Testing Your Internet Literacy

February 2003

Some months ago a colleague asked me the sort of question I often hear: "Where on the Internet can I find. . . ?" I replied "Amazon." He said, "What's Amazon?"

That shocked me. How could he not know about Amazon? It's the Internet's largest retailer, founder Jeff Bezos was on the cover of Time magazine as Man of the Year, and basically it's now a cultural icon.

The Internet has gone from dozens of web pages 10 years ago to billions today, from few people having heard about the Internet to today when some web sites are familiar to almost everyone.

So it's time to test your Internet literacy, to see how familiar you are with the canon. You get 2 points for having visited each site listed below or 1 point for at least having heard about it.

1. Amazon. Of course you've heard about Amazon, which began as a bookseller and then branched into videos, CDs, and eventually most product categories.

2. Google. Google is so popular that it's now a verb. There's even a famous New Yorker cartoon in which two men are sitting at a bar, and one says, ""I can't explain it--it's just a funny feeling that I'm being Googled." (To Google someone is to check out him or her by searching on that person's name on Google.)

3. Google Groups. Quite a few of you will lose points on this one, but this is a unique and extraordinary resource. It's a searchable database of the Usenet discussion groups dating back over 20 years. Usenet is a very important part of the history of the Internet. If you missed this one, give yourself credit if you're familiar with Yahoo Groups, which offers millions of discussion groups. Give yourself an extra point if you've actually started a group.

4. Yahoo portal. This was probably the first web site to make it big time. And still today it's a leading portal. Whatever it is you want, it's here--news, sports, weather, white pages, yellow pages, TV schedules, movie information, and much much more.

5. My Yahoo. All of you with Yahoo e-mail accounts automatically get 2 points here. If you personalize Yahoo, you open up yet another world of useful tools, from e-mail to free online storage and file sharing to stock portfolio tracking. Also, appointment calendar, address book, calculator, and more.

6. eBay. eBay is so huge it's a culture of its own. There are 50 million registered users of this auction site, which bills itself as "The World's Online Marketplace." Each year eBay has billions in annualized gross merchandise sales. This site has become such a presence that it's now hard to imagine life without it. There are regular news reports about novel items being auctioned, including recently a whole town (winning bid was $1.8 million).

7. Half.com. This site is now owned by eBay and was one of the early second-hand sites that really broke through. The original focus was books, CDs, and videos, but now it has a wider range of offerings. The name comes from the early promise that all items would be less than half the cost of the original selling price. Nowadays the price is whatever the market will bear, but it's still a great place for low prices, as well as a good way to get rid of your old stuff.

8. PriceGrabber or mySimon. You get 2 points if you've ever used any price comparison search engine such as these two, which are among the most popular. You should always do a price-comparison search before buying anything online, especially computer or electronic equipment.

9. About. With the rise of Google, About has become less necessary. But I believe it's still an important part of the canon because it organizes the Internet in such useful ways. Every topic has a human editor who finds and annotates the best sites in a particular area.

10. CNet or ZDNet. If you're a casual user you may not have heard of these sites, but anyone with an interest in technology will be familiar with them. They offer technology news and reviews, shopping, and price comparison. They also have software and freeware download areas that are among the best on the Internet.

So how did you do? Here's how to rate yourself:

16-20 points: A bona fide Internet expert.
11-15 points: You are Internet literate.
6-10 points: Time to give some of these sites a try.
0-5 points: Where have you been?

© 2003 by Jim Karpen, Ph.D.

E-mail Jim Karpen