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Internet Tools Summary: Notes Toward a Taxonomy

by John December (; 11 Mar 1994

Copyright (c) 1994 John December. You may use this document for any personal or educational purpose. For-profit distribution requires my permission. Provided ``as is'' without expressed or implied warranty.

THIS IS A DRAFT: I'm still working on this file.

There are many ways to look at Internet Tools. One can categorize them in terms of their function, use, channel characteristics, or other criterion. Foster (1993) gives the following categorization of NIR tools:

  1. Information Sharing (email, ftp)

  2. Interactive Information Delivery Services (Gopher, World Wide Web)

  3. Indexing Services (archie, Veronica, online library catalogs)

  4. Text-based Indexing Services (WAIS)

I think about Internet Tools in several different ways. One way is categorize them in terms of use, extending Foster's list to other tools and categories:

FUNCTIONAL (Primary Use) Breakdown

(My distinction between Group and Mass above is a closed-group versus open-group distinction as well as primary/cultural use.) Most problematic is my placement of MUD within Group and ITR within Mass. MUD involves cultural artifacts (objects) that are not possible within IRC--which is often used for broadcast, large-group purposes (e.g., L.A. Earthquake, Russian Coup).

I would make a 2D chart as:

       CHARACTERISTIC Breakdown 
                      (time v. Sender:Receiver group size)
              1:1      1:M                 M:M
synchronous   talk     Mbone               MU*
              message                      IRC/Chats/*

asynchronous  email    Usenet(moderated)   Usenet
                       LISTSERV(moderated) LISTSERV
                       WWW                 Interactive Webbing
                       most NIR(ftp,
                       fsp, gopher,
                       WAIS, etc).

Information Exchange

Another approach is to consider their essential information exchange function. Using the following system of notation:

      A Application/software
      C Client
      F File(s)              
      H Host/computer        
      I Interface            
      G Graphical User Interface
      L List                 
      M Message(s)           
      R Receiver             
      S Server               
      U User/sender          
      := has read access only
      == has read and write access 
      :: interacts with user interface (synchronous)
      (()) sound in interface 
       * video interface 
      <- copys (over network) from 
      <-> copys (over network) to and from 
      <+ linked from 
      <= created by
      [] contains
      () consists of 
      ;  and 
      NOUN PHRASES                            
      S[F] Server containing file(s)          
      M(L) Message consisting of a List       
      S[U] Server containing users(s) = other users using this server
      H[U] Host containing users(s) = other users logged into this host
      File Transfer Protocol:  U == F <= C <- H[F]; U => F -> C -> H[F]
      Narration:        The user gets read/write access to a copy of a 
                        file that was copied over the network to a client
                        from a host containing that file.  The user 
                        can create a file, and use a client to copy it
                        over the network to a host.
      Electronic mail:  R == M <- H[M <= U]
      Narration:        The Receiver gets read/write access to a copy of 
                        the Message that was copied over the network from
                        an (originating) Host on which resides the original
                        Message created by the User (Sender). 

We might assign each tool with a set of symbols:

   Alex         U := F <- S[F]
   Archie       U := M(L) <= C <- S[F]
   Astra        U == M2 <- S[F] <- M1 <= U
   Biomix       U :: G 
   Cello        U :: G 
   Finger       U := M <- F <= H[R]
   Ftp          U == F <= C <- H[F]; U => F -> C -> H[F]
   Fsp          U == F <= C <- H[F]; U => F -> C -> H[F]
   Gopher       U :: I(L <- C <= S[F]); U := M <- S[F]
   Hyper-G      U ::*(()) G(L <= C <- S[F]..S[F])
   Hytelnet     U :: I(L <= C <- S[F]); DOS: U :: I(L)
   Knowbot      U :: I(L <-<= S[F..F])
   Moo Gopher     
   Mosaic       U ::*(()) G(L <= S[F]..S[F]); U := M <- S[F]; U :: I(L <= S[F])
   Netfind      U :: I(L <= S[F])
   Netserv      U == M2 <- S[F] <- M1 <= U
   Nslookup     U := M <= H
   Ping         U := M <= H
   Prospero     U := F <+ S[F]
   Soft Pages 
   Telnet       U :: I(L <= C <- H[A]) 
   Veronica     U :: I(L <= C <- S[F]); U := M <- S[F]
   WAIS         U :: I(L <= C <- S[F]); U := M <- S[F]
   WHOIS        U := M <= S[F]
   WWW          U :: I(L <= C <- S[F]); U := M <- S[F]
   X.500        U :: I(L <= S[F])
   Email        R == M <- H[M <= U]
   IW           U ::== G(M <= C <-> S[F])
   IRC          U :: I(M <= C <-> S[R..R])
   ITR          U ::(()) M <- H[S]
   LISTSERV     U == M2 <- S[F] <- M1 <= U
   Mbone        U ::*(()) M <-> H[S]
   MUD          U :: I(M <= C <-> S[R..R])
   Talk         U :: I(M <-> H[R])
   USENET       U := I(M <- S[F] <- .. <- S[F])

(to be continued)


Foster, Jill. (1993). A Status Report on Network Information Retrieval: Tools and Groups. Uniform Resource Locator

23 Dec 1997
© December Communications, Inc.