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The Internet

A Succinct Definition of the Internet? 498

Posted by Cliff
from the indefinable dept.
magnamous asks: "Ever since Senator Ted Stevens used the phrase 'series of tubes' to describe his understanding of the Internet, I've noticed several stories and comments referencing how silly that is. Although I agree that that description is rather silly, each time I've found myself trying to come up with a -succinct layman's definition- of what the Internet is, and I come up short. Wikipedia has a gargantuan page describing the Internet, and Google's definitions offer pretty good descriptions of what the Internet is in a functional sense (with some throwing in terms that the layman wouldn't understand, or take the time to understand), but not really a good description of what it -is- in the physical sense that I think Sen. Stevens was trying to get at. What are your suggestions for a succinct layman's definition of the Internet?"
I know some would say that laypeople should take the time to learn the technical, more accurate meaning of what the Internet is. The problem is that they won't. We all know laypeople. I live with two of them. When you start talking about 'TCP/IP' or 'DNS', or if you get far enough to start describing those terms, their eyes glaze over. That's what makes them laypeople — they don't care about the subject enough to learn about it in-depth; if they did, they'd be computer enthusiasts. So please keep in mind that, in order for this discussion to be useful, 'succinct' and 'layman' are essential parts to any definition of the Internet given here. Also keep in mind that 'succinct' doesn't necessarily mean one sentence; a relatively short paragraph would be fine, too — the main goal is to come up with something that physically describes the Internet in a way which laypeople can actually understand."
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A Succinct Definition of the Internet?

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  • The Internet (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mfh (56) on Thursday April 26, 2007 @06:16PM (#18892911) Homepage Journal
    The internet is a collection of ideas, presented to users in a vast array of increasingly easier to use methods, by a plethora of individuals, groups, small businesses, corporations and governments, for multiple purposes involving money, fact and/or opinion. No single group of aligned parties shall control the Internet, or the Internet shall be no longer valid.
    • by Tackhead (54550) on Thursday April 26, 2007 @06:24PM (#18893007)
      > The internet is a collection of ideas, presented to users in a vast array of increasingly easier to use methods, by a plethora of individuals, groups, small businesses, corporations and governments, for multiple purposes involving money, fact and/or opinion. No single group of aligned parties shall control the Internet, or the Internet shall be no longer valid.

      Usenet was not the Internet, but back when it was most of what the Internet was used for, Gene Spafford said the same thing, albeit somewhat more whimsically:

      "Usenet is like a herd of performing elephants with diarrhea -- massive, difficult to redirect, awe-inspiring, entertaining, and a source of mind-boggling amounts of excrement when you least expect it."
      - Gene Spafford, 1992

    • by sserendipity (696118) on Thursday April 26, 2007 @06:27PM (#18893047)
      This is how I describe it to people.

      There are a bunch of computers - big and small, like the one on your desk and big ones that live in big rooms full of other computers. In between them is a lot of fiber optic cable. And organizing all the fiber optic cable is a set of junctions, like you would have in a model train set, only functioning at a bazillion miles an hour.

      Each little bit of data that you ask for, and the request itself, is like a little train, going down a track. It keeps hitting these junctions that read where it is going and shunt it onto the right cable to get there. When it gets there, in all likelihood the computer at that end sends something back, which travels the same way.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 26, 2007 @06:33PM (#18893129)
      ...is for porn!
    • My definition (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Archangel Michael (180766) on Thursday April 26, 2007 @07:47PM (#18893995) Journal
      Internet is a collection of independent communication networks, connected to form a much bigger communication network through mutually shared collaborative connection agreements; a General Purpose Communication System.

      People describing IP, TCP, Web, Usenet, VOIP all miss out on what the internet REALLY is, communication. The means, methods, routing and all of that is what makes it work, but not the purpose. Purpose is ONLY communication, nothing more, nothing less.
  • by Threni (635302) on Thursday April 26, 2007 @06:17PM (#18892923)
    How about "bunch of computers connected using phone lines"?
    • Heh, I was thinking about something similar, but chickened out.
    • by Hennell (1005107)
      Whilst that describes the physicality of the internet it doesn't do so well making people understand how there are things on the internet.
      ---
      I often find the word lethologica on the tip of my tounge...
      ---
    • by DeadChobi (740395)
      Howabout a series of electronic devices connected in such a manner as to facilitate the sharing of data.

      It includes cell phones, and doesn't mention any specifics. Any definition that mentions the physical medium across which the data is carried does not define the internet, since it doesn't include the venerable IP over Carrier Pidgeon spec, or the IP over Smoke Signal, or Sneakernet, or any of the other ways that data can be exchanged between computers that doesn't involve electrical wiring. Yes, the Inte
    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 26, 2007 @06:47PM (#18893317)
      Actually, to anyone with a shared connection (office, campus, etc) this wouldn't sound right. In fact, I would argue that from a mere mortal's perspective the participating computers are not actually part of the Internet. I would submit that it's more accurate to say:

      "It's the phone system for computers. It allows your computer to contact other computers and exchange information, just like you do with your home phone. And as with your phone, there's lots of physical ways to make that work (cells phones, old black rotary phones, big office phone exchanges with hundreds of handsets, and so on. To important thing is the information that flows, and that the actually connection part has been automated so you don't have to worry about how it works, you can focus on the communication part of what you're trying to do..."

                  - peterd (not signed in)
  • Series of tubes (Score:4, Insightful)

    by biocute (936687) on Thursday April 26, 2007 @06:17PM (#18892927) Homepage
    Maybe just call it "series of tubes"? Stevens is pretty layman, so I wouldn't be surprised most people can understand better with description like that.

    We used to call aeroplanes "big metal birds" and people instantly associate it with "big flying things" in a physical sense. Later on, aeroplane becomes a common term and no more layman terms are needed.

    So in the future the term "internet" would be enough for everyone, but right now, "series of tubes" pretty much describes its physical structure.
    • Re:Series of tubes (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Grishnakh (216268) on Thursday April 26, 2007 @06:41PM (#18893237)
      We're already at that point, unless you happen to live in an African tribe or similar. 10 or 15 years ago, this "what do we say to laymen?" question may have had some relevance, but now it does not. Everyone I know either uses the internet, or at least knows what it is, and this isn't just geeks or nerds, it's 75-year-old retired people, disabled people, and assorted other totally non-technical people. In developed countries, especially those speaking English (since we are discussing an English definition after all), there's almost no one left who doesn't know by now what the internet is.

      It's true, these people may not understand exactly what it is on a low level, like what backbones are, what companies own them, what TCP/IP is, etc., but just like with airplanes, they know the important stuff: that it's a "network" connected to their computer that they can use to access email, websites, and other services. These nontechnical people use the internet every day for reading their email, buying stuff on Amazon.com, checking out their favorite discussion forums, etc. They don't need a definition for the "internet". They already know what it is. That some stupid politician doesn't know, or feels some need to create a definition, is utterly pathetic.
      • Re:Series of tubes (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Hennell (1005107) on Thursday April 26, 2007 @08:00PM (#18894113) Homepage
        > That some stupid politician doesn't know, or feels some need to create a definition, is utterly pathetic.
        Its not just pathetic, its utterly embarrassing. If you're regulating something it would be nice if you have some idea of what that thing is. Saying stuff like:
        "I just the other day got... an Internet was sent by my staff at 10 o'clock in the morning on Friday, I got it yesterday. Why? Because it got tangled up with all these things going on the Internet commercially."
        does not exactly inspire confidence that he knows what he's regulating.

        However I think he's far less unusual then you suggest. You might be right that most people have heard of the internet, but I'd guess loads don't really know what it actually is or how it would work. Try asking a couple of non-geeky people you know to explain how they think the internet works. My Mother who has been using e-mail and the web for quite some time, still doens't really understand the difference between the internet, Google and the browser. She didn't even realise there was a difference for many years. When I tried to introduce her to firefox she thought it was a different 'internet' because I didn't have google as the homepage (which is when I tried to explain google is a website, not the web. She didn't get it). Just because people have heard of or use the internet doesn't mean they actually know what it is, how it works, or anything other then how they access it.
        ---
        How exactly do rats desert a sinking ship?
        ---
      • Re:Series of tubes (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Nefarious Wheel (628136) * on Thursday April 26, 2007 @09:04PM (#18894749) Journal
        Yes, most people have an idea of what the Internet does for them, but a number of laymen want to know what makes it go without being shown what a routing table is or what an MX record is for.

        For these people I say:

        "It's computers talking to other computers over cables. The cables are connected via a sort of automatic phone dialer called a "Router" using a sort of electronic phone directory called "DNS" where the name of the site you click on to is translated into the that site's phone number. That's simplistic, and there's a lot more to it than that of course, but that's basically it -- cables, routers and electronic directories".

        Disclaimer -- I'm a senior architect for a major telco's VoIP transformation, so nothing I'm likely to say is authoritative. But I do have to say these words to people...

    • by alienmole (15522) on Thursday April 26, 2007 @06:46PM (#18893303)
      I know people joke about the series of tubes thing, but it seems to me that was the least wrong part of Stevens' totally confused statement [boingboing.net].

      Politics aside, I don't really see the technical problem with comparing the Internet to a series of tubes. Tubes have a predictable bandwidth, i.e. you can only pump a certain amount of liquid or gas through them in a given time; and they have predictable latency, i.e. you push something in one end, it takes some time to come out the other end. So far, a lot like a network connection.

      What the "series of tubes" doesn't capture is the packetized nature of the internet, or the complexities of routing, and other such details. However, at the abstraction level at which Stevens was talking, I'm not sure any of that matters. If you're talking about things like "clogging up the Internet", it's true that that can happen, for the same reasons that tubes can get clogged: if you try to put too much stuff in, at too many entry points, your backbone tubes are going to become a bottleneck. So the metaphor holds up in this case, and predicts behavior that you can see on actual networks.

      The fact that the email problem Stevens was describing had nothing to do with Internet congestion is a separate issue, which doesn't actually detract from "series of tubes" as a metaphor for the Internet at a certain level of abstraction.

      I'd love to hear reasons why I'm wrong. Other than "Ignore the facts, we must excoriate politicians who are against network neutrality!" Ridiculing a perfectly good metaphor just because you don't agree with the guy using it is not the way to sensible public policy, although I admit it does seem to be how politics is often conducted.
      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by glittalogik (837604)
        What the "series of tubes" doesn't capture is the packetized nature of the internet, or the complexities of routing, and other such details.

        A series of tubes with individual gerbils running through 'em?

      • by dgatwood (11270) on Thursday April 26, 2007 @07:12PM (#18893617) Journal

        A roadway is a much better analogy. It isn't perfect, but it at least captures the fundamental notion that you have lots of pieces of data trying to get from different point As to different point Bs across a common, shared network of paths. The word "congestion" also means the same thing on the 'net as it does on the beltway.

        • by seaturnip (1068078) on Thursday April 26, 2007 @07:55PM (#18894063)
          So it's like an "information superhighway"!?
        • by whterbt (211035) <m6d07iv02@sneakemail.com> on Thursday April 26, 2007 @10:23PM (#18895547)

          Saw this a long time ago, still appropriate today.

          Think of the Internet as a highway

          There it is again. Some clueless fool talking about the "Information Superhighway". They don't know didley about the Net. It's nothing like a superhighway. That's a rotten metaphor.

          Suppose the metaphor ran in the other direction. Suppose the highways were like the net...

          A highway hundreds of lanes wide. Most with pitfalls for potholes. Privately operated bridges and overpasses. No highway patrol. A couple of rent-a-cops on bicycles with broken whistles. 500 member vigilante posses with nuclear weapons. A minimum of 237 on ramps at every intersection.

          No signs. Wanna get to Ensenada? Holler out the window at a passing truck to ask directions.

          Ad hoc traffic laws. Some lanes would vote to make use by a single-occupant-vehicle a capital offense on Monday through Friday between 7:00 and 9:00. Other lanes would just shoot you without a trial for talking on a car phone.

          AOL would be a giant diesel-smoking bus with hundreds of ebola victims on board throwing dead wombats and rotten cabbage at the other cars, most of which have been assembled at home from kits. Some are built around 2.5 horsepower lawn mower engines with a top speed of nine miles an hour. Others burn nitroglycerin and idle at 120.

          No license plates. World War II bomber nose art instead. Terrifying paintings of huge teeth or vampire eagles. Bumper mounted machine guns. Flip somebody the finger on this highway and get a white phosphorus grenade up your tailpipe. Flatbed trucks cruise around with anti-aircraft missile batteries to shoot down the traffic helicopter. Little kids on tricycles with squirt guns filled with hydrochloric acid switch lanes without warning.

          NO OFFRAMPS. None.

          Now that's the way to run an Interstate Highway system.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by alphamugwump (918799)
            And elderly grandmothers drive trucks loaded chock full of hookers and viagra. Without knowing it.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by tverbeek (457094)
      As long as you're intelligent enough to understand what a "metaphor" is, Stevens' description is actually pretty good.

      (I'm all for ridiculing the man on political grounds, but going after the guy for this is just childish.)
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Senjutsu (614542)
        As long as you're intelligent enough to understand what a "metaphor" is, Stevens' description is actually pretty good.
         
        No it wasn't. The "series of tubes" part of the metaphor was ok, but the rest of the metaphor was confused non-sense that corresponding to nothing in real-life and suggests the fact that the quasi-usefullness of the "series of tubes" part is probably more accident then a demonstration of any level of understanding.
    • Maybe just call it "series of tubes"? Stevens is pretty layman, so I wouldn't be surprised most people can understand better with description like that.

      I think criticisms of Stevens' "series of tubes" comment are a tad overblown. After all, the engineers DO use "pipes" as a term of art for the connections between routers. I suspect Stevens heard some of this talk and was trying to repeat it, but warped "pipe" into "tube" - a reasonable layman mistake.

      "Informaiton superhighway" is actually not all that bad
  • by Rudisaurus (675580) on Thursday April 26, 2007 @06:18PM (#18892935)
    It's pretty much a telephone system, except that it's computers calling other computers. Most people have a basic understanding of the workings -- if not the mechanics -- of a phone system.
    • by Goalie_Ca (584234) on Thursday April 26, 2007 @08:05PM (#18894149)
      In all of 0.5 seconds i came up with this:
      "A global computer network."

      People all know the word 'A' but probably couldn't tell you if it is an article or a noun.
      People understand global. To the stupidest it means big, to the educated.. well they should know damn well what the internet is.
      Computer. You know that thing that beeps and bops and plays games and downloads porn.
      Network. That thing you build up when you politic.. except this time its for computers.
  • by Timesprout (579035) on Thursday April 26, 2007 @06:19PM (#18892943)
    Succinct enough for you?
  • I have no problem with the "series of tubes" definition. It's pretty accurate. Tubes are fixed in capacity, as are most Internet links. However, there is only one Internet. ;-)
  • by Mr2001 (90979) on Thursday April 26, 2007 @06:22PM (#18892981) Homepage Journal
    It's not a "series of tubes". God, what a stupid definition.

    It's an array of pipes!
  • Youtube answers (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mattbelcher (519012) <matt@nOSpaM.mattbelcher.com> on Thursday April 26, 2007 @06:22PM (#18892983) Homepage
    Just send them this video: http://youtube.com/watch?v=1n4fDgmrF3o [youtube.com]
  • What's really all that wrong about tubes as a layman's descriptor? Like any metaphor it can be taken too far, but the metaphor itself is not bad.

    It's like if you were describing a car... aw never mind ;-)
    • The problem is that he not only took it too far in explaining bandwidth shortage, but invented it specifically to justify that bandwidth shortage, which it so miserably failed to do. The "series of tubes" metaphor says that bandwidth is inherently limited by the tubes, which are for the most part difficult to replace, when in reality it's limited by the machines connected by the tubes, which even a layman understands can be replaced without digging up cables all around the world.
  • Not entirely accurate, as you then have to define computers, but as close as I can come.
    • by Mr2cents (323101)
      Or better: lots of networks hooked together. That's why it's called internet.

      To me, the most important things to know are:

      1) on the internet every computer has a unique ip adres.

      2) data is sent to other computers by means of routing. For an ordinary computer, that means looking at the destination addres to determine if it is on the local network. If so, it sends it directly to that computer, if not it sends it to the router. Routers connect different networks, and when a message arrives, it retransmits it o
  • The Internet is... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Jimmy_B (129296) <slashdot&jimrandomh,org> on Thursday April 26, 2007 @06:23PM (#18893003) Homepage
    The Internet is a bunch of electronics which let any connected computer communicate with any other connected computer. It is useful because many of those computers provide information and services on request.

    That's it. The Internet is not wires, fiber-optic cables, http, TCP/IP, or anything like that, because those are technical details which have changed in the past and may change in the future.
    • by Chris Burke (6130) on Thursday April 26, 2007 @06:43PM (#18893255) Homepage
      That's a really good definition. You are right that the key observation is that the technological means by which all of the computers are connected and the protocols they use are not important.

      However since we are defining The Internet and not merely any computer network (to which your definition would apply), you should mention that this is a globally connected public system.
    • I just figured I chime in agreement. Tubes is simple and pretty convoluted. The description you've provided is succinct and provides enough building-block that a reasonable person could infer a number of complex uses based on this understanding. What am I supposed to do with pipes? (:
    • by bogjobber (880402)
      Actually, the electronics part is also a technical detail which has changed slightly, and may change more in the future as well. Also, the definition you gave is just a definition of a network. It's not unique to "the Internet."
  • Tubes are fine (Score:5, Insightful)

    by rta (559125) on Thursday April 26, 2007 @06:24PM (#18893009)
    I thougth the "tubes" analogy was fine, myself. I don't know why people got on his case about it.
    Usually when i try to describe the internet I liken it to the mail system. You have "envelopes" that are addressed to someplace. Then they get picked up by someone, thrown on a truck, routed etc. It's basically the same thing that happens with packets as they get routed.

    As far as the WWW goes, that's a different and distinct thing that's built on top of the Internet. I don't think it's really that hard to explain. It's just like a library or newspaper basically.

    If you want to get into the finer social implications.. then that's another story, but the basics, I think, are easily understood in terms of familiar concepts.

    • by akb (39826)
      I agree. Networking people often refer to "pipes", so I have no problem with "tubes" and never really got why people made such a big deal about that part of his comments. The other parts of his comments are *much* more ridiculous ("an Internet was sent by my staff at 10 o'clock in the morning on Friday, I got it yesterday"), let alone his position on the net neutrality issue and, more generally, that he is a bought and paid for shill.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 26, 2007 @07:01PM (#18893489)
      > I don't know why people got on his case about it.

      Because of the rest of the description wherein he believed that other people downloading movies somewhere were clogging the pipes and kept his "internet" (email) from arriving on time. If you watch it in context, it's clear that he doesn't know how the internet works. As far as anyone can tell, he believed the pipes are, well, literal pipes with "internets" flowing through them. Did you ever see the full speech? Only the first line gets widely quoted any more, but the Daily Show showed the whole thing. It was ridiculous.

      Anyhow, the most succinct definition of "internet" I can give you is just one word: here.

      Or if you need something with more technical accuracy, it's the giant network computers get connected to because almost everyone else is also connected to it. All the internet providers link to other providers, who eventually link with everyone else, because there's not much value in having a network isolated from the rest of the world in most cases.
    • IN fact that's where the terminology game from. Why do you think a bunch of data is called a packet? Its cause packets are what you send through the mail, at least in the 50's thats what they were called (nowadays everyting is a "package" but that's more because the term "packet" is now more widely used electronically.

      If you want to explain the internet to people, use the analogies that the original terms were modeled after!

      Server - A server is like a waiter or customer service person. You ask it for something and get get sir for you. The ony difference is the server is a computer that is handling the requests.

      Client - A client is like a patron or business client; he is the person asking the server for things. In the case of the internet the client is another computer, who is asking the server for something.

      Packet - A bundle of information, with an address, that needs to be delivered. The packet could be going from the client to the server, in which case it is how the client is asking the server for something. If it is going from the server to the client, it is the information the server asked for.

      Server, Client, Packet. Three simple words any layperson SHOULD ALREADY KNOW. It's not really hard to explain.
  • The internet is a big truck.
  • I could say: The Internet is a network of computers linked together. Different pieces are owned by different companies and individuals. There is no central authority that controls the Internet. However the computers, services, and network connections that make up the Internet can be controlled by the owners of the parts.

    Of course, that only describes one aspect. There are many aspects, so your layman's description should change with context.
  • "Series of tubes" is a perfectly cromulent expression.
  • A federation of computer networks that discriminates only by the ability to exchange information with something in that federation.

    (It's not about protocols. If you wired up a network using X.25 or DECNet, fired up some obscure machine, loaded up an information server on it, then provided a gateway to regular TCP/IP and a proxy to HTTP, that machine would be as much "on the internet" as any other. Any definition has to allow for non-standard connections, or it's not a complete definition of the Internet t

  • by daeg (828071) on Thursday April 26, 2007 @06:27PM (#18893055)
    The Simple English Wikipedia edition has a decent definition, although it throws in packet switching and "IP" in the definition (http://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet [wikipedia.org]):

    The Internet is a worldwide network of interconnected computer networks that transmit data by packet switching using the standard Internet Protocol (IP). It is a "network of networks" that consists of millions of smaller domestic, academic, business, and government networks, which together carry various information and services, such as electronic mail, online chat, file transfer, and the interlinked Web pages and other documents of the World Wide Web.


    So when you come up with a good definition, please contribute and edit the Simple English page.
  • A bunch of wires connected to a bunch of other wires.
  • I think Senator Stevens got a bad rap for that one. Techies often talk about "fat pipes" when they mean fast network connections, and evidently the image stuck in Stevens' head. I'd give him the benefit of assuming he was speaking metaphorically, since he must know that there's no actual tube connected to his computer.
    • by coug_ (63333) on Thursday April 26, 2007 @06:45PM (#18893285) Homepage
      I'm no a fan of Stephens particularly, but he definitely got a bad rap for this one. The full quote is actually very well thought out and intelligent sounding, even if it is using layman's terms.

      "They want to deliver vast amounts of information over the Internet. And again, the Internet is not something you just dump something on. It's not a big truck. It's a series of tubes. And if you don't understand those tubes can be filled and if they are filled, when you put your message in, it gets in line and it's going to be delayed by anyone that puts into that tube enormous amounts of material, enormous amounts of material."

      I think Senator Stevens got a bad rap for that one. Techies often talk about "fat pipes" when they mean fast network connections, and evidently the image stuck in Stevens' head. I'd give him the benefit of assuming he was speaking metaphorically, since he must know that there's no actual tube connected to his computer.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by akb (39826)
        I agree with the bad rap on the tube thing, but I would fail him in Networking 101 for "an Internet was sent by my staff at 10 o'clock in the morning on Friday, I got it yesterday. Why? Because it got tangled up with all these things going on the Internet commercially".
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by DamnStupidElf (649844)
        "They want to deliver vast amounts of information over the Internet. And again, the Internet is not something you just dump something on. It's not a big truck. It's a series of tubes. And if you don't understand those tubes can be filled and if they are filled, when you put your message in, it gets in line and it's going to be delayed by anyone that puts into that tube enormous amounts of material, enormous amounts of material."

        It displays an amazing ignorance of the scale and nature of the Internet. He
    • Yeah, but he all lost us all when he mentioned trucks.
  • by Floritard (1058660) on Thursday April 26, 2007 @06:29PM (#18893073)

    The Internet is a communication tool used the world over where people can come together to bitch about movies and share pornography with one another.
    - Ben Affleck - Dogma (1999)
  • Wires connecting a lot of computers.

    Communication occurs over various "ports," which are similar in concept to frequencies in the radio world.

    With any "layman's definition," you have to make analogies to things that the layman already understands. Otherwise, you would have to go into great technical detail. Sen. Stevens problem was that he simply repeated someone else's analogy (a telco/cableco lobbyist's for certain) but he does not understand it himself.

    The analogy he used was not appropriate for explai
  • Taking a queue from the tired phrase "information superhighway" I have always tried to describe the internet as a series of roads to people. Granted the analogy is not perfect, but it has enough things to get close:

    Bandwidth - how many lanes the road supports, the wider the number of lanes, the more traffic it can support (I also illustrate transportation types - motorcycles are fast but carry little, trucks carry lots and are slow etc.)

    latency - the speed limit on that section of road

    Ports/firewall ports:
  • by ZDRuX (1010435) *
    Hmm.. I always though Ted Steven's explanation was quite adequite, nobody else here seems to agree with me though, tough times!
  • he was trying to get at finding a way for enabling big corps who are naturally affiliated with "the good ol boys" club that runs the senate, capitol hill and administration to be able to control internet.

    and his definition of internet in fact was "something we ol' boys definitely need to put a leash on and control that this freedom of information thing wont go far and hurt our 'business'"

    the reason that his actual definition and what he said about the tubes seeming sooo different when you would actual
  • Multidimensional, between entities that appear, disappear, and change location without notice, where the links between the clouds are mostly fictional because they might go through a wholly different cloud, but it could be useful to consider them connected. And, most of all, uncontrollable and largely imaginary: most of the patterns reflect the mind of the observer, not reality.
  • by Blakey Rat (99501) on Thursday April 26, 2007 @06:33PM (#18893125)
    Imagine a giant radish, like a planet sized radish. Now imagine that there's a bunny hopping to the radish, and it takes a bite out of it. But the bunny spits out that bite and kind of smears it back in place on the radish with a paw. Then it rains.

    That's the internet.
  • An electronic system designed by scientists to allow the world wide free exchange of information for the benefit of all mankind. Later to be subverted and controlled by corporate interests for the benefit of the wealthy.
  • by deblau (68023) <slashdot.25.flickboy@spamgourmet.com> on Thursday April 26, 2007 @06:35PM (#18893149) Journal
    Physical: The Internet is a collection of computers that send each other messages, along with the equipment that carries the messages. Social: The Internet is a virtual community where people can get together, do business, and share ideas and culture. Functional: The Internet is a way you can use computers to send family, friends, and co-workers letters, pictures, and movies. Technical: The Internet is a collection of computers following protocols conforming to the OSI model that enable computers to communicate with each other. ...
  • Didn't the term "internet" come from Inter-Network or Interconnected Network or something similar?

    I'm sorry; is "network" too technical for layperson comprehension? The word itself is not technical, even if the subject of computer networks is ...

    I don't think it was the word "tubes" that got "Interwebs Ted" into trouble. I've heard a lot of technical folks over the years describe bandwidth in terms like "pipes" to make an analogy with water flow. So, "tubes" is not so far off the mark. But, a netw
  • I used to hear that expression all the time, never do anymore
  • I will assume that the person understands what a computer is. If not, you will need to explain that, which is not included in this explanation.

    A network is when a bunch of computers talk to each other. Like, when you have a bunch of computers in a computer lab classroom, and they are all plugged into each other so that you can work on a file on any of the computers.

    An internet is when you gang together a couple of networks so they talk to each other.

    The Internet is what you get when all the networks talk
  • by ScentCone (795499) on Thursday April 26, 2007 @06:39PM (#18893205)
    Most of the internet is a fluffy cloud, with little lightning bolts connecting it to little brick walls with holes through them, behind which are lots of little white boxes with numbers. The rest of the internet is a series of PowerPoint slides labled "ROI" and "incredible growth" and "first mover."
  • Webster is fine (Score:4, Informative)

    by John.P.Jones (601028) on Thursday April 26, 2007 @06:42PM (#18893245)
    Internet (noun): an electronic communications network that connects computer networks and organizational computer facilities around the world.

    I think this is a servicable, sucinct, definition. Of course, I would have split it in two as follows...

    Internet (proper noun): the global internetwork based on the Internet Protocol.
    internetwork (noun): an electronic communications network that connects computer networks and organizational computer facilities.

    but I'm a bit pedantic.
  • ...there really hasn't ever been anything like it before.

    Al Gore's "Information Superhighway" is a lot closer than the "series of tubes," although it's more like the transportation system of the entire world.
  • The Internet is like the emptiness of a vessel; and in our
    employment of it we must be on our guard against all fullness. How
    deep and unfathomable it is, as if it were the Honoured Ancestor of
    all things! ...

    Then again, I may be confusing it with the Tao.
  • by akb (39826)
    The Internet is a global collection of interconnected, independently operated data networks. Computers connected to different networks on the Internet communicate with each other through the use of Internet Protocol, which defines a common address space, and with the aid of the independent network operators agreeing to exchange their communications.
  • by Onan (25162) on Thursday April 26, 2007 @06:46PM (#18893307)
    A friend of mine managed to cover this in four words over a decade ago:

    "Many computers--all friends."

  • by Vexler (127353) on Thursday April 26, 2007 @06:47PM (#18893319) Journal
    ... but you may find it an inconvenient truth.
  • It's my personal playground. Now get the hell off my lawn.
  • The internet is a cooperating network of networks.


    The several networks cooperate by using a defined standard of communication "rules", called "RFCs", by providing selected services such as web servers, email servers, DNS systems, and other systems to the general public, and some provide more services to their customers/users.

    There's the 10,000 foot over view.

  • Analogies are like fire, wonderfully useful but with a lot of potential for danger.
    (meta usage intended) With that in mind...

    Picture the internet as a vast ever changing network of many many spiderwebs all interwoven together. These spiderwebs were spun in many shapes and sizes and thicknesses by many different kinds of spiders who decided to cooperate. But, instead of catching bugs with this giant ever-evolving spiderweb, the spiders pass data through its strands to each other. Accordingly, scatter
  • The Internet is a forum, the media and the message, it is a library and a circus, it is news and entertainment, it is games and pirates and all kinds of information and software communicating.

    The Internet is people and programs sending and receiving information to each other via computers and networks.

    I don't see how you need to say anything more than that to laypeople of the kind that you describe, whose eyes glaze over when talking about technical details. Do not talk about how the internet works, just s
  • Fortunately I haven't had to describe the Internet to anyone in a long long time.

    Information superhighway (or just comparing to the US road system) is pretty good:

    You start with the major highways, which get progressively smaller and smaller as you get to state then town roads, then someone's house (their PC). Different kinds of traffic can flow on those roads at the same time - trucks, cars, minivans, etc. Some areas you can't easily get into or are limited (gated communities, private property, etc.).
  • its like a big Newstand.

    a really really big one. With Vending Machines.

    And it is in the middle of a Bus Station.

  • A collection of devices to allow communication in many forms such as text, sound, and video.
  • ... but with holes in it.

    Yell - and everyone hears you, but they soon ignore you

    Whisper - and a few people hear you.

    Governments would like to control it - but can't.

    And best of all - when you fart in an elevator you can blame it on other people.
  • Perhaps the phrase "a series of tubes" is mostly accurate, but it's not the reason people laughed, it's just a good summary.
    Go listen to Stephens' speech [youtube.com] again.
    It's clear he's (badly) regurgitating some laymens terms that have been fed to him by god-knows what lobbyist.
    Furthermore, this isn't my grandpa we're talking about, this is one of the most powerful people in the country responsible for legislation governing the internet.
    The "series of tubes" phrase might be a reasonable thing you'd say to your grand
  • In the google link of the original post is the perfect answer:

    A global network connecting millions of computers.

    Can we have more interesting topics for Ask Slashdot, now? Please?
  • I've always been partial to statement #2 from the Searls & Weinberger piece World of Ends [worldofends.com]:

    When we look at utility poles, we see networks as wires. And we see those wires as parts of systems: The phone system, the electric power system, the cable TV system.

    When we listen to radio or watch TV, we're told during every break that networks are sources of programming being beamed through the air or through cables.

    But the Internet is different. It isn't wiring. It isn't a system. And it isn't a source of programming.

    The Internet is a way for all the things that call themselves networks to coexist and work together. It's an inter-network. Literally.

    What makes the Net inter is the fact that it's just a protocol -- the Internet Protocol, to be exact. A protocol is an agreement about how things work together.

    This protocol doesn't specify what people can do with the network, what they can build on its edges, what they can say, who gets to talk. The protocol simply says: If you want to swap bits with others, here's how. If you want to put a computer -- or a cell phone or a refrigerator -- on the network, you have to agree to the agreement that is the Internet.


    The Internet is no single piece of technology. It is an agreement about how to have different networks and technologies talk to each other and work together.

    It's a bit heady, maybe even a bit airy-fairy, but the essay captures some of the essence of why the Internet is different and proves to be so valuable.

    I also think it's a good lead in for discussing why net neutrality is essential. A non-neutral policy essentially throws away the agreement, likely fracturing the network into pieces between which there'd be ongoing maybe-we'll-talk-maybe-we-won't negotiations. Pieces get balkanized, even walled off, and resources that used to go to developing services that anyone who was part of the agreement could use now have to be devoted to the negotiation.

    With the Internet agreement, you don't have to concentrate on that. Just follow the guidelines on how to talk to one edge of the net, and you can talk to the whole world. That's the revolution.
  • by Agripa (139780) on Thursday April 26, 2007 @07:42PM (#18893937)
    A highway hundreds of lanes wide. Most with pitfalls for potholes. Privately operated bridges and overpasses. No highway patrol. A couple of rent-a-cops on bicycles with broken whistles. 500 member vigilante posses with nuclear weapons. A minimum of 237 on ramps at every intersection.

    No signs. Wanna get to Ensenada? Holler out the window at a passing truck to ask directions.

    Ad hoc traffic laws. Some lanes would vote to make use by a single-occupant-vehicle a capital offense on Monday through Friday between 7:00 and 9:00. Other lanes would just shoot you without a trial for talking on a car phone.

    AOL would be a giant diesel-smoking bus with hundreds of ebola victims on board throwing dead wombats and rotten cabbage at the other cars, most of which have been assembled at home from kits. Some are built around 2.5 horsepower lawn mower engines with a top speed of nine miles an hour. Others burn nitroglycerin and idle at 120.

    No license plates. World War II bomber nose art instead. Terrifying paintings of huge teeth or vampire eagles. Bumper mounted machine guns. Flip somebody the finger on this highway and get a white phosphorus grenade up your tailpipe. Flatbed trucks cruise around with anti-aircraft missile batteries to shoot down the traffic helicopter. Little kids on tricycles with squirt guns filled with hydrochloric acid switch lanes without warning.

    No off ramps. None.

    Author (maybe, it's hard to track down sources on the Net): Jim Wiedman
  • by KillerBob (217953) on Thursday April 26, 2007 @11:35PM (#18896195)
    Computer networks are ubiquitous enough that most people with any attachment to business know what a network is. Just describe the Internet as a network of networks. That's what it is, after all.

    They don't have to understand how it actually works. But they understand the concept of networking through social networking. It's a concept that's innate to human nature. Computer networking really isn't any different, and isn't a hard topic for people to grasp in general terms.
  • Webopedia (Score:4, Informative)

    by dcollins (135727) on Thursday April 26, 2007 @11:41PM (#18896229) Homepage
    I like to use Webopedia for succinct definitions like this.

    "A global network connecting millions of computers. More than 100 countries are linked into exchanges of data, news and opinions..."
    http://webopedia.com/TERM/I/Internet.html [webopedia.com]
  • by Danny Rathjens (8471) <slashdot2.rathjens@org> on Thursday April 26, 2007 @11:56PM (#18896317)
    On the North American Network Operators Group mailing list, I once saw this and added it to my quote file:

    > But what *IS* the internet?

    It's the largest equivalence class in the reflexive transitive symmetric closure of the relationship "can be reached by an IP packet from". --Seth Breidbart

There is no royal road to geometry. -- Euclid

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