WWW: basic terms

David R. Woolley (drwool@skypoint.com)
Thu, 8 Jun 1995 19:52:27 -0600

I received an e-mail message from an ICDE-95 participant expressing 
confusion over some of the terms we've been batting around here:

>I am wondering though, if there are others like myself who
>would benefit by some brief description of the salient differences (from
>the users perspective) between conferencing, the helper applications
>discussed earlier, and the virtual reality applications mention by Evans.
>I'm trying to get a clear understanding of just what I, as a
>course/conference participant would see/do/experience using each of these
>different applications. 

I can understand that a lot of this discussion would be hard to follow if 
you don't already have some experience with the Internet.  I'll try to 

When we speak of "conferencing" in this context, we're talking about a 
group discussion that is conducted by means of written messages 
distributed by computers.  I would refine that definition further by 
saying that conferencing is "asynchronous" - that is, the messages are 
stored online, and participants can log in and read them at their leisure. 
This distinguishes conferencing from real-time "chat" programs that 
require participants to be logged in simultaneously.

This discussion we're having right now is an example of conferencing, 
although it's being conducted by e-mail rather than through what I would 
consider a true conferencing system.

This type of conferencing has been around since the early 1970's. In the 
earliest implementations, a conference would reside on a single mainframe 
computer, and users would access it via terminals connected to the 
mainframe. The same concept has since been implemented on dial-up BBS's, 
on the Internet, and on Local Area Networks. Now conferencing is moving to 
the Web.

Each of the platforms to which conferencing has been adapted offer 
somewhat different capabilities. The Web offers some interesting 
possibilities like hypertext links and the use of images in messages. But 
the basic idea of conferencing - text-based group discussions - hasn't 
changed all that much since it was first invented.