TRAILER dealers and other businesses must establish Internet websites if they hope to remain competitive as more computers with modems are sold and people subscribe to Internet service providers (ISPs) such as America On-Line, Microsoft Network, Prodigy, or local ISPs.
The Internet is the largest computer network in the world, said Terry O'Grady during a November 7 presentation at the National Trailer Dealers Association convention at Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. O'Grady is president of the National Equipment Inventory Network in Brandon, Florida. The company has a website that lists trucks and trailers for sale (www.nein.net).
In his two-hour presentation, Understanding the Internet, O'Grady explained the basic uses of the Internet and its origins. Later in the presentation, O'Grady explained how companies such as trailer dealers can establish an Internet website.
The Internet was created by the United States Defense Department in the 1960s to identify and link all military computers, O'Grady said. During the mid-1980s, this computer network was further developed and refined by the National Science Foundation because their needs quickly outgrew those of the military.
In 1990, the World Wide Web was created in France, according to O'Grady. The first publicly accessible website on the World Wide Web was launched in 1993.
The Internet's Infrastructure The Internet is often referred to as the net, cyberspace, or the information superhighway, said O'Grady. It is a conglomeration of computers and computer networks owned by universities, governments, and businesses.
The infrastructure of the Internet is paid for by the owners of the computer networks, O'Grady said. They make available their large computer systems with the different hardware needed to facilitate the flow of information.
The Internet is present in 150 countries around the world, he said. But no government regulation or censorship exists on the Internet.
To connect to the Internet, it is best to have a computer with at least 16 megabytes of memory, a one gigabyte hard drive, and a 150 megahertz Intel Pentium processor, O'Grady said. The software a computer needs to access Internet websites is called a browser, such as Netscape or Internet explorer. Browsers are often supplied by an ISP.
"The key to accessing the Internet is obtaining the computer hardware and a good ISP," O'Grady said. "Accessing the Internet is not difficult and it is very user friendly."
Individual users pay ISPs to obtain access to the Internet. Users can pay commercial ISPs such as Compuserve, Prodigy, Microsoft Network, or America On Line. In many large cities, users can subscribe to independent ISPs.
Better Service ISPs A local ISP often provides better service than a national ISP, O'Grady said. The advantage of a national ISP is that while away from home, a subscriber can access the Internet without making long-distance telephone calls.
When deciding which ISP to choose, it is important to know how many customers can access each modem of an ISP, O'Grady said. If the ratio of customers to modems is more than 10:1, it may be hard for a personal computer to establish a connection with that ISP.
Information is transmitted from computers to ISPs and the Internet via telephone lines, O'Grady said. Data is sent in a compressed file through a computer modem, telephone lines, and routers. Modems compress data so it can be sent faster through telephone lines.
Different types of modems include an internal modem, which is inside the computer; an external modem that is outside of a laptop or desktop computer; and a PCMI card that fits into a slot on a laptop computer.
>From modems, routers direct data through telephone lines, or the Internet's backbone. Downloading and uploading is the sending and receiving of computer files attached to e-mail. An Internet user can send e-mail or access websites anywhere in the world without incurring long-distance telephone charges.
The most common type of information transmitted through the Internet is e-mail, which many people use and are familiar with, O'Grady said. E-mail can include photographs, text, or video.
No Long-Distance Charges "It boggles the mind, when you think about what's coming for the telephone companies," O'Grady said. "Of course, phone companies are buying into the Internet in a major way."
Some telephone companies have lines with larger band widths that enable the transmission of a wider variety of data, O'Grady said. Using these lines, it is possible to transmit visual images.
In the future, new technology will include Internet television and video e-mail, he said. Many different kinds of high-speed modems will be available also.
New modems are increasingly built with greater speeds, O'Grady said. The speed with which a computer accesses the Internet depends greatly on its modem.
A 14.4-kbps modem is one of the slowest modems available that can access the Internet, O'Grady said. The 28.8- and the 33.6-kbps are the most common modems currently found in most computers. A 56-kbps modem is becoming more prevalent.
To have faster access to the Internet than a 56-kbps modem, a special phone line called an ISDN is offered by most telephone companies, he said. An ISDN line is about four times faster than an average speed modem. A T-1 is a dedicated line directly from an ISP that is about 50 times faster. T-3 lines, used mostly by large corporations, are about 1,500 times faster than the average modem.
High-Speed Internet Access Eventually, access to the Internet will be provided through cable television lines, which will be about 200 times faster than a modem, O'Grady said. Satellite access is about 14 times faster than a modem, but requires at least a 33.6-kpbs modem to return information.
"However, the senders and receivers on the Internet need the same hardware to take advantage of the greatest speed," O'Grady said. "You can have the fastest modems in the world on each end, but if data is routed through obsolete lines that aren't T-1s and T-3s, it will slow things down."
More people, ranging from teen-agers and housewives to professionals and company executives, are increasingly using the Internet, O'Grady said. Currently, over 45 million people have access to the Internet. In the next five years, it is estimated the number of people with access to the Internet will increase to over 200 million.
"It really isn't scary when we look at how easy it is to access the Internet," O'Grady said. "When I was asked to do this talk several months ago, many of you probably didn't have access to the Internet or the knowledge you currently have."
In business, many companies ranging in size from small retail stores to major corporations have Internet websites, O'Grady said. Retail stores have websites where shoppers can enter a credit card number and purchase merchandise on-line. Large corporations such as General Motors have websites with information and photographs on the latest models of cars and trucks.
Publishing a Website Businesses publish websites on the Internet to present information on their products and services, O'Grady said. Webpages can be used to offer technical support and share knowledge, or to promote a business or organization, such as the National Trailer Dealers Association (www.ntda.org).
"Web page construction is something that you should farm out, unless you want to get out of the trailer sales business and become a computer programmer," O'Grady said.
Web page designers usually charge $25 to $30 per page, but as more automated programs become available this price will decrease, he said. In the past, much of the work on webpages was done manually.
"Websites can often be saved on a file server maintained by an ISP," O'Grady said. "If you are paying for unlimited access from an ISP, they should provide you at least five megabytes of space on their server to house a static webpage."
The basic programming used to build a web page is HTML language, O'Grady said. Other programs used to build webpages include HTML 3.0, Java, and Java script. These programs are the interactive language read by browsers. After a website is built, it is placed on a computer file server with its various pages, which then can be accessed via the Internet.
Photographs on Websites The types of photographs used in websites include graphic interchange format (GIF) and joint photographic expert group (JPG), which contains millions of colors, he said. A portable network graphics file (PNG) is a new format that contains millions of colors, similar to a JPG file.
Photographs can often be downloaded from websites, he said. Paper prints and negatives can be electronically scanned and turned into a GIF or JPG file and then used on a webpage.
The homepage is the first page on a website, and it should contain a summary of the website, O'Grady said. A good idea is to include on the homepage a table of contents for the website. A help section to assist people in navigating the website can be very useful.
Links on a webpage to other websites allow a browser to jump from one website to another by clicking with a mouse on the link, he said. Companies often have links to other websites related to their business. Remind those accessing your website to bookmark it, which will enable a browser to easily return to the website.
"After a website is launched, how will it be found?" O'Grady asked. "It's like a needle in a haystack."
Search engines look for company names, types of industries, products, or any key words, O'Grady said. A search engine is sophisticated computer software that searches the web to find a Uniform Resource Locator (URL), which is the address used by a computer and browser to find a website.
Promoting a Website The URL for a webpage can be registered individually with search engines, or with a website called Submitit.com, which will register a website with every known search engine for $49, he said. Submitit will send website information to all the various search engines.
"Don't try to do it all on your own," O'Grady said. "Submitit will target the appropriate search engines for a company's website."
Registering a website with a search engine will allow website browsers to find it more easily, he said. The most popular search engine is yahoo.com. But if yahoo.com searches for the word "trailers," it will find semitrailer manufacturers and dealers along with movie trailers for motion picture films.
"One downside to the World Wide Web is a lack of organization," O'Grady said. "They are trying to structure regions and industry sections."
To help promote its website, a company should print its website URL on business cards, brochures, letterheads, and book covers, he said. Every advertisement a company runs in a publication should list its website URL.