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 help. 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.