netscape or America Online (AOL). Each browser works in a slightly different way but achieves the same results. At home I use AOL. At work I have access to both Internet Explorer (IE) and Netscape. Since few people use Netscape these days, I shall only talk about and use screenshots of either Internet Explorer or AOL. Sorry, Netscape users! Let me mention here that the AOL browser is basically an Internet Explorer browser with some modifications.

So to surf the Net, first open your browser by double-clicking on its icon on your desktop or single clicking on its icon in the quick launch section of your taskbar. Unless you are connected to the Internet by fancy DSL or cable, most home computer users will have to sign on using their screen name and password to connect to the Internet via old-fashioned but still widely used modem.

Once you are connected, you will come to the starting page or home page already set up for you, which you can change if you wish. Now supposing you are looking for information on arthritis. How do you go about it? Where do you begin?

Before I go on to tell you how get information about arthritis from the Internet, let us first take a look into the Internet Explorer browser and its different parts. Below is a screen shot of the top part of the IE window showing its title bar, menu bar, and tool bar along with the address field and the Go button.

This is how the top part of the Internet Explorer browser looks like.

The top part of the Internet Explorer browser.

To go to a web site, you need to type in the URL (Uniform Resource Locator) or "address" of the web site in the address field of the browser and click the Go button or hit Enter on your keyboard. The URL of any web site always begins with http followed by a colon and then two slashes (http://). This is a tell tale sign of an URL or a web page address. The rest of the URL has generally this form:

www.microsoft.com
or
www.harvard.edu
or
www.aarp.org
or
www.irs.gov
or
www.army.mil

In the above examples, www stands for worldwide web. In the last part of the addresses, com stands for commercial, edu stands for educational, org stands for non-profit organization, gov stands for government, and mil stands for military. The complete URL of each of the above web pages will be preceded by http://. For example, the complete URL of Microsoft Corporation's home page will be:

http://www.microsoft.com

Luckily, while typing the address in the address field of your browser, you can omit the http:// part. When you type the rest of the address and click Go or hit Enter, Windows will insert the http:// part of the URL in the proper place, and you will arrive at the desired web site provided you type the rest of the address (URL) accurately.

Web page addresses can sometimes be long and cumbersome. And unless you type the address absolutely accurately (even a single character or dot can make a big difference), you will get an error message and cannot arrive at the web site.

But take heart. There are ways of visiting a web site without having to manually type in the address. Here are some of the ways. You will learn more about these methods as you read on, and when you practice a little bit and gain experience.

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Now let's go back to the topic of how to find information on arthritis. There are literally hundreds of web sites that have information on arthritis in one form or another. How do you know which sites have information on arthritis and what are their addresses (URL's)? The best thing is to use a good search engine and do a search for arthritis. (I like search engines much better than directories for reasons already discussed in the previous section.) Google is perhaps the best search engine that is available today. So let us type in www.google.com in the address field of the browser and click Go or hit Enter on the keyboard. (The address field will always have the address of the page that is currently open in your browser. Click on the address to highlight it, then hit Delete or Backspace on the keyboard to erase it. Now type www.google.com. Please note that http:// will be automatically added by Windows.) You will arrive at Google's home page. In the large search box type arthritis and hit Enter. Google will list page after page of web sites that has the word "arthritis" in them, the most relevant ones on the top of the first page and the list goes on in descending order of relevance. Click on the site that, from its description, seem to have the information you are looking for. Glance through the site. Does not have what you are looking for? Click on the Back button of your browser to go back to the list of sites returned by Google. Choose another site from the list. Try a few sites this way. Still not getting what you are looking for? Overwhelmed by the volume of information? Narrow down you search. Go back to Google search box, erase your previous search term, and enter osteoarthritis or osteoarthritis hip or osteoarthritis treatment or osteoarthritis relief or whatever you are specifically looking for. With each query you will find a different set of results. If you enter your search term correctly, soon you will find a site that has the information you are looking for. When in the site, you can click on the links (these have different colors, usually blue, generally underlined, and when you rest your mouse pointer over them, it turns into a hand) to move from one area of the page to another, or go to a different page of the same web site, or go to another web site. If you keep on clicking on links pretty soon you will get lost. Remember, you don't have to click on each and every link. There are many commercial lures and baits in the Internet. A beginner might get trapped very easily. For example, you only need to click on a TitleMax link if you are interested in TitleMax title loans. Otherwise, unless you are looking for a job with the company, there is no need to visit their website. I am coming to that point in a minute.

Let's talk about navigation a bit. The beauty of the Internet is that everything is linked to one another. So you can effortlessly keep on surfing the Net moving from one site to another. There is no end to it. So you have to practice a little bit to stick to your course. Suppose you clicked on a link and have come to a page which you realize is not of any interest to you. Immediately click the Back button of your browser to come back to where you were. If after surfing for a while, you want to come back to a particular page that you visited earlier, click on the downward pointed arrow on the right side of the address field of your browser. A list of your recently visited web sites will drop down. This list will contain only 25 or so visited web sites depending on the setting of your computer (you can change this number). If you recognize the web site you want to return to from this list, click on it. It will jump up in the address field. Click Go or hit Enter. You will return to that site. The same thing can be achieved by clicking on the history menu of Internet Explorer. It will show you a list of visited web sites (a longer list arranged by day, even week of visit). Click on the site you want to return to and boom ... you are there! If you don't remember the title or URL of a site you visited a while ago, keep on pressing the back button of the browser. Eventually you will return to that site which probably you will recognize by its look. This is a boring and time consuming method, but a method nevertheless. When you want to return to the home page (starting page) of your browser, click on the Home button on the tool bar.

Get into the habit of putting a site in Favorites, or bookmarking it. If you like a site, and want to come back to it later or often, bookmark it. For instructions on how to bookmark click here. If you don't do it, it may become almost impossible in the future to find the site, because you will not remember enough details about it (such as the title, contents, keywords etc.) to perform a search for it. Bookmarking is easy to do, and sites may be deleted from the list of bookmarked sites when you do not need them anymore.

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Recognizing links (or hyperlinks) is a basic skill that is needed for surfing the Net, because it is by clicking on the links that you move from one place to another. In a previous section, I have given clues for recognizing text links. But links can be graphics too. You can click on a picture or graphic to move to a different place. These are called graphic links. How do you recognize a graphic link? Hover (rest) your mouse pointer over a graphic. If it turns into a hand, it is a link. At this point if you look at the bottom left corner of your screen, you will see the URL (Web address) of the destination point. Graphics, which are links, may or may not be decorated by a rectangular border of a different color. Sometimes, when you do not see a text link, and do not know how to navigate through a web page, hover your mouse pointer over each and every graphic on the page. If the mouse pointer turns into a hand, you will know that it is clickable (i.e., it is a link).

Example of a graphic link
This is an example of a graphic link. Note that the
mouse pointer has changed into a hand. You can also see
the destination URL (address) on the bottom left corner
of the screen. These are tell tale signs of a link.

Please do not forget to scroll down to see the lower part of a web page. Similarly, if you think you cannot see the sides of a web page, look for a horizontal scroll bar on the bottom of the page. Using that scroll bar you should be able to see the obscured left and right sides of the page.

Very long web pages usually provide a "return to top" or "top" link or button. Click on that. You will jump to the top or beginning of the page.

Here are some random notes that are worth bearing in mind:

  1. Each search engine lists results of your search in a different way. They follow their own formula or rule as to which web sites will be listed first (which are more relevant to your search term).

  2. You can write the keywords in the search box in either small letters or capital letters. Search terms are not case sensitive.

  3. If you cannot find what you are looking for, read the search tips or search help offered by search engines. If necessary, perform an advanced search or Boolean search to limit the results. Again, read the search engine's instructions on how to perform an advanced search.

  4. In most cases you can search by using the exact words, all the words, any word, and so forth. Just remember to check the appropriate box.

  5. Many directories and search engines will let you search within specific areas (such as within this category, in the entire directory, in a specific country) or in the entire web. Just check the appropriate box before hitting the search button.

  6. Unless the setting of your computer has been changed, your browser may ask you questions utilizing a dialog box. The following are some examples:
    • You are about to view pages over a secure connection. Do you want to continue?
    • You are about to leave a secure Internet connection. Any information you exchange with the site may be viewed by others. Do you want to continue?
    • To view this page properly, you need to download and install Macromedia Shockwave. Do you want to download Macromedia Shockwave now?
    • The page contains elements potentially harmful for Active X control. Do you want to continue?
    • To display this page correctly, you need to download and install Windows Media Player. Do you want to download Windows Media Player now?

Please note that the above examples are not pop-up ads. Windows default settings brings up these messages to safeguard you or make you aware of things. You can, of course, change these settings, but I recommend that you do not change these default warnings. They may save you from unforeseen disasters.

Note: In computers, before you can type something, you have to bring the cursor to the appropriate point by clicking the mouse button once at that point so that it starts blinking there. The same thing applies when you are surfing the web. Whether you are typing a keyword in the search box or you are filling out a form online, please remember to bring the cursor at the appropriate place first. When filling out forms online, you need to bring the cursor at the starting point of the form by clicking with the mouse. You can then move to the next line or next box by using the Tab key.

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