The SAGE Encyclopedia of the Internet


Edited by: Barney Warf

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      This encyclopedia is dedicated to the world’s netizens who use the Internet to promote peace, social justice, empathy, human and animal rights, and the alleviation of poverty.

      List of Entries

      Reader’s Guide

      About the Editor

      Barney Warf is a professor of geography at the University of Kansas. His research and teaching interests lie within the broad domain of human geography. Much of his research concerns producer services and telecommunications, particularly the geographies of the Internet, including the digital divide, e-government, and Internet censorship. He views these topics through the lens of political economy and social theory. One interest concerns time-space compression, or how societies fold time and space in different ways. He maintains an active interest in political geography, including elections, voting technologies, and the U.S. electoral college. He has also studied a range of topics that fall under the umbrella of globalization, such as international producer services, fiber optics, the satellite industry, offshore banking, electronic funds transfer, military spending, and religious diversity. More recently he has studied the geographies of corruption. He has authored, coauthored, or coedited eight books, three encyclopedias, 60 book chapters, and roughly 110 refereed journal articles. Currently, he serves as editor of GeoJournal and The Professional Geographer, coeditor of Growth and Change, and editor-in-chief for geography for Oxford Bibliographies Online, and he edits a series of geography texts for Rowman & Littlefield. His teaching interests include urban and economic geography, the history of geographic thought, globalization, and contemporary social theory.


      Susan Aasman University of Groningen

      Anurag Agarwal University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee

      Shaun Aghili Concordia University of Edmonton

      Muhammad Aminu Ahmad Kaduna State University

      Judith Aldridge University of Manchester

      Ahmed Loai Ali University of Bremen

      Amy Antonio Deakin University

      Kelly M. Babchishin Royal’s Institute of Mental Health Research

      Monica J. Barratt University of New South Wales

      Chris Baumann Stockholm University

      Francesco Bellini International Telematic University UNINETTUNO

      Aurélien Bénel Troyes University of Technology

      Mark Billinghurst University of South Australia

      Michael L. Black University of Massachusetts Lowell

      Gertjan Boulet Vrije Universiteit Brussel

      Tara Brabazon Flinders University

      Graham Brooks University of Wolverhampton

      Ryan Burns University of Calgary

      Goran Calic McMaster University

      Celeste Campos-Castillo University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

      Junwei Cao Tsinghua University

      Andrea Caputo University of Lincoln

      John Carey Fordham University

      Bryan M. Carson Western Kentucky University

      Irene Cheng Chu Chan Hong Kong Polytechnic University

      Eric Chan-Tin Oklahoma State University

      Thomas M. Chen City University London

      Simon Cheng University of Connecticut

      Pauline Hope Cheong Arizona State University

      Andrea Chester RMIT University

      Raphael Cohen-Almagor University of Hull

      Colin Combe Glasgow Caledonian University

      David Connolly Aalborg University

      Padraig Corcoran Cardiff University

      Kevin Curran Ulster University

      Dianne Cyr Simon Fraser University

      Craig Dalton Hofstra University

      Lanxue Dang Henan University

      John Sagar Daniel Contact North | Contact Nord

      Mike Dillon Duquesne University

      Kerry Dobransky James Madison University

      Daniel S. Dotson The Ohio State University

      Tonia A. Dousay University of Idaho

      Apramey Dube Hanken School of Economics

      Ian Dunham Rutgers University

      Myriam Dunn Cavelty ETH Zürich

      Keith F. Durkin Ohio Northern University

      Martin Ebner Graz University of Technology

      Jean Eichhorst University of Kansas

      Gali Einav IDC Herzliya

      Andrew Ekert The University of Melbourne

      Emily Fekete American Association of Geographers

      DaJuan Ferrell University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

      G. Allen Finchum Oklahoma State University

      J. Sophia Fu Northwestern University

      Ruti Gafni The Academic College of Tel Aviv Yaffo

      Noam Gal The Hebrew University of Jerusalem

      Crescenzio Gallo University of Foggia

      Manuel Gámez-Guadix Autonomous University of Madrid

      Miguel Alberto Gomez ETH Zurich

      Angela Guercio Kent State University at Stark

      Anu Helkkula Hanken School of Economics

      Verena Hermann Open Systems Association

      Carla Hester-Croff Western Wyoming Community College

      Jayme Hill Diamond Media Solutions

      Larissa Hjorth RMIT University

      Adrienne Holz Ivory Virginia Tech

      Kenneth Howah Central Queensland University

      Haochen Hua Tsinghua University

      Andrew Iliadis University of Ontario Institute of Technology

      Heide D. Island Pacific University

      Carolina Israel University of São Paulo

      James D. Ivory Virginia Tech

      Leonard A. Jackson Georgia State University

      R. Daniel Jacobson University of Calgary

      Jeffrey James Tilburg University

      Juli James St. Edward’s University

      James T. Jarc Creighton University

      Dariusz Jemielniak Kozminski University

      Christopher J. Jenks University of South Dakota

      Natascha Just Michigan State University

      Jan Kallberg United States Military Academy and Army Cyber Institute

      Andreas Kaplan ESCP Europe Business School

      Aharon Kellerman University of Haifa

      Nenagh Kemp University of Tasmania

      Amin Kharraz Northeastern University

      Elyssa M. Klann Indiana University Bloomington

      Bianca Klettke Deakin University

      Günter Knieps University of Freiburg

      H. Martin Koch University of Kansas

      Nicos Komninos Aristotle University

      Alinta Krauth Independent Scholar

      Kirk Kristofferson Arizona State University

      Clemens Scott Kruse Texas State University

      Daria Kuss Nottingham Trent University

      Burcu Kuzucu Yapar Istanbul Medeniyet University

      Ying-ho Kwong The University of Hong Kong

      Michel S. Laguerre University of California, Berkeley

      Nicolas J. LaLone Bellevue University

      Jocelin Y. Lam Nanyang Technological University

      Richard L. Lanigan International Communicology Institute

      Elisa Larrañaga University of Castilla-La Mancha

      Michael Latzer University of Zurich

      Rob Law The Hong Kong Polytechnic University

      Edmund W. J. Lee Nanyang Technological University

      Jay Lee Kent State University

      Jyh-An Lee The Chinese University of Hong Kong

      Agnieszka Leszczynski University of Auckland

      Anthony M. Levenda Arizona State University

      Po-Ching Lin National Chung Cheng University

      Wen Lin Newcastle University

      Arno R. Lodder Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Faculty of Law

      Marika Lüders University of Oslo

      Henrik Lund Aalborg University

      May O. Lwin Nanyang Technological University

      Josef Kuo-Hsun Ma University of Connecticut

      John MacWillie Independent Scholar

      Alexia Maddox Deakin University

      Ann Majchrzak University of Southern California

      Arvind Malhotra University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

      Stefan Marks Auckland University of Technology

      Giacomo Marzi University of Florence

      Alice Mattoni Scuola Normale Superiore

      Rob McMahon University of Alberta

      Sally J. McMillan University of Tennessee

      David Mellor Deakin University

      Juline E. Mills University of New Haven

      Esther Milne Swinburne University

      Kayvan Miri Lavassani North Carolina Central University

      Jelena Mirkovic University of Southern California, Information Sciences Institute

      Omonowo D. Momoh Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne

      Chris Monteiro Independent cybercrime researcher

      Susan E. Montgomery Rollins College

      Peter Mooney Maynooth University

      Ana Rita Morais Ryerson University

      Aimée Hope Morrison University of Waterloo

      Brian D. Moss University of Kansas Libraries

      Monica Murero University Federico II

      Sarhan M. Musa Prairie View A&M University

      Peter Mykytyn Southern Illinois University Carbondale

      Idan Nagar The Academic College of Tel Aviv Yaffo

      Raúl Navarro University of Castilla-La Mancha

      Pramod Nayar University of Hyderabad

      Sudarshan R. Nelatury Pennsylvania State University

      Wan Ng University of Technology Sydney

      Fawn T. Ngo University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee

      Elvira Nica Bucharest University of Economic Studies

      Ioannis Nikolaou Athens University of Economics and Business

      Khalil Md Nor Universiti Teknologi Malaysia

      Jonathan A. Obar York University

      Timo Ojala University of Oulu

      Eugene Okyere-Kwakye Universiti Teknologi Malaysia

      Jahna Otterbacher Open University of Cyprus

      Natalie Pang Nanyang Technological University

      Kyung Sin Park Korea University

      Todd Patterson East Stroudsburg University

      Massimiliano M. Pellegrini University of Rome Tor Vergata

      Maria Letizia Perugini University of Bologna

      Márton Petykó Lancaster University

      Joshua Philipp Epoch Times

      James B. Pick University of Redlands

      Michael Brian Pope Mississippi State University

      Gabriel Popescu Indiana University South Bend

      Gheorghe H. Popescu Dimitrie Cantemir Christian University

      Vidyasagar Potdar Curtin University

      Aleksandra Przegalińska Kozminski University

      Radostina (Ina) K. Purvanova Drake University

      Pasi Pyöriä University of Tampere

      Päivi Rasi University of Lapland

      Guang Ren Tsinghua University

      Ingrid Richardson Monash University

      Britta Ricker University of Washington Tacoma

      Anthony Ridge-Neman University of Roehampton

      Renee Ridgway Copenhagen Business School

      Bhaskar Prasad Rimal The University of New Mexico

      Jean-Paul Rodrigue Hofstra University

      Andrew L. Russell SUNY Polytechnic Institute

      Matthew N. O. Sadiku Prairie View A&M University

      Snehanshu Saha PES University South Campus

      Ajay Sandhu University of Essex

      Avijit Sarkar University of Redlands

      Jyotirmoy Sarkar GE Healthcare

      Peter Schaefer Marymount Manhattan College

      Valérie Schafer Institut des sciences de la communication (CNRS/Paris-Sorbonne/UPMC)

      Brad Schultz The University of Mississippi

      Gwendolyn Seidman Albright College

      Hyunjin Seo University of Kansas

      Pavica Sheldon University of Alabama in Huntsville

      Amny Shuraydi University of Texas at Dallas

      Sandeep Kumar Singh Jaypee Institute of Information Technology

      Aram Sinnreich American University

      Fred W. Smith Georgia Southern University

      Tyler Sonnichsen The University of Tennessee

      Dimitrios-Emmanuel Spanos National Technical University of Athens

      Leona Yi-Fan Su University of Utah

      Chris Alen Sula Pratt Institute

      Yao Sun University of Southern California

      Bosiljka Tadic Jožef Stefan Institute

      Cindy Kay Tekobbe University of Alabama

      Mike Thelwall University of Wolverhampton

      John Toumbourou Deakin University

      Emmanouil Tranos University of Birmingham

      Emiliano Treré Scuola Normale Superiore

      Marketa Trimble William S. Boyd School of Law

      Evdokia Tsoni Athens University of Economics and Business

      Ming-Hsiang Tsou San Diego State University

      David Tuffley Griffith University

      Bhuvan Unhelkar University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee

      Emily van der Nagel Swinburne University of Technology

      Wytske van der Wagen University of Groningen

      Pablo R. Velasco University of Warwick

      Lynne Vieraitis University of Texas at Dallas

      David Walden Historian of computing

      Zheng Wang Qingdao University

      Barney Warf University of Kansas

      Mark Warschauer University of California, Irvine

      Joseph W. Weiss Bentley University

      Elizabeth Jane Wesley University of Kansas

      Katherine White University of British Columbia

      Rhiannon Williams i (newspaper)

      Mark I. Wilson Michigan State University

      Jane K. Winn University of Washington

      Jenifer Sunrise Winter University of Hawaii at Manoa

      Paul J. Wright Indiana University Bloomington

      Ying Xu University of California, Irvine

      Roman V. Yampolskiy University of Louisville

      David J. Yates Bentley University

      Andrew Z. H. Yee Nanyang Technological University

      Santiago Yubero University of Castilla-La Mancha

      Debra Zahay St. Edward’s University

      Tjaša Žakelj University of Primorska

      Xiang Zhang University of Kansas

      Yupei Zhao Sun Yat-sen University

      Susan Zielin Deakin University

      Austin Zwick University of Toronto


      Few inventions have changed the world as much as the Internet. Used by roughly half of the world’s population in 2017, the Internet has become such a fundamental part of daily life, economies, interpersonal ties, education, the military, politics, and culture that it almost needs no introduction. For most users its uses extend well beyond email, the most common Internet use, to include: bill payments and electronic banking; job and housing searches; stock trading; “e-tail” shopping; searching for health information and news; online classes; digital gambling; online videogames; Voice over Internet Protocol telephony; hotel and airline reservations; chat rooms; electronic tax payments; downloading television programs, movies, digital music, and pornography; and popular sites and services such as YouTube, Facebook, and Google.

      Cyberspace has profoundly affected social relations, culture, and politics, with myriad implications for everyday life, identity formation, retail trade and commerce, and governance. It is also affecting the structure and form of cities. Digital reality and everyday life are now intertwined to the point that dichotomies such as “off-line” and “online” fail to do justice to the diverse ways in which the “real” and virtual are shot through with each other. Rather than see cyberspace and the analogue world as substitutes, we should approach them as complementary in nature. Yet many people remain unable to access the Internet regularly because they are unable to purchase a personal computer or lack the technical skills necessary to log on, and public policies in many places have done little to address these and other reasons for unequal access (Warf 2012).

      Definitions: The Internet, Cyberspace, and the World Wide Web

      The terms Internet, cyberspace, and the World Wide Web are often used interchangeably, but technically they mean slightly different things.

      The Internet is a global, publicly accessible system of interconnected computer networks, that is, a network of networks. It connects hundreds of millions of computers across the planet; the Internet’s decentralized architecture allows any computer to communicate with almost any other. Issues of compatibility among different operating systems and file formats were resolved early in its history through the adoption of Transmission Control Protocol and Internet Protocol (TCP/IP), the language that allows hosts (generally routers and servers) on the Internet to communicate with one another. The speed of connections varies widely depending on the medium used, ranging from old-fashioned copper cables to high-capacity fiber optic lines; some even use satellites, and with the advent of smartphones, wireless connections are growing rapidly in popularity.

      The World Wide Web, in contrast, consists of documents written in hypertext markup language (HTML), which allows them to be accessed by web browsers. Users can find documents on specific websites, each of which has several webpages that each have a unique Universal Resource Locator (URL). The World Wide Web thus consists of billions of hypertext documents, including not only text but figures, music, and video.

      Cyberspace, a term famously proposed by science fiction writer William Gibson (1984), refers more broadly to the digitized, virtual “world in the wires,” that is, computer-mediated communications, augmented reality, and virtual reality. Cyberspace is often conceived as a disembodied world independent of physical reality, although in fact real space and cyberspace shape one another constantly.

      An Historical Perspective

      To appreciate the complexity and implications of the Internet, it is vital to understand where it came from and how it came to be. (For overviews, see Hafner and Lyon 1996; Banks 2008; Ryan 2013).

      The Internet originated in the 1960s under the U.S. Defense Department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA, later Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA), with an enormous amount of federal funding dedicated to the project that eventually became ARPANET (Hafner and Lyon 1996). Among the young, ambitious computer scientists ARPA brought together was Paul Baran, who invented packet switching and related innovations such as neural networks, queuing theory, adaptive routing, and file transfer protocols.

      ARPA gave birth to a network quite different from the centralized telephone system of the time, which relied on analogue information. Digitization facilitated a decentralized, then distributed network (Warf 2012). ARPANET initially connected universities such as Stanford University; University of California, Los Angeles; University of California, Santa Barbara; and the University of Utah. In 1971, Ray Tomlinson adapted computer messages for personal use, inventing email. From 1984 to 1995, the Internet was administered by the National Science Foundation as NSFNET, which deployed it to connect academic supercomputers in a select series of campuses across the country. The famous European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) developed hypertext and URLs, the system of addresses used on what would become the World Wide Web.

      The 1990s saw the integration of existing telephone, fiber-optic, and satellite systems, made possible by the technological innovation of packet switching, TCP/IP and the Integrated Services Digital Network that allowed individual messages to be decomposed, the constituent parts transmitted by various channels, and then reassembled, virtually instantaneously, at the destination. During this time, control of the Internet was privatized and graphical interfaces developed in Europe greatly simplified the use of the Internet, leading to the creation of the World Wide Web. Tim Berners-Lee, often called the father of the World Wide Web, played a key role in this process.

      The microelectronics revolution initiated enormous decreases in the cost of computers and exponential increases in their power and memory. Relatively fast, low-end personal computers are now readily available for relatively modest sums. Meanwhile, fiber optics arguably transformed the Internet from a communications to a commercial system, accelerating the pace of customer orders, procurement, production, and product delivery. Global access to the Internet is deeply conditioned by the density, reliability, and affordability of national telephone systems, and, more recently, the world’s vast network of fiber optics lines, which form the heart of the architecture of cyberspace.

      Two major developments have profoundly changed the Internet in the 21st century: Web 2.0 and the rise of the mobile Internet. Web 2.0 allows users to contribute material to web pages. With the development of asynchronous JavaScript, XML, and application programming interfaces (API), websites can allow users to upload content and enjoy instantaneous interactions, making them active creators and participants who contribute to a site’s contents. Web 2.0 has had enormous repercussions, allowing, for example, the development of social networking and social media (e.g., Facebook); video sharing sites (e.g., YouTube); wikis (e.g., Wikipedia); reader comments (e.g., on blogs or newspaper sites); and navigation systems in cars and smartphones.

      The invention of smartphones, or phones that can access the Internet, gave rise to the mobile or wireless Internet (Arminen 2007; Kellerman 2010).The mobile Internet greatly enhances the attraction and accessibility of the Internet by making it more convenient to use and facilitating the growth and use of location-based services and mobile e-government, or m-government. Text messages and Twitter have become the preferred means of communicating for vast numbers of people.

      As the Internet became more user-friendly, costs declined, and more people became familiar with digital technologies, the number of netizens in the world soared (Figure 1). In March 2017, more than 3.7 billion people used the Internet, making it a tool of communications, entertainment, and other applications accessed by roughly 50% of the world’s population, according to Internet World Stats ( However, the distribution of the world’s netizens is highly uneven: Internet penetration rates are far higher in the developed world than the developing one, although they are rising rapidly everywhere. The growth of the Internet, however, has left large numbers of people behind, giving rise to fears of the digital divide, or unequal social and spatial access. The digital divide takes many forms, including divides by class and education, gender, ethnicity, and age. All over the world, the young are most likely to use the Internet and be comfortable with digital technologies; indeed, some are digital natives, never knowing what the world was like before the Internet. Those who can recall the days before the Internet are, in a fashion, similar to the last generation to experience the world before the automobile became widespread in the early 20th century.

      Figure 1 Growth in Global Internet Users, 1990–2016

      Source: author, using data from Internet World Stats (

      Another Printing Press?

      Perhaps the closest historical analogy to the Internet is the printing press, another information technology that revolutionized the world. Printing was the first major step in the mechanization of communication, and accelerated the diffusion of information by packaging it conveniently, giving far greater access for those who were literate to people, places, and events far removed from them historically or geographically. Printing undermined the centrality of the clergy in the production of knowledge, made censorship more difficult, and fostered the growth of a lay intelligentsia outside of monasteries and universities (Warf 2008).

      Like the printing press, the Internet too is revolutionizing how we obtain, process, and use information. Just as printing enabled the rise of capitalism and the nation-state, so too has the Internet been deeply implicated in the rise of global capitalism. Like printing, the Internet too is eroding monopolies over the provision of information, which is precisely why so many totalitarian governments fear it and impose censorship. Like printing, the Internet is expediting the growth of commerce, the relentless search for profits, and accelerating product cycles. Like printing, the Internet is giving rise to new forms of community and identity. Like printing, the Internet is changing how we view the world and ourselves. The parallels may not be exact, but they are close enough to warrant attention.

      Impacts of the Internet

      The Internet has had so many effects on peoples, societies, and places around the world that it is essentially impossible to summarize, or even list, them all. This section simply attempts to highlight some of the ways in which virtual space has shaped several domains of daily life, including the economy, law and politics, interpersonal communications and identity, and crime.

      Economic Impacts

      The economic impacts of the Internet are seen in every part of economic activity. In agriculture, farmers use the Internet to manage supply chains, logistics, and output (McKinion et al. 2004); some control irrigation systems through their cell phones. In developing countries, telecenters allow farmers to learn about crop prices and acquire land titles, bypassing corrupt and exploitative intermediaries in the process (Pick et al. 2014). In manufacturing, the Internet has accelerated automation, including robots and analytics, business-intelligence capabilities, and computer-integrated manufacturing systems (Caputo et al. 2016). Virtual teams and virtual corporations have become increasingly common, as has recruitment of personnel through the Internet. As capitalism has become ever more information-intensive, producer services, too, have been markedly altered, including, for example, the steady diffusion of back offices and call centers to the developing world, a trend made possible by the Internet.

      Finance has been profoundly affected by digitization. Vast sums of funds move at the speed of light through the world’s fiber optics networks. Internet banking allows customers to make deposits, check accounts, and move funds without visiting a branch office, lowering costs, improving efficiency, and increasing convenience (Hanafizadeh et al. 2014). Digital currencies such as Bitcoin have caused turmoil and consternation. New funding methods such as crowdfunding have given birth to projects that otherwise might never have seen the light of day.

      Not only production but consumption has been redefined by the Internet. Advertising and marketing have gone online, including spam and adware (Hanafizadeh and Behboudi 2012). Internet-based retailing, or e-tailing, allows shopping with a few clicks of the mouse, propelling giants such as Amazon and Alibaba to new heights. Increasingly, brick-and-mortar shopping is giving way to “click-and-order” (Forman et al. 2009). Outlets such as Craigslist and eBay allow people to sell directly to one another. Supply and distribution networks have evolved accordingly. The Internet allows even small producers to reach global markets.

      More broadly, the Internet gave rise to electronic commerce, or e-commerce, of which there are several varieties. Business-to-business (B2B) e-commerce electronic data interchange (EDI) transactions are conducted over a private network, as opposed to cloud-based or hosted in-house platforms. In allowing for the speedy delivery of goods and services, it has accelerated product cycles and enhanced competition. Business-to-consumer (B2C) e-commerce consists of the buying and selling of a product or service over the Internet between a business and a consumer, reshaping how people buy everything from airline tickets to books, movies, specialty foods, and just about anything else (Gong 2009). Business-to-government (B2G) e-commerce involves transactions between private firms and corporations and the state using the Internet, including requests for proposals; applications for corporate permits, licenses, and patents; online registration of companies; obtaining government contracts; paying corporate income, excise, and value-added taxes; and online auctions of government surplus.

      Transportation is another domain in which the Internet has made steady inroads (Thomopoulos et al. 2015). People with smartphones and laptops can work while traveling, and the Global Positioning System (GPS) has made navigation far easier. Booking travel is now largely done online. In some sectors, employees can work at home through telework or telecommuting. Smart traffic systems have made roads faster and safer, often by providing information about congestion. Finally, the sharing economy has made serious inroads into this sector as evidenced by the success of Uber and Lyft.

      As tourists use the web to find out about prospective destinations, book hotels, buy tickets, and reserve cars and hotel rooms, it is remaking that industry, arguably the world’s largest by employment (Condratov 2013; Standing et al. 2014). e-Tourism allows people to make their own bookings and thus bypass travel agents (a victim of the Internet’s “creative destruction”), receive updates, and give feedback about restaurants and accommodations.

      Finally, energy production and consumption have been greatly affected by online communications. The use of parallel and distributed computing has raised the efficiency of energy suppliers in the face of constraints such as security and environmental limitations. Top-down energy supply systems have increasingly become distributed ones. Smart grids, including computerized controls and sensor networks, offer new ways of managing electricity supply and demand, including automation of operations and two-way communication between utilities and consumers, greatly altering generation, transmission, distribution, and end-use applications. Finally, smart cities, which integrate information technology in numerous ways, such as smart traffic systems and smart homes, offer a means of quietly achieving sustainable development, fostering renewable energy sources, and reducing carbon use (Strengers 2013; Komninos 2014).

      Social, Behavioral, and Psychological Impacts

      The social and behavioral impacts of the Internet are too vast to imagine. Cyberspace has become the preferred way in which much of the world communicates and acquires information. Today, more people are more connected technologically to one another than at any other time in human existence. For half of the world’s people, the Internet, mobile phones, text messaging, and various forms of social media such as Facebook have become thoroughly woven into the routines and rhythms of daily life. Email is a staple of both interpersonal and professional communications: In 2012 there were 3.3 billion email accounts, and email users sent 144.8 billion email messages each day.

      Networking sites such as LinkedIn, Myspace, and Facebook are hugely important for sharing thoughts, staying in touch, and self-expression. Blogs allow everyone to be a publisher, while YouTube allows everyone to be a filmmaker. Digital networks allow people to stay in touch with like-minded others, even if they are not physically nearby. Some, however, maintain that meaningful interactions via social media are invariably preceded or accompanied by earlier face-to-face ties. There is ongoing debate about the relationship between the use of social media and individuals’ sociability and intimate ties, along with whether the use of the Internet is changing individuals’ brain structure and leading to shortened attention spans.

      At the scale of the individual, digital media have changed “what a person can be” (Lanier 2010). Digital networks allow people to present different sides of themselves to different audiences, blurring the borders between public and private life. The public visibility of what has been called the networked self raises serious concerns about digital privacy. Corporations that engage in data mining and targeted online advertising collect enormous volumes of information about individuals, including birth dates, incomes, favorite websites, and spending habits. Political campaigns have begun to do the same (Warf 2014).

      Entertainment has been profoundly reshaped by the Internet. For some people, cyberspace, including web surfing and video games, is their major source of having fun. Some are so heavily fixated on cyberspace that some researchers consider it a form of addiction (Davis 2001). The music, television, and publishing industries have been thoroughly transformed by digital media, including how people view movies (e.g., Netflix) and watch sports (Wolk 2015).

      Religion has seen the rise of online communities of the faithful (Cheong 2014) and Buddhist “blogisattvas.” Sexuality has been digitized, ranging from Internet dating (Barraket and Henry-Waring 2008) and sexting (Currin et al. 2016) to Internet pornography (one of the most common uses of the Internet) to the movement online of the societal problems of sexual harassment and stalking (Barak 2005).

      The educational sphere has witnessed the Internet in the classroom and the growth of on-line courses, including massive open online courses (MOOCs). Academic research has been upended by the Internet as it is easier to find data and relevant literature than ever. Libraries have not been rendered obsolete by the Internet; rather, they have become depositories of electronic information that users can access without setting foot inside (Herring 2014). Indeed, the Internet has spawned a whole field of electronic literature. Health care, too, has seen the Internet’s effects, including e-prescriptions, telemedicine, telesurgery, and e-health, in which patients can look up diseases, disorders, symptoms, drugs, and solutions (Ball and Lillis 2001).

      The economic and social effects of the Internet will be amplified by the rapid growth of the Internet of Things, that is, the multitude of objects connected to the Internet (Atzori et al. 2010). The IoT assumes several forms, including radio frequency identification (RFID) tags, self-driving vehicles, drones, sensor networks (cameras and motion detectors), and copy machines. Already billions of devices are connected. In manufacturing, the IoT is already having serious consequences. Similarly, daily life is being changed by devices such as Internet-connected refrigerators, garage door openers, and thermostats. The Internet has even become wearable, with examples including smartphones, smart watches, blood pressure monitors, and Google Glass.

      Political and Governmental Impacts

      The world of the political has been drastically transformed by the adoption of information technologies. The way people read the news, for example, has become largely digitized, transforming the field of journalism, while at the same time the Internet allows for the dissemination of “fake news.” The blogosphere has become an important part of politics, and most political campaigns are active on social media. Many activists and social movements mobilize using the Internet (Earl and Kimport 2011), often allowing them to “jump scale” so that local issues become globalized.

      Internet law, or cyberlaw, is a field that has come into its own (Rustad 2014; Lipton 2015), and can be defined as the branch of law in which cyberspace figures prominently. Many laws were written before the Internet, and are hazy concerning issues such as e-commerce, international trade, and digital intellectual property rights, copyright, and trademarks. Internet law also addresses issues such as pornography, hate speech, online defamation, cybercrimes, and Internet privacy. The role of electronic signatures in contracts is also critical. A related body of work concerns the regulation of the Internet itself, including issues such as net neutrality.

      Perhaps not surprisingly, criminals have also taken to the internet, as have law-enforcement officials. Cybercrimes take a variety of forms; hacking, the unauthorized access of information, is perhaps the most common, but criminal activities using the Internet also include identity theft, credit card fraud, and the use of malware such as ransomware, spyware, and phishing. Viruses may be spread as a criminal activity or simply due to malicious intent. Cyberbullying and harassment can also fall into the category of cybercrime.

      Electronic government, or e-government, is another example of how the Internet has changed politics and government (Fountain 2001; Davison et al. 2005). E-government may be defined as the use of web-based applications to enhance access to government services and deliver them more efficiently. It reshapes both how state agencies interact with one another and how they interact with the public at large. Typically, e-government is divided into three forms: government-to-business (G2B), government-to-government (G2G), and government-to-citizens (G2C). G2B e-government includes digital calls for contract proposals and submissions of bids, bills, and payments. G2C e-government is used for the digital collection of taxes; electronic voting; payment of utility bills, fines, and dues; applications for public assistance, permits, and licenses; online registration of companies and automobiles; and access to census and other public data; it may include e-voting, although this is rare (Warf 2016). E-government is often held to improve the efficiency of the public sector, raise transparency, and reduce corruption. However, e-government often fails in developing countries (Dada 2006).

      A negative dimension of how states interact with their citizens over the web is Internet censorship, which can involve government limits on Internet access, functionality, and content (Deibert 2009). Many totalitarian governments fear the Internet for its emancipatory potential, as it offers an avenue to bypass state-controlled media monopolies.

      Political impacts of the Internet also include cyberterrorism and cyberwarfare. Cyberterrorism entails the use of the Internet to cause deliberate harm to computers and information systems, including the infrastructure, as a result of political motivations (Chen et al. 2014). Violence in terms of cyberterrorism needs to be understood not only as an attack on human beings, but as a way to physically damage or hurt national infrastructure, thus potentially harming humans as a result. Cyberwarfare may be defined as a potentially lethal act of disrupting a country’s infrastructure and communications systems, including financial markets, through the use of malicious code. So important has the Internet become to military operations that in 2009 the U.S. military established the U.S. Cyber Command (USCYBERCOM) expressly to wage and defend against cyberattacks (Harris 2014).

      Common Misconceptions about the Internet

      One of the most common and pernicious myths about the Internet concerns technological determinism. This view of the relationship between innovations and social structures positions technologies as the driving force behind change with society seen as merely reacting to change. The social, political, and cultural domains are reduced to secondary analytical importance. This unidimensional line of causality denies the historical and geographical contingency with which the Internet has been produced and adopted. Clearly society shapes the Internet as much as it is shaped by it. Thus, rather than a simple determinist view, we should strive for a more nuanced approach in which the Internet and its multiple contexts are simultaneously determinant, shaping one another in multiple and often unpredictable ways.

      Another mistake is to assume the Internet is only a force for good. To be sure, the benefits of the Internet are many and varied. It has without doubt improved people’s access to information; helped to make governments more transparent and efficient; raised productivity and improved the management of supply chains; made travel safer, faster, and more convenient; allowed easier shopping, banking, and payment of bills; and provided enormous amounts of entertainment and education. Yet simultaneously there is the large and ominous “dark side” of cyberspace: hackers and security breaches; spam email; viruses, Trojans, worms, and other forms of malware; excessive and often disgusting pornography; and cyberattacks, cyberterrorism, and cyberwar. The Internet can be used against people as well as to their benefit, as illustrated by severe Internet censorship in countries such as China. Ignoring this dark side leads to unrealistic, erroneous, and overly optimistic interpretations of the Internet, as was common in its early days (and as is common with the advent of many new technologies, such as nuclear power in the 1950s).

      Moreover, the “digital divide,” or social and spatial inequalities in access to the Internet, threatens to intensify inequality and further erode opportunities for the world’s information have-nots. The Internet still is not readily available to all, and early predictions that the Internet would unleash human potential in low-income communities and level hierarchies have given way to more realistic assessments of the social and economic tensions that have accompanied the diffusion of the Internet and related technologies. Participation in cyberspace reflects social contexts, so that access to the Internet involves not just owning a computer but also the institutional and cultural forces that encourage people to remain digitally connected. As broadband has become the most important medium to send large files over the Internet, broadband access is central to the digital divide.

      A third error commonly encountered in understandings of the Internet is that it annihilates space, rendering geography meaningless. Numerous authors have proclaimed the ostensible “death of distance” (Cairncross 1997), the “end of geography” (O’Brien 1992), and a “flat world” (Friedman 2005). However, just as the Internet has a history, it also has a geography. Numerous geographers have charted the origins and growth of cyberspace, its uneven social and spatial diffusion, and its multiple impacts, ranging from cybercommunities to digital divides to electronic commerce (Dodge and Kitchin 2000; Castells 2001; Kellerman 2002, 2016; Zook 2005; Warf 2012). This research demonstrates how the Internet is rooted in social relations and changing geographic relations of proximity, and counters the many utopian and technocratic interpretations of the Internet.

      Internet Studies

      The study of the Internet is as old as the Internet itself. From the beginning, a wide variety of scholars within academia, government, and think tanks began to examine how it functions, why it was created and for whom, and the various and diverse ways it was rapidly penetrating into different domains of social life. Many early works focus on ARPANET, given that it was the first incarnation of the Internet (e.g., Salus 1995). In the 1990s, a series of analyses turned to the Internet’s invention (e.g., Abbate 1999; Hafner and Lyon 1996) and its effects; perhaps the most famous were William Mitchell’s 1995 book City of Bits and Nicholas Negroponte’s 1995 book Being Digital. As noted earlier, a number of competent histories of the Internet explore in detail how it came into being and evolved over time (Hafner and Lyon 1996; Banks 2008; Ryan 2013).

      Internet studies is a loosely defined field that encompasses scholars from many different disciplines, including the social sciences, humanities, computer science and engineering, law, and public policy. For example, historians have carefully documented the people who made the Internet, the role of different government agencies, and how it came to be privatized (Shah and Kesan 2007; Cohen-Almagor 2011). Geographers emphasize the spatial dimensions of the Internet, contrary to the popular conception that it is spaceless (Warf 2012). Sociologists have examined the Internet’s impacts on communities, social movements, online networks, and interpersonal relations (Earl and Kimport 2011; Turkle 2011; De Maeyer 2012).

      Economists have focused on issues such as e-commerce, Internet-based markets such as Amazon and eBay, the role of uncertainty and reputation, advertising, and the Internet’s impacts on television and publishing (Houser and Wooders 2006; Bauer and Latzer 2016). Political scientists have looked at the Internet’s role in electoral politics and campaigns (Chadwick and Howard 2008). Psychologists have, among other things, studied the effects of Internet-based communications on personal identity and cognitive structure (Carr 2010). The field of digital humanities concerns itself with the implications of Internet publishing, electronic texts and literature, and the geohumanities (Burdick et al. 2012; Crompton et al. 207).

      In the legal field, Internet law has come into its own, with profound implications for freedom of speech, cybercrimes, intellectual copyright, privacy, and other issues (Smith 2007; Lipton 2015). Separately, a whole field of literature has addressed Internet governance (DeNardis 2009; Mueller 2010), that is, the work by organizations to establish Internet standards, maximize accessibility, and enhance online security. Computer scientists focus on a vast array of subjects, such as cloud computing, the Internet of Things, security concerns, Internet routing, protocols, and smart grids, (Rittinghouse and Ransome 2009; Whitmore et al. 2015; Lychev et al. 2016; Omar et al. 2016).

      A wide variety of conceptual approaches can be found within this oeuvre. Many are rooted in various forms of social theory and political economy, which stress the Internet as a social creation reflective of particular historical and social circumstances. Others delve into models of networks, drawing on a long history of such analyses. Engineers and computer scientists tend to focus heavily on the mechanics of the Internet and the complexities that abound therein.

      Finally, there are also several existing encyclopedias of the Internet (e.g., Bidgoli 2003; Lambert et al. 2005). Given the rapidity of change in this area, any project is doomed to become out-of-date relatively soon; this one is no exception. The best that comprehensive summaries of the Internet can do is to try to keep abreast of recent changes and catalogue the ever-growing number of ways in which the Internet is changing, and in turn being changed by, the world in which it is embedded.

      Organization of this Encyclopedia

      This encyclopedia reflects the need for a comprehensive, up-to-date summary of the Internet’s many dimensions, including its origins and development, various types of impacts (both positive and negative), and many of the technical issues involved in making the Internet work. It can be used for a variety of purposes by anyone curious about the Internet: students and teachers, researchers, journalists, and the informed lay public. Many entries are not so much comprehensive summaries as they are overviews that point toward other means of delving more deeply into each topic.

      The 243 entries in this encyclopedia summarize, analyze, and reflect upon multiple dimensions of the Internet. From Adware to YouTube, they attempt to capture the breadth of the Internet’s origins and changes over time, technical dimensions, and social and economic impacts. Clearly one project such as this one cannot include every aspect of the Internet, and inevitably there are omissions.

      To facilitate understanding of the Internet, it is helpful to group the entries into six broad, major groups that make up the reader’s guide for this encyclopedia. Obviously there is some overlap among these, as several topics fall into more than one category. The six categories are:

      Political and Legal Facets

      This category includes subjects that relate to the uses and implications of the Internet for governance and political control. Within it, for example, fall topics such as cybersecurity, cyberterrorism, and cyberwarfare. It also includes entries such as those focusing on elections and the Internet, Internet activism, slacktivism, and social movements and the Internet. Internet censorship and various forms of surveillance are found in this category as well. Finally, it includes Internet law, net neutrality, and the debate about the concept known as the right to be forgotten, which allows individuals to petition to stop certain information about themselves from coming up in an Internet search.

      Economic Facets

      The world’s economy has been profoundly reshaped by the Internet. Thus, under this group fall broad topics such as economic development and the Internet, and several entries related to e-commerce of various types. Agriculture, manufacturing, finance, energy use, transportation, and tourism are also included, as is the globalization of clerical work. Related topics include Internet advertising, retailing, recruiting, and the “sharing economy” (aka the “gig economy.”) Some entries focus on smart cities and smart energy grids.

      Social, Behavioral, and Psychological Facets

      The biggest and broadest group of topics, this category includes entries that dwell on the Internet and everyday life. Widely used services such as email, texting, and Internet telephony (e.g., Skype), as well as companies such as Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Wikipedia, are found here. It includes podcasts and photo-sharing applications, as well as smartphones and their innumerable apps. Six entries examine digital divides in various ways. Several focus on education and health care. Entries in this category discuss both digital natives and Internet nonusers. Other entries focus on children or elderly people. Yet others turn to the Internet’s relations with literature, the humanities, and libraries. Entertainment features prominently, including music, sports, video games, television, and gambling. Finally, this group includes issues of Internet communications such as Internet slang, emojis and emoticons, memes, and netiquette.

      Internet History and Governance

      The rise and evolution of the Internet are traced here, with an overview in the entry Internet Origins and History. Other topics include ARPANET, NSFNET, and less well-known facets such as Cyclades, Usenet, and Gopher. It also addresses Internet standards. This section also includes various aspects of Internet governance and the organizations that administer it in different ways such as the Internet Society and World Wide Web Consortium.

      Criminal and Ethical Facets

      As noted, the Internet can be used for oppressive, illegal, and immoral purposes as well as beneficial ones. This category of entries includes topics such as the dark web, hacking, doxing, flaming, and trolls. Spam, or unwanted commercial email, is clearly an annoyance. Internet fraud, identity theft, and cyberterrorism are also part of the dark side of the Internet. It also subsumes viruses, malware, spyware, phishing, ransomware, and worms. Racism and sexism on the web, and behaviors such as cyberbullying, cyberstalking, and sexual harassment (but not sexting), fall into this category as well.

      Technical Facets

      Given the complexity of the Internet, a list of technical topics is both welcome and unavoidable. This group includes topics such as the Domain Name System and the mechanics of the Internet such as IP addresses, Internet routing, hyperlinks, hypertext markup language (HTML), hashtags, packet switching, File Transfer Protocol (FTP), webpages and websites, and Uniform Resource Locators (URLs). Also found in this category are local area networks, peer-to-peer networks, and wide area networks. Applications used by specialists are also found, such as web programming, Internet GIS, and cloud computing.


      I wish to thank a large number of people who made this project possible. First and foremost are the staff at Sage, including the indefatigable Shirin Parsavand as well as Diana Axelsen and Leticia Gutierrez. The efforts of the numerous authors who contributed to this project are much appreciated. I also thank the community of Internet scholars who have taught me so much. My colleagues and graduate students at the University of Kansas have been of great help. The folks at poetini and Drinking Liberally were great. Finally, muchas gracias to Bob, Antonio, Phil, Marilyn, Nancy, Serena, Sandy, Abe, Curren, Susan, and my son Derek, all of whom kept me sane, and my recently deceased friends Mike and Jim, wherever you are.

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