Archives for September 2011

Internet domain names - what's your address?

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Wendy M Grossman Wendy M Grossman | 11:42 UK time, Friday, 30 September 2011

One of the key elements of the Internet's infrastructure is set to change in January 2012: the way named addresses, known as domain names, are created.

WebWise has already explained the basics of domain names - the 'bbc.co.uk' part of the address in the title bar of your browser. The system of assigning these names is called the domain name system (or DNS) and is managed by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).

Under this structure, every internet address ends with either a country code (such as .uk for the United Kingdom or .eu for the EU) or a so-called "generic" top-level domain or gTLD (like .com, .org, or .info). Second-level domains, that is the word just to the left of the top-level domain, may either be a name chosen by an individual or an organisation to represent themselves (such as the 'bbc' in 'bbc.com') or a word designating a category, (such as 'co' for company in 'bbc.co.uk', 'org' for organisation in '.org.uk', or 'ac' in '.ac.uk' for academic).

The top-level domains are managed under contract from ICANN by organisations called registries which liaise with the public. When you create a website for yourself, a new business, or a club, you pay a registrar to create the domain for you and thereafter a small annual fee. Different registries have different rules about who may register.

When the domain name system was originally invented, the generic top-level domains (or gTLDs) were intended to function as categories: countries, types of organisation. So .com was intended for multinational commercial organisations, .org for non-profit orgs, and .edu for educational institutions. There are also special-purpose TLDs, such as .gov (US government) and .mil (US military). Organisations operating within a single country were supposed to register under the appropriate country code - such as .us for Americans. In practice, however, almost everyone wanted to be in .com, which is still the most popular top-level domain.

The popularity of the .com domain led to concerns in the mid-1990s that the supply of names that were easy to remember and easy to guess was running out. In 2000, after much debate, ICANN created seven new gTLDs to expand the available options, including .biz and .info, and followed up in 2002 by creating special-purpose gTLDs such as .museum, .travel, .aero. A few top-level domains that sound as though they were created for special purposes, such as .tv (Tuvalu) and .ly (Libya), are actually country codes.

ICANN plans to change this landscape dramatically by allowing any string of letters and numbers to be a top-level domain (such as, for example, .bbc). The plan is controversial. Applying for a new TLD will cost $185,000 plus an annual fee if accepted. Businesses argue that they will be forced to register their names to protect their trademarks and reputation. Consumer organisations believe the new system will be confusing and potentially dangerous.

Here are some tips to bear in mind if you are registering a domain name for your own website:

  • Avoid underscores and hyphens
  • Avoid registering a name that is widely associated with another, better-known organisation or product
  • If your organisation operates only within the UK, register a .uk. address
  • Pick something easy to spell, remember, and guess

Learn how to browse the internet safely with the WebWise Online Course.

WebWise news report - Next generation mobiles

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Hajar Javaheri Hajar Javaheri | 13:52 UK time, Wednesday, 28 September 2011

A major mobile phone firm has warned that it may begin running out of capacity in urban areas if auctions of new mobile phone frequencies do not go ahead as planned. Ofcom currently hopes that UK operators will be able to bid for space on the new 4G spectrum of phone frequencies sometime in mid-2012.

But with all these Gs flying around, what exactly are they bidding for? The letter G is meant to stand for generation, but with the technology world growing up so fast, it's had to fit in other progress markers along the way. Within the umbrella of 3G there are variations, with something called HSPA (High Speed Packet Access) enhancing the service to give faster data download speeds. Enhanced 3G services are sometimes called 3G+ or anything between 3.5 and 3.9G.

Phone manufacturers confuse the situation further by describing their models as 4G, when actually they're referring to their ‘next generation' of phone, leading consumers to think they must therefore be getting the full 4G service, when in fact they're still on 3G. When the full 4G service does come about there'll of course be shiny new phones to match, but there's no need to upgrade just yet.

Just as I think I'm getting my head around all the G-babble, I look to my own phone to find the letters don't always align anyway. When my phone shows the letter G, it actually means 2G; when it shows an E it's using EDGE, which despite being dubbed 2.5G, is still technically 2G. Of course as a general rule, the higher the G, the better the data speed and when it works, it's great!

Seemingly spending half my life on trains, going through 3G+ areas always bring about a rush of excitement as I realise I have a short window in which to download anything from songs and video clips to applications and games. On a recent long and dull train journey I was able to take advantage of 3G+ and download a 5mb game (that's the same size as a 4 minute mp3 song file) in around a minute – relieving some of the tedium of the trip. That's almost the same as my home broadband speed. But that was of course only for a short stretch of the journey.

It's the availability that the network operators – and we as consumers – are after. Better, faster data coverage that's more accessible. With the changes that have already been made to daily life thanks to mobile data, you can understand why everyone wants a piece of the 4G pie.

Learn more about mobile phones with the WebWise guides.

The WebWise Online Course is launched

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Brett Tremble Brett Tremble | 17:18 UK time, Wednesday, 21 September 2011

The all new WebWise Online Course has arrived, offering users the chance to improve their skills in online safety, using the internet, emails and mobile phones. They can even gain credits towards a formal qualification.

We have all worked very hard to give the course the thorough makeover it deserves, and even a quick look will reveal that the site has a radical bold new look. In fact it is almost unrecognisable from the previous version of the course which went live way back in 2004. It never ceases to amaze me just how fast online content can look dated, especially when, like WebWise it deals with cutting edge technology and how best to use it. Seven years isn't that long a time, or so I keep telling myself, but in terms of technology it is an absolute age.

I have worked on many BBC sites before, including that favourite of 16 year old children everywhere, GCSE Bitesize. The nature of the knowledge being imparted to learners there is very different. Set texts may be added or removed from reading lists and various historical eras may fall out of favour, but by and large the topics that need to be learnt will not vary very much from year to year. With anything vaguely computer-related though, it is often difficult to keep up with the pace of change.

The old course made no reference to social media or to mobile phones for instance, whereas in our marvellous new offering they form a very important, integral part of the course. It's hard to imagine an IT certificate being award these days with making mention of those two now ubiquitous areas of technology!

It's not just the content that has changed since 2004 though. The site looks radically different and is much brighter and clearer to use. What has also changed is what technology allows us to do. You will find clear, easy-to-follow video and animation used throughout the site that copies how mobile phones and internet browsers work. Even a very basic computer user should be able to follow the courses we offer and gain confidence in their abilities.

The march of progress has also allowed us to add many new and exciting features to help adult learners make the most of modern technology. Take for instance the progress bars. If you register with the WebWise site, every time you log in subsequently, even if you switch computers, the site will remember how much of the course you have completed and will save your status every time you complete a module. You don't even have to take the modules in order so it is easy to flit between online safety topics and those covering emails. It's a great new feature and will I hope much improve the user experience.

But enough of me, the course is all about the learners. Please have a look through the site and let us know what you think.

WebWise news report - A digital future for rare books

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Hajar Javaheri Hajar Javaheri | 14:55 UK time, Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Many are familiar with Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, but less well known is Alice's Adventures Under Ground, Lewis Carroll's original, hand-written version of the tale.

 

Alice dines with Tweedledee and Tweedledum (played by The Two Ronnies)

Alice dines with Tweedledee and Tweedledum (played by The Two Ronnies)

 

The book - complete with the author's illustrations - was released this week as part of the British Library's series of digital books. Unlike most e-books, which are composed of typed up text viewable on e-readers like the Amazon Kindle, these books are faithful digital copies of the original manuscripts. They can all now be viewed online using various plug-ins and in fully accessible image files.

Other titles in the series include William Blake's Notebook and Jane Austen's History of England (both of which can be found here)which she wrote in 1791 when she was 15. For those with their own e-Book readers, the books are currently available for download via the Ebook Treasures site.

The release of the latest titles in the series comes just two weeks after the death of Michael S Hart, the visionary founder of Project Gutenberg who is credited with the invention of the e-book some forty years ago. Recruiting hundreds of volunteers to scan and manually type up thousands of works for an online library, Hart set the wheels in motion for making knowledge more accessible.

Interviewed in 1999 about digitizing the Declaration of Independence, Hart rightly stated: "If I put this up online, it will last a long time."

To learn more read the WebWise guide to e-books.

GCSE Bitesize Book Notes has full copies of many classics of English literature.

WebWise news report - Tackling the trolls

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Hajar Javaheri Hajar Javaheri | 11:56 UK time, Monday, 19 September 2011

In the second case of its kind, the courts have taken steps to punish an internet 'troll' for posting abusive online content.

The term 'troll' is widely used on the internet to describe someone who deliberately posts contentious and inflammatory remarks online in order to provoke others. These remarks can be on internet forums, chat rooms or in comment fields of blog articles. In this instance though, the term specifically applies to someone who posts upsetting and malicious messages on social media sites dedicated to the memory of recently deceased people.

Sean Duffy was jailed for 18 weeks after posting offensive messages and videos aimed at the friends and families of young people who had died. Last year Colm Coss was also imprisoned for obscene posts on Facebook tribute sites. The sentences send out a strong message to trolls and show that when it comes to the internet and freedom of speech there are still lines that can't be crossed.

Sometimes trolling can be relatively harmless, often it is intended to ignite debate over contentious issues on newspaper comments sections or on message boards. Many trolls simply see themselves as playing devil's advocate, setting out to intentionally provoke posters either for fun, attention or simply to practise their own right to post.

Although there is legislation that tackles online crime, the onus is very much on websites to have effective measures in place to ensure offensive posts are deleted and repeat offenders warned and even removed from a community.

Just as I've maintained in previous WebWise blogs, one of the best ways of posting on the internet is not to write things you wouldn't ordinarily say in public. There are of course exceptions, like websites that offer confidential advice, but if what you're writing could be construed as bullying or libellous, it's best not to post it.

Here are some simple tips for dealing with internet trolls:

  • Be sure to differentiate between what is offensive and what you don't agree with. If you disagree with someone online, keep to topic and discuss the actual issue or walk away. Making things personal can put you on a slippery slope.
  • Read a message board's house rules – the BBC's are here – and don't be afraid to report a post using the appropriate channels if you think it breaks them.
  • Don't feed the trolls – if what's been written doesn't break the house rules (or the law), take a deep breath and ignore it. Remember that some people will never agree with you – and you're more likely to find these people on the internet.
  • Don't be afraid to contact the website or even the police if you feel posts or messages are becoming too personal or if you feel that you're being harassed.

Read the full piece, 'Attack of the trolls' on BBC News.

UK Safer Internet Centre also has lots of resources for people working with young people on staying safe online.

Crowdfunding and the internet

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Sandra Vogel Sandra Vogel | 09:46 UK time, Friday, 9 September 2011

One of the iconic images of the riots of early August will no doubt be the burning Reeves furniture store in Croydon just south of London. The building had stood for nearly 150 years and its higgledy-piggledy shape dominated its part of Croydon. I'm based not so far from Croydon, and for me, and many others, the building was a local landmark.

 

Crowdfunding can reach more people online

 When the store was razed to the ground by fire many local people felt they'd lost something special, and many not so local people empathised. One person decided to do something about it. Blogger Mark Thompson set up a Pledge Bank page on which he pledged to give £10 in support of the owners' plan to rebuild their shop if 1,000 other people did the same.

Pledge Bank doesn't just support projects that are about money. You could also pledge to take an action or give some time to a cause. You can pledge to do anything as long as a specified number of other people will help. The caveats are that nothing illegal is allowed, and the site managers reserve the right to remove pledges if they don't fit with the site's family friendly ethos. There's a time limit on pledges too, so that anyone setting up a pledge will know pretty quickly if they've met their goal.

The Reeves store Pledge Bank initiative is an example of crowdfunding, a way of generating relatively large sums of money from numerous people who are happy to put a small amount each into the pot.

Many people think of crowdfunding as an internet phenomenon, but in fact it is a much older concept. Look around your home town and you may see statues with inscriptions saying they were built by public subscription. One very famous example is Nelson's column in London. Built between 1840 and 1843 its cost was raised partly by public subscription.

In much more modern terms, there are plenty of charities and good causes that ask people to give a regular but relatively small donation of a few pounds a month. All these small amounts can add up to a very big pot indeed, and they are another example of crowdfunding which can take place without any use of the internet.

What the internet lends to crowdfunding is the ability to reach large numbers of people. This means a wide range of projects becomes available, and the chances of any project reaching its goal can be increased too. There are plenty of crowdfunding websites which bring together organisations and individuals looking for help with their chosen projects.

Crowdfunder is one such web site. Anyone can sign up with their own idea, and if people like it, they'll put some money towards it. When I visited the Crowdfunder website there were pitches from people wanting to make films, produce smartphone accessories, set up shops, do scientific projects, and more. You read the pitches at the site, and decide whether you want to contribute to the amount of money required by any pitch that captures your imagination.

The Kiva website offers an alternative way of financing good causes. Instead of encouraging small donations that add up to a larger sum, Kiva lets you make a small loan to an individual or group of people, and the loan is paid back over time. Loans are made to people in other countries who would otherwise have difficulty raising money. Loans are small in our terms, but they can change lives. Kiva was founded in 2005 and since then it has generated more than $200,000,000 in loans.

Crowdfunding, then, is a wide ranging activity that covers a lot of ground. The chances are that whatever your own interests you can find a way to make a small amount of money work hard and some good.

Read Helen Purves' blog 'On the money: making charity easier'.

WebWise news report - We love search engines

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Hajar Javaheri Hajar Javaheri | 11:46 UK time, Wednesday, 7 September 2011

If you made one of the billion Google searches on Monday, chances are you would have seen a colourful and musical tribute to Freddie Mercury on the homepage.

 

Stars of Google - Freddie Mercury and Queen

This latest Google doodle marked what would have been the 65th birthday of the music legend and featured a 98 second animated video of Mercury performing to fans and ascending to the stars on a tiger. It's the second longest doodle after the web giant's tribute to Charlie Chaplin earlier this year, but how has a quest for information led to the creation of spirit-lifting topical artworks?

According to the handily-named site searchenginehistory.com the early concepts of search engines came alive with scientist Vannevar Bush's article 'As we may think', which was published in 1945. Bush spoke of a hypothetical device called a memex (memory index) that would work with the human brain and retrieve information through association.

In light of today's online search tools, his vision of storing and consulting information was spookily prophetic when he stated that: "Encyclopædia Britannica could be reduced to the volume of a matchbox."

With the advent of the World Wide Web, the fight for search engine dominance really started hotting up and with scientific advances technology firms battled to get to the front of the race. The terms bots and spiders would become common place. Internet bots (short for robots) are software applications that perform basic repetitive tasks at superhuman speeds and which have a number of uses on the web. Spiders are a type of bot which are often used by search engines to crawl the web automatically, gathering information and recording links in order to keep indexing up-to-date.

With few people understanding exactly what goes into a search engine, it's no surprise that Google offer diverting animations, Yahoo want to personalise your homepage, Bing like to offer you themed trivia and Ask hopes you'll answer its question of the day.

Now some of the most exciting advances have been made, it's the details that can make all the difference.

To learn more about search engines, take a look at the BBC WebWise guides.

A beginner's guide to cricket

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Charlie Swinbourne Charlie Swinbourne | 14:05 UK time, Thursday, 1 September 2011

What would you do if I asked you to throw me a googly, bouncer or yorker? And if I asked you to stand at silly mid on, forward point, or fine leg? Whether you're talking the language of bowling techniques or fielding positions, it can seem like there's an impossible amount to learn about cricket.

However, the basics of the game are pretty simple - and if there was ever a time to learn more about the gentleman's sport, it's now. After winning the recent series against India 4-0, England have just been named the world's number one Test side. That's right - England are now officially the best team in the world! So if you'd like to get started in this most British of games, here are the sites that can help.

First of all, why not get an idea of the rules? This section of the BBC Sport site has a fantastic overview, and I suggest you start with this page which outlines the aim of the game. The site explains what an innings is (each time a team bats) and how a team wins a game of cricket (basically, score more than the other team!). You can find out why players need to protect their wicket, how batsmen get called 'out' and how players score sixes and fours (or a single, for that matter) to tot up runs which can win them the game. There's also this useful page from America's ABC News.

To follow the latest cricket results, the BBC's Cricket site is a great start. Whether you'd like to follow international cricket or the county game, the site has the latest scores, fixtures and even offers the chance to listen to the Test Match Special podcast - which offers wit and analysis from Jonathan Agnew and Geoffrey Boycott.

There's other great sites too. Sky Sports has a cricket section which gives you great videos, feature articles and expert columns from greats of the game, like former England captain Mike Atherton. There's also the official website of the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB), and the very good cricket sections of newspaper websites such as The Guardian, The Telegraph and The Independent.

Following the game is one thing, but to really understand cricket and fall in love with it, why not pick up a bat and actually play? The ECB's Play Cricket bills itself as the "official source of all information and statistics on club cricket for all cricketers and supporters." By going into the directory search on the left side of the page, you can either search for a specific club (if you know who your nearest club is) or search for the contact details for your local county board (mine is Middlesex) who can tell you who your nearest club is.

I hope this gives you a great start in a game that's not only synonymous with the sound of leather on willow, long summer days and the ideal of sportsmanship, but also a game that right now, we seem to be pretty good at - and it's not often you can say that!

Read Charlie's pick of footballing websites.
Watch cricket training videos from GCSE Bitesize.
Play the Last Man Standing game from BBC Sport.

 

Charlie is a journalist and scriptwriter specialising in articles and films featuring deaf culture and sign language. He has written for The Guardian online and has contributed to programmes for Radio 4, while his films have won international awards. He also works in the arts, helping to make theatre accessible for deaf people.

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