I'm sure it's no exaggeration to say that new commercial "guides to the Internet" appear monthly. Most, unfortunately, suffer from a tradeoff between depth and completeness, usually sacrificing depth to ensure that all the latest Internet software and services get at least some mention. The result is that, while many Internet guides are interesting, few are detailed enough to be genuinely useful.
Scholars and other information professionals will find NorthWestNet's The Internet Passport a brilliant exception. Here is a full menu of the tools you need to use the Internet, the locations of Internet information storehouses, and hands-on examples of Internet use. Many other Internet guidebooks drop you off at the doorways to information services. In case after case, The Internet Passport takes you inside, shows you around, and helps you find something that suits your interests.
The Passport wastes little space introducing the origins, history, and structure of the Internet. This information has been said elsewhere many times, and the Passport appropriately abbreviates it in Section I. In Section II, however, it provides over 75 pages of useful information about basic Internet tools. Included are variations on electronic mail, a discussion of logging in with telnet software, and a detailed treatment of the FTP file transfer software. One remarkable part of the e-mail discussion made clear to me for the first time how to understand and use electronic mail gateways (to non-Internet mail networks). A follow-up to the FTP discussion provides a clear and--here's that word again--useful description of file formats and the software required to recognize, transfer, convert, uncompress, and unarchive them. It's high time someone made this not-really-so-arcane lore accessible!
Scholars find electronic conferencing a major incentive for Internet use, and The Internet Passport devotes 40 pages in Section III to the three principal forms of Internet conferencing: Usenet newsgroups, BITNET LISTSERVs, and Internet mailing lists. It was in the Usenet discussion that I first tasted a little disappointment with the book. I've always found my first session with a mainframe-based Usenet newsreader to be chaotic and mystifying. No matter how familiar I've become with a given newsreader, if I begin anew on a different machine I'm lost. The sample session in the Passport helps, but there are gaps in its instructions that left me again fumbling through the multilevel maze of newsreader help screens, looking for the next step.
Section IV discusses texts and data. I'd heard there were books on the Internet-books I thought I might like to read. Here, I found where they reside and how to fetch them! The somewhat long discussion of online public access library catalogs was interesting as well. A long, topic-oriented list of "databases and bibliographies" follows. Having tested many of them, I appreciate the editor's dilemma in naming this section. The items it describes are certainly all collections of information, but they are a diverse lot including massive database files; topic-oriented archives of documents, data and software; online search engines; and the like.
The really exciting reading, though, is reserved for Section V, titled, "Resource Discovery and Retrieval Tools." Section V is all about new layers of user-friendly software that make the use of Telnet, FTP, and other resources much easier. …