The Internet vs. The Web

By Maeve Maddox

Although the hoi polloi (i.e., the masses) use the words Web and Internet interchangeably, there is a difference worth learning.

The Internet existed before the Web.

The first meaning of internet as it relates to computing was “a computer network consisting of or connecting a number of smaller networks, such as two or more local area networks connected by a shared communications protocol.”

The U.S. Defense Department had such a network called ARPANET–an acronym derived from Advanced Research Projects Agency Network.

From this DoD “internet” evolved “the Internet,” a global computer network that provides a variety of communication facilities–only one of which is the Web.

ARPANET was developed in the 1960s to enable researchers to use computers from remote locations. In 1982, the Internet Protocol Suite (IPS) was standardized and the Internet was officially defined as a global interconnected network. Although global, the new Internet was still mainly the reserve of people with the specialized skills needed to access it.

All that changed in the early 1990s when Tim Berners-Lee, a graduate of Oxford University, created a system of interlinked documents (e.g., web pages) that could be easily accessed by anyone using a browser. He called it the World Wide Web.

The Web, therefore, is not the Internet. The Web is one of many services that run on top of the Internet infrastructure. Other such services include email, FTP, and VOIP (e.g., Skype).

Here’s a typical misuse of the term Internet:

Are you unfamiliar with the Internet? If you want to know how to search the Internet, then you have to find the right search engine, type in your search as accurately as possible, and browse through the results to find the one you want. –WikiHow

I’m guessing that the Defense Department may know how to search the Internet, but when ordinary mortals go online to find cute kitten photos, they use search engines to search the Web.

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7 Responses to “The Internet vs. The Web”

  • John

    Actually, Skype is a VOIP application. VOIP, Voice Over Internet Protocol ,
    is another, say, service that run on top of the Internet infrastructure.

  • Julie Link

    Thanks for this post; I hadn’t understood the distinction between the Web and the Internet. Still not sure I do, but I’ll read it again. 🙂

    One question: hoi polloi is Greek for “the many”–the article is included in the term. Is it redundant to say the hoi polloi–isn’t that saying “the the many”? Or do we disregard the article hoi in English?

    I await your pronouncement, O wise one. 🙂

  • Jim Porter

    Back in the late ’80s or early ’90s, there was a lawsuit in my hometown of Phoenix, AZ, the central issue of which was that people should be allowed to advertise on the web.

    About the same time, I picked up a business magazine (not a sophisticated magazine, but the slop-business kind of magazines I used to, and still do, search to find the next quaprazillion business opportunity) in which a letter was cited written by a professor from some school that urged users of the web NOT to make it a source of business communications (ehhh, advertising) because the web was , according to him, a place for scholarly interactions and pursuits–a research tool. I remember one sentence so well. “The users of the web are guests of the community.” So, the guests should not betray the community by using the web for ghastly commercial pursuits. (I presume that, as he was a professor, he MUST use the world ghastly.)

    Anyway, the suit was settled in favor of the advertisers and the rest, they say, is ghastly.

  • Andy Knoedler

    In paragraph 6 you refer to the “Internet Protocol Suit.” That should read “Suite,” Now it’s commonly called TCP/IP — I looked it up because “suit” looked and sounded wrong. “Suite” is another one of those words that’s been kidnapped and rebranded by computer geeks for their specialized purposes.

  • Roberta B.

    @Julie Link – “hoi polloi” is not so much “the many,” as in a literal translation, but more the connotation of the unsophisticated masses.

  • Shing

    Older TV commercials have repeated shown the internet as “a web”. It is no wonder many people consider the internet to be “the web”. Even if internet engineers and technically minded people know that “the web” are just the webpages and not the internet itself.

  • Craig Beard

    “Internet Protocol Suit” should be “Internet Protocol Suite”

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