9(3), April 1992, pages 41-58

WANS, Connectivity, and Computer Literacy:
An Introduction and Glossary

Tharon Howard

I must confess that the exigency for this article was and is frustration, a frustration that I am sure many computers and composition researchers share. Quite simply, most English department colleagues do not understand us when we talk about the networked classroom. In some cases, people do not understand because, as Lisa Gerrard (1991) has pointed out, "many faculty in English departments view computer-assisted composition with indifference, disdain, or outright hostility" (p. 5); i.e., they do not want to understand. Yet those people did not provide the exigency that led to this piece. No single article will change them; only increasing isolation from distant colleagues and the empowering effects of electronic discourse communities will convince them to take an interest in computer-mediated communication (CMC).

Instead, my frustration is with those who are already interested in using the pedagogical power of CMC or who are already teaching in networked classrooms. I am concerned about these people because they often seem to overemphasize the value of LANS (local-area networking systems) and because they continue to suffer from the fear of technology alluded to above. I am worried by those instructors who, once they have learned how to use LANS in their classrooms, no longer feel the need to explore other areas of instructional computing technology, particularly WANS (wide-area networking systems). I am distressed by colleagues who tell me that they do enough with collaboration on our LANs (local-area network) and that the mainframes and WANS are too complicated to learn.

Of course, when I say that I am distressed by colleagues who only use LANS in their classrooms, I certainly do not mean to suggest that LANS are not valuable pedagogical tools. Obviously, they may enable all sorts of collaborative activities, they may be used to encourage students' recognition that knowledge claims are socially constructed and negotiated, and they may assist in the promotion of more "egalitarian" participation in classroom discussions (see Eldred, 1991). Nevertheless, LANS certainly have limitations and may not be the most productive means of achieving some pedagogical goals. And when instructors refuse to even consider using other available networking systems because they are "too complicated," they become victims of a self-imposed "technological illiteracy." Such instructors fail to see that they could, through WANS, bring the whole world's public discourse into their classrooms. In short then, I am frustrated because I see individual instructors and even whole departments victimized by their reluctance and failure to learn the language of networking technology. They must have this language if they are both to understand how network technologies can support or defeat our pedagogical goals and to wrest computing resources away from economy-oriented university computing centers.


Despite the English department's privileging of the printed medium over CMC, there is still explosive interest in CMC, particularly CMC on wide-area networking systems. Indeed, Stephen Hall reported in the Spring 1991 issue of Educom Review that the Internet alone is growing by an astounding 20% to 25% every single month (p. 19). Based on personal experience at the institution where I train faculty and graduate instructors to use the university's instructional computing facilities, some of this growth can be attributed to a turn away from computer classrooms using LANS to courses using WANS. At Purdue University, as soon will be the case at other institutions, the campus-wide demand for space in computer classrooms has exceeded available facilities. Even though our computing center has been constructing from three to five computer classrooms per year, we can neither provide sufficient hours for those students currently enrolled in courses using computer classrooms nor schedule courses for all the English department faculty who want to teach in them. Furthermore, with the current economic recession and subsequent cuts in the budgets of state-funded institutions around the country, this "happy" problem is only going to get worse for all of us. As a result, instructors in my department who, like James Kinneavy (1991), swear that they "won't teach again without computers" have turned to WANs environments in order to get their students on-line and communicating with each other. They have had to supplement their meetings in traditional classrooms with asynchronous, on-line class discussions carried out by students who log in to mainframe computer accounts that can be accessed via modems or various terminal sites scattered all over campus.

One positive result of this overcrowding is that, like many computers and composition researchers who began their careers by pursuing the effects of PC word processors on writing, instructors at Purdue are finally beginning to discover the advantages of WANS over LANS. They are discovering that an AppleShare network, for example, may be adequate for instructors who want to post an assignment for their students to read or who want to have groups of two or three students at a time editing the same document with an application like ASPECTS, but it is slow and cumbersome compared with the kinds of exchanges enabled by mainframe computing environments. They have come to the somewhat belated recognition that LANS simply cannot compete with the connectivity of WANS because students on WANs not only have 24-hour access to their classmates' texts, they have access to people, libraries, and databases around the world.

This kind of connectivity brings public discourse into the classroom in ways never before possible. In one of my classes for example, students read and discussed eyewitness reports of the SCUD missile attacks on Israel on the very day the attacks occurred. They discussed Supreme Court cases after having read the majority and dissenting opinions of the Court, documents accessible to them only because they were able to connect to the Cleveland FreeNet's Hermes project. [1] The students learned to enter the public discourse about war and our judicial system, not by reading some cold, academic textbook about the subjects but by reading or, rather, communicating with the people who were living the subjects, people who, as one of my students put it, had their "finger[s] on the pulse of history."

Redefining "Computer Literacy"

Our prodession is beginning to recognize that the kind of connectivity enabled by WANS is more than just a luxury (Eldred, 1991). Labs that are full of stand-alone personal computers and classrooms that depend solely on LANS for connectivity are rapidly disappearing. More frequently, faculty and program administrators are demanding that their LANs be ethernetted to their universities' mainframes and that their students be allowed access to WANS. Indeed, a whole new definition of what it means to be "computer literate" seems to be emerging in our field. It is no longer enough to know how to use a word processor or spreadsheet in order to earn the sobriquet computer literate.

As Richard Lanham (1990) has pointed out, "The most profound changes wrought by computers in the composition classroom are social, political, and pedagogical, not technological" (p. xiii). Thus, we need a whole new vocabulary for describing and teaching computer literacy because the rapid development of WAN technology and the social impact of wide-area networks like the NREN, CompuServ, Prodigy, MCI Mail, FreeNet, BITNET, and others means that tomorrow's computer literate must know how to enter and participate in the electronic communities found only on WANs. Computer literates will have to become experienced practitioners of "netiquette" in order to demonstrate their adherence to the values and epistemological stances of discourse communities found only in cyberspace. They will have to learn to research in paperless libraries and to use the information found there to solve industrial, economic, and political problems with collaborators whose faces they may never see.

However, we should not take Lanham's privileging of the social, political, and pedagogical effects of computing as a license to ignore the technological. Tomorrow's computer literates will live in a world where access to electronic information and knowledge is access to power, a world where the gap between the haves and have-nots is widened by the addition of "technological capital" to the "economic," "cultural," and "educational capital" Pierre Bourdieu lists in his book Distinction (1984, p. 11-13; see also Dertouzos, 1991). In fact, Congress is concerned that, as a nation, the United States will fail to obtain the technological capital necessary to compete in the global economy and, consequently, has recently authorized the expenditure of $1 billion over the next five years in order to develop the National Research and Education Network, or NREN, to replace the overburdened Internet (Jaschik, 1991; see also Gore, 1991).

If, as educators, one of our goals is to prepare students to become functional members of a participatory democracy, citizens who are able to get jobs, pay taxes, and make informed choices about our government and social order, then surely we must give our students the means of purchasing this kind of technological capital. Unfortunately, we educators often lack this kind of capital ourselves. Particularly in the English department, we allow ourselves to be victimized by that "eleventh commandment" of the Humanities: Thou shall not get technical. And by adhering to this self-imposed gag order, as Billie Wahlstrom forcefully pointed out at the 1991 Conference on College Compostion and Communications, we allow the university computing center to decide what and how we will teach in our classrooms. Our failure to learn the language of WANS--a language that is both technical and exclusionary--means that we give control of our classrooms to those "economic and political forces that have 'chosen'' to design the technology in this way and not some other and that are deploying it to enhance the power and wealth of those already dominant in the culture" (Kaplan, 1991 p.24). In other words, by remaining technologically illiterate, we silence ourselves. Because we do not even know what is technologically feasible, we allow the software developers and system administrators to continue to develop and maintain facilities accessible to an elite few. We should plead, suggest, and demand that interfaces and support mechanisms be designed that will allow the neophyte, the handicapped, or the disadvantaged access to computing power.

Network Pedagogy and Politics: An Example

Consider, for example, the following situation that I have repeatedly seen described on the networks and experienced at my own institutional site. A composition instructor, having heard and read about the kind of community that emerges in the computer classroom, decides that she would like to have her students using a network. She goes to the computing center at her university and asks for computer accounts for her students. Assuming that she can get her students computer accounts in the first place (many sites continue to deny undergraduates access to their mainframes), what kind of choices about the accounts can she make, and what will be the consequences of those decisions?

I suspect that in most cases the instructor will not have a choice, not for a lack of options--because a large number of universities have both BITNET and Internet connections, [2] --but rather for a lack of knowing how to ask about available options. Instead of choosing accounts on the basis of her pedagogical goals, a computing center technician will create accounts based on a desire to keep cost and resource consumption at a minimum. Often, this translates into computer accounts on an IBM mainframe connected to BITNET because the IBM is capable of supporting a large number of users and because the "store-and-forward" technology used on BITNET is relatively inexpensive, simple, and reasonably easy to maintain.

Now, I do not mean to suggest that BITNET is always a poor choice for a composition instructor; if an instructor simply wants students to exchange e-mail messages, the XEDIT editor used by most machines connected to BITNET may be more accessible to students than the editor used by the UNIX MAILX utility that one typically finds on the Internet. In fact, the type of machine and system configuration the instructor may find at a particular site can vary so much as to make it almost impossible to generalize about the type of mail utilities available to faculty and students. My point is that the choice should not be made by a technician on the basis of economic considerations. It should be made by someone who understands or at least knows enough to ask about the pedagogical ramifications of choosing BITNET's store-and-forward technology over Internet's packet-switching technology.

Generally speaking, a student with a BITNET account would not be able to access the Cleveland FreeNet and read Supreme Court briefs as I described earlier because a store-and-forward networking technology does not allow for "remote logins" or "anonymous ftp's" that require the synchronous technology found on packet-switching networks. Packet-switched networking systems like Internet allow for what seems like real-time interaction with remote computers because the technology is so efficient. In packet-switching networks, data from a user are broken into "parts," which are then stuffed into packets or "envelopes" that are then "stamped" with an address. The packets are then sent to the remote computer where they are unpacked, reassembled, and processed. Thus, when a user types a key on his keyboard, the network stuffs the data produced by the keystroke into packets and sends them off; yet, in the space between keystrokes, the network is able to ignore the user and is free to pay attention to the needs of other active users. In this way, packet-switching can support large numbers of users while it appears to each user that the communication with the remote computer is taking place in real time, except of course when the network becomes clogged with packets or when the packets have to travel extreme distances. [3]

By contrast, store-and-forward networking systems depend on a slow, simple technology that allows for files to be transferred from one computer to another. A file is sent to computer A, where it is stored until computer A becomes sufficiently inactive to forward the file to computer B, where it is once again stored until computer B can pass it to the next computer, and so on until the file finally reaches its destination.

Obviously, such a technology will not support real-time, synchronous communications; a user cannot sit at a keyboard and issue commands directly to a remote computer on the other side of the country and get quick responses to the commands. [4] Instead, the user must accomplish the following: 1) create a file containing the commands to be processed; 2) send that file through the storing and forwarding process to the remote computer where a program, such as LISTSERV or BITFTP, can interpret and execute them; and 3) wait, sometimes for several days, until the program's output is bounced back down the line to the user's host computer.

There are a number of drawbacks to this type of technology in the composition classroom. The first, of course, is its speed. As a general rule, students need their commands processed during a class period. They need to know, for example, whether or nottheir attempts to join a LISTSERV discussion group have been processed correctly, particularly if the discussion group is one that the instructor wants everybody in the class to be reading as part of a writing assignment. Few courses have syllabi that can allot an entire week out of the semester just for students to join a discussion group, and yet I have had students take that long because of misdirected files, mistyped commands, lazy list owners, and/or the slowness of the store-and-forward technology. Thus, such problems with speed are more than frustrating; they disrupt the very classroom communities we want to create by excluding certain students from the means of participation.

There are other drawbacks to the store-and-forward technology in composition classrooms. As was mentioned earlier, students writing research papers cannot log in to remote computers and search their libraries and databases. Even if they can, for example, find useful files stored on a LISTSERV file server or have them transported from Internet via BITFTP, they are often unable to have the files transferred to their accounts because of file size restrictions. In other words, because BITNET's store-and-forward technology requires that a file be stored on remote computers and because such storage uses valuable resources, many sites impose strict limits on the sizes of the files their computers will accept and forward. [5] Consequently, students can neither send nor receive long documents, and they are denied access to libraries and databases on other networks.


All these problems with the use of a store-and-forward networking technology suggest that composition teachers must have an understanding of basic WAN technologies so they can begin to critique the pedagogical implication of those technologies. Too often, new teachers, enthusiastic about bringing the connectivity of WANS into their classrooms, end up rejecting computer-assisted composition altogether because they were stuck with computer accounts chosen for their economic rather than pedagogical soundness. Too often, administrators commit their limited resources and the future connectivity of their departments and universities to network technologies that are ill-suited or even hostile to pedagogical goals simply because a technology is cheaper or because they have heard that most universities are connected to BITNET.

We cannot afford to alienate these potential allies, particularly in departments that view our work with "indifference, disdain, or outright hostility" (Gerrard, 1991, p. 5). Those of us who advocate computer-assisted composition and CMC research in general must do a better job of educating those colleagues who have finally decided to thrust themselves and their students into the "network cloud" to prevent them from becoming disenchanted with CMC. We must, as Wahlstrom argues, cultivate people in the English department who can speak the technicians' WANS language, people who can keep them from denying us access to resources when they offer the "technologically impractical" pretense they so often use to keep their operating costs low. In sum, we need people who can convince the administration, the computing center, and the English department that our pedagogical needs merit WANS resource consumption.

Although it is only a beginning, I offer the following glossary of basic but important terms that, I hope, will help us begin to develop the language we need to speak and be heard by computing center personnel. Obviously, however, defining a few terms will not solve all the problems I have posed here. It may help us begin to open tentative lines of communication between ourselves and the computing center, but more work will be needed before we can address the problem of computer literacy. For that, we need to develop our own critical languages, frameworks that will help us begin to formulate the issues and questions that will drive our future research. We need evaluative vocabularies that will help us identify contested sites in WANS pedagogy before we can begin to understand how WANS may support or defeat our pedagogical goals. Still, before this critical work may begin, we must understand what is technologically possible, and, to the degree that this glossary helps instructors locate options for their courses, it is a first, tentative step toward those future goals.

A Brief Glossary of WANS Terms

alias: An "alias," as the term suggests, is a word or set of characters that refers to some preexisting UNIX command or an e-mail address. For example, a user may wish to create a "mailing alias" for e-mail addresses that are difficult to remember. Thus, rather than typing an entire address like <ucc@mace.cc.purdue.edu>, [6] a user might create an alias <tharon>, allowing them to type fewer, more memorable characters to accomplish the same task. A mailing alias may also be created for entire lists of addresses. For example, I often create an alias <class>, which allows me to send an e-mail message to every student in my class simultaneously; i.e., I need only type "mail class" to have my message distributed to every individual student. It should be noted that aliases are commonly used in the UNIX environment, and different utilities often require that aliases be located in certain special files. You will need to consult the computing center or the software documentation for more information.

anonymous ftp: "Ftp" stands for "file transfer protocol" (see "protocol" below). Usually, ftps are only permissible if users are registered at a site and have passwords allowing them to bypass the computer's security system. However, anonymous ftps are a special type of ftp that allow nonregistered users to access certain public files and programs. Nonregistered users log in with the uid "anonymous" (see "uid" below) and give their e-mail addresses as passwords. Not all sites permit anonymous ftps; many limit the hours when anonymous ftps can be performed, and the process requires packet-switching technology.

ARPANET: Advanced Research Projects Agency Network, U.S. Deptartment. of Defense; ARPANET was a forerunner of the current Internet.

article: USENET users refer to messages or files that have been sent or "posted" to discussion groups as "articles."

BITFTP@PUCC: This is an ingenious program that allows BITNET users to execute anonymous ftps despite the limitations of their store-and-forward technology. As with LISTSERV software, users interact with BITFTP through mail messages that contain executable commands. For more details about these commands, send a mail message where the first line of the file reads "HELP" to the BITFTP@PUCC address.

BITNET: "Because It's There" or "Because It's Time" Network; mainly links university and college computers (see also CREN). Currently, most mainframes on BITNET use the CMS/VM operating system, and the network uses store-and-forward technology. Most BITNET addresses have the letters VM in them because BITNET computers tend to be IBM mainframes, and networkers conventionally use all uppercase letters for BITNET addresses and lowercase letters for Internet.

bulletin board: This term is often erroneously used by neophyte networkers to refer to a LISTSERV list or USENET discussion group, the term actually refers to small computers or PCs that can be accessed by modem. Public domain software and document files are usually stored on bulletin boards.

CAI: Computer-Aided Instruction or Computer-Assisted Instruction.

CAC: Computer-Assisted Composition.

CMC: Computer-Mediated Communication.

CompuServe: A commercial network on which CompuServe's users pay a fee and are able to connect to the system via modem and to commercial carriers such as Telenet. Unlike Prodigy, CompuServe users have access to some Internet and USENET services.

computer classroom: Although often confused with "computer lab," a computer classroom is explicitly designed to allow for classroom activities. Rather than focusing on individual workstations where students work independently on different assignments from different classes as in a computer lab, the computer classroom is designed to allow for group interaction and communitarian activity. It also usually has screen-sharing and/or projection facilities enabling instructor or student demonstrations.

computer lab: See "computer classroom" above. Often a room full of stand-alone personal computers, labs tend to be designed for individual, isolated activity.

conference: See "discussion group."

conferencing system: These software packages allow a group to communicate via computer. Conferencing systems can support real-time or "synchronous" communication such as the "talk" or "chat" programs. Or they can support "asynchronous" communication such as the e-mail exchanges on LISTSERV lists.

CREN: Corporation for Research and Education Networking; CSNET and BITNET merged to become CREN; however, most users still refer to the network as BITNET. CRENs charter limits network usage to research and educational activity. Commercial uses of the network are prohibited.

discussion group: This is a LISTSERV list (see "list"), USENET group, or other collection of people communicating via computer. There appears to be a convention emerging where discussion group refers to asynchronous interactions and conference is used for synchronous, but the terms are still used interchangeably by many networkers.

download: The act of transporting a file from a remote computer to one's host computer. Downloads can occur between mainframes or, through protocols like Kermit, between mainframes and personal computers.

e-mail: This term refers to electronic mail. Literally, an e-mail message is a file that is copied from one user's account to another's, or, when users are on the same machine, the file never actually moves but is merely renamed and assigned a new owner.

e-mail address: This gives the final destination for a mail file. Address syntax is in a state of flux and is an extremely political issue among networkers, but most addresses have three components: a uid, a node, and a network. The typical syntax is <uid@node.network>. Networkers conventionally put BITNET addresses in uppercase, e.g., <XUCC@PURCCVM>, and Internet addresses in lowercase, e.g., <ucc@mace.cc.purdue.edu>.

e-text: This refers to electronic text, and is often a generic term referring to any file containing print characters rather than binary or machine language files used in software. E-text may include e-mail messages; however, it is usually reserved for books, articles, abstracts, and other documents that have been stored in machine-readable databases and archives.

ethernet: An early networking system developed by Xerox in the 1970s that uses packet-switching. Ethernets, because of the way they broadcast signals (Cerf, 1991), are limited to distances of not more than one to two kilometers and are thus restricted to LANS.

filelist: This is a file indicating to LISTSERV software what documents or other files are available from a list or discussion group. The filelist also tells LISTSERV who can add files to the filelist and who can retrieve them.

FreeNet: FreeNet is a collection of open-access computer systems that receive their software from and are organized by the NPTN. Currently, there are five FreeNet systems: Cleveland, Youngstown, TriState Online, Heartland, and Medina. The first, largest, and most interesting of these for composition teachers is the Cleveland FreeNet, which came on line in July 1986. The Cleveland FreeNet offers 2.3 gigabytes of hard-disk storage and, consequently, offers tremendous information retrieval opportunities. Instructors interested in the system's educational use should explore "The Schoolhouse (Academy One)" bulletin boards. Researchers may wish to explore the Society for Critical Exchange's "College of Electronic Theory." Access to the Cleveland FreeNet is described in the "NPTN" entry below. Please note: Although there is currently no usage charge for the FreeNet, visitors may not post to the bulletin boards or send e-mail; there is a $10 fee to become a registered user.

gateways: These are special computers, also called routers, that serve as bridges between different networks. Gateways are usually transparent to networkers except when they go down because of mechanical failures or when they reject files that are too large.

host: A single computer in a network. Node is usually the preferred term; however, when networkers wish to designate a site where a particular program or user exists, they will often use the term host. For example, PURCCVM is the "host computer" for the PURTOPOI discussion group because it only exists on the PURCCVM machine.

internet: An internet (with a lower case i) is a kind of "metanetwork" or any network of smaller networks and should not be confused with the Internet (with a capital I).

Internet: This replaced the original ARPANET and will itself soon be replaced by the high-speed NREN. Originally funded by the Deptartment of Defense, it also receives funding from the NSF and other government agencies for research and educational use (commercial projects are prohibited). The Internet is a national internet or metanetwork of smaller, usually regional networks. A large proportion of computers on Internet use the UNIX operating system, and the network itself employs packet-switched technology. Internet addresses usually end in <.edu>, <.com>, or <.gov> and, by convention, are all printed in lowercase.

LAN: Local-Area Network; usually a collection of PCs connected together. LANs differ from WANs in that LANs are typically limited to a single room, building, or campus. However, LANs are often able to access WANs.

LANS: Local-Area Networking System; refers to the technology rather than the networks or "LANs" themselves. LANS typically use packet-switched technology.

list: Literally, this is a file listing addresses and names of people or even other lists. The list also contains directions telling the LISTSERV software how to add new people to a list, how to manipulate messages sent to the list, whether the list is open to the public or confidential, etc.

listowner: Refers to the person(s) responsible for maintaining a LISTSERV list; also called a sysop or system operator. Listowners are often little more than participants in open group discussions, though on some lists they function as editors, deciding which messages will or will not be posted to the list.

LISTSERV: A software package written by Eric Thomas that enables large groups of individuals to communicate efficiently. LISTSERV is capable of performing a number of tasks, including serving as an e-text database or archiver, but its basic function is to distribute e-mail or other files to members of a list. In effect, it allows an individual to send a message to one address and then have that message distributed to every other individual on the list.

MILNET: Military Network; links computers at various U.S. military installations around the world. MILNET computers cannot legally store classified information and are linked to Internet.

moderator: The USENET equivalent of a listowner. Moderators can take an active role in screening and editing articles posted to USENET groups; however, they usually only step in when a discussion turns particularly vituperative

netiquette: Network Etiquette; a highly political area of discussion, netiquette deals with appropriate and inappropriate uses of networks and may vary radically from network to network and even from discussion group to discussion group. Potential netiquette issues can range from complex legal and ethical questions to simple typographical conventions.

NETNEWS: A software package developed at the University of Pennsylvania that allows BITNET users access to USENET and other discussion groups.

network: A collection of computers linked together by satellite, telephone line, radio packet, fiber optics, copper wire, or some other means that are able to exchange data because of some shared protocol such as the TCP/IP or OSI. Networks tend to use either packet-switched or store-and-forward technology.

network cloud: Networkers often use a cloud metaphor to refer to the connections on networks because of the complexity of routers, gateways, and other switching systems in networks and because of the unfathomable number of connections that exist. A message sent through a network is like a plane flying through a cloud; it is visible only before and after it passes through a cloud.

networkers: People who use the networks.

nickname file: A nickname file is basically the CMS/VM equivalent of an alias file in UNIX (see ealier entry,"alias").

node: A single computer in a network of computers; each node has its own name or network address and can support a number of individual users simultaneously. A node may be called a host in certain contexts (see "host" above).

NPTN: National Public Telecomputing Network, the NPTN operates on the same principle as National Public Radio, except that computers are used to provide the public with information rather than radio stations. Originally begun by Dr. Tom Grundner in 1984 at Case Western University, the NPTN is now managed by a seven-member Board of Directors. Currently, there are five "FreeNets" in the NPTN system with several others under development (see "FreeNet" above). To receive more information or to join the NPTN, connect to the Cleveland FreeNet. For 300, 1200, or 2400 baud modem access, dial (216) 368-3888. Internet access is available via <telnet at freenet-in-a.cwru.edu> ( Once connected, either via modem or Telnet, log in as a visitor; type <go admin>, and select the menu entries for NPTN.

NREN: National Research and Education Network; a five-year, $1 billion project recently authorized by Congress, the NREN will replace the overburdened Internet around 1996 and, when completed, should enable users to send 100,000 pages of text per second. The funding of the NREN promises to open up a whole new era in WANS technology and accessibility.

NSFNET: National Science Foundation Network; the NSF is one of the major funding organizations for the current Internet, and, although transparent to most users, the NSFNET serves as a major backbone for the Internet.

packet-switched: A type of network technology that breaks data strings into short chunks that are stuffed into "packets" or "envelopes." Each packet or envelope is then stamped with an address and sent to its destination where the envelopes are unpacked and reassembled into data strings. This technology is very fast and allows for a wide variety of interactive user services.

post: A message sent to a discussion group is called a post, and the activity is referred to as posting.

postmaster: Postmasters are one step above listowners in the LISTSERV hierarchy. They are responsible for maintaining the LISTSERV software for their particular sites, though they do not actually manage the lists themselves. Typically, postmasters are also the system administrators for their sites as well (see "sysop" and "superuser").

postnews: A common utility that allows users to "post" or send a file to USENET discussion groups.

Prodigy: A commercial network in which users pay a fee to connect to the system. Currently, Prodigy is a closed network, and e-mail traffic between Prodigy and Internet or BITNET is not possible.

protocol suite: A collection of programs, called a "suite," that allows computers to share data. Protocol suites are the common languages and standards computers use to exchange data. In packet-switched networks for example, protocols tell computers how to break data strings into packets and how to reassemble packets into usable data strings. Without protocols, networks could not exist.

remote login: As its name implies, a remote login or "rlogin" allows users to access files and execute programs on a remote computer without having to leave the users' host computer or, more important, without having to travel to the remote computer's physical site.

rn (or readnews): One of the more common utilities used to read articles posted to USENET discussion groups.

store-and-forward: A type of network technology where files are sent from one node in the network to the next. Each node stores the file and then forwards it to yet another node until the file reaches its final destination. This technology is much slower than packet-switched and does not support Telnet's remote logins, anonymous ftps, or other interactive resource-sharing utilities. It is used by BITNET and USENET.

subscriber: A member of a list, discussion group, or conference.

superuser: This usually refers to the person or persons responsible for administration and operations at a site. Superusers can create accounts, change passwords, and read, delete, or alter any file on a system.

sysop: System Operator or System Administrator; a confusing and often abused term, sysop initially referred to a person who operated a system, though that person may not have been the person responsible for the system's administration. However, the term has been expanded through time to include superusers and system administrators.

TCP/IP: Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol; protocol suite used by the Internet.

terminal emulator: This is a software package used to make personal computers "think" and behave like mainframe terminals. The most common and best supported terminal emulation is the VT-100.

uid: Refers to user identification on mainframe computers that are capable of supporting a number of users simultaneously, individuals are allocated portions of the computer's memory and other resources. Each allocation, account, or space has a specific address known as the uid. The ownership of files can be transferred from one uid space to another, and that transfer is what enables e-mail exchanges.

UNIX: An operating system developed by Bell Labs.

upload: The transporting of a file from a host computer to a remote computer. Uploading is the same process as downloading, only reversed (see "download").

USENET: User's Network; a global volunteer network begun in 1979 using store-and-forward technology. USENET does not support e-mail; instead, "articles" are "posted" to discussion groups where they may be read by anyone; personal messages are thus discouraged. However, because USENET directors are elected and membership on the network is voluntary, development and enforcement of network policies is problematic.

UUCP: UNIX to UNIX Copy Program; the UUCP network is one of the oldest networks and is primarily populated by commercial companies. On UUCP, a host computer dials the number of the remote computer, and a direct connection is established for file transfers and remote logins; hence the name UNIX to UNIX. As a general rule, academics will mainly encounter UUCP addresses and networkers via USENET discussion groups.

VM/CMS: Virtual Machine/Conversational Monitor System; an operating system that is often used on IBM mainframe computers.

WAN: Wide-Area Network; WANs differ from LANs in that they cover large geographical areas such as regions, countries, and continents. WANs may be connected to LANs or other WANs, forming huge global internets. In many cases, these interconnections or "gateways" are "transparent" to end-users.

WANS: Wide-Area Networking Systems; refers to the systems or technologies used by WANs rather than the networks themselves. There are a number of different WANS, but the two major types are "packet-switching" and "store-and-forward."

My thanks to James Porter, Alan McKenzie, and Robert Child for their extremely valuable comments and suggestions on drafts of this paper. I am also indebted to the members of the <PURTOPOI@PURCCVM> and <MBU-L@TTUVM1> discussion groups whose discussions provided much of the background for this essay.

Tharon Howard teaches in the English Department, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana.


  1. Information on how to connect to the Cleveland FreeNet is provided in the glossary entries for "FreeNet" and "NPTN" above.

  2. Although the exact number of university computers connected to BITNET and Internet is difficult to determine and, thus, does not appear to have been reported, a comparison of the BITNET and Internet host lists in Tracy LaQuey's User's Director of Computer Networks supports this claim (1990, cf. p. 34-147, 324-444).

  3. For an interesting and accessible discussion of this technology, see The Cuckoo's Egg by Clifford Stoll (1989). For a more informative and more technical introduction to networking technology, see Clifford Lynch's and Cecilia Preston's (1990) "Internet Access to Information Resources."

  4. My comments pertain to store-and-forward technology in general and should not be taken to mean that BITNET does not support any synchronous communications. In fact, many BITNET users can use the command TALK to send a 160-character line from one site to another (Murray, 1985). However, BITNET does not support the kinds of remote logins and other time-sharing activities described here (Quarterman, 1990).

  5. According to LaQuey (1990), the official BITNET limit on file size is supposed to be 300,000 bytes; however, files from 45,000 or more bytes may be rejected, particularly when one is trying to send a file from one network to another. I should also point out that the Internet currently suffers from this problem as well; however, once the NREN is completed, users will be able to send 100,000 pages of text per second across the network so that a "one-room schoolhouse in rural South Dakota could download sizeable chunks of the Library of Congress during lunch hour" (Rheingold, 1991, p. 38).

  6. It is interesting to note that CMC is not only influencing conventions for the use of upper and lower case; other grammatical conventions are being changed also. For example, some readers may have noticed the convention that says commas and other punctuation markers should go inside quotation marks has been violated in this glossary entry as well as the entries for "e-mail address" and "Internet." Networkers often violate this print-based grammatical rule when they are dealing with e-mail address syntax or other forms of machine languages. Because many addresses and computer commands use characters such as commas, periods, quotation marks, and exclamation points in special ways, networkers may place them outside the quotation marks in order to differentiate between the differences in meanings.


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