You wake up on damp leaves, surrounded by a dark jungle. Nearby, you hear gunfire, and shouting in a foreign language. Above you, venomous snakes lounge in the trees, and you begin to itch where something crawly has bitten you. Welcome to the World Wide Web*, my friend. I will be your guide.
I'm writing this for my brother, Lane, who is becoming a netizen today. You'll see occasional asides for him. Note to Lane: the links on my site are a little weird. Usually, links are underlined. Here, they're white instead of gray. Always single-click on links, don't double-click.
This is going to be long. Trust me when I say I'm only scratching the surface. You will learn much as you go along. Trust me again when I ask you to read all of this carefully. I will attempt to give you the basics to prevent your computer from becoming a doorstop, to keep you from embarrassment, and finally, to introduce you to some true wonders.
Part I: Keeping Safe
It's shockingly easy to compromise your computer when you are connected to the Internet. Viruses can shut you down, hackers can make your computer into a slave, and thieves can steal your information. It can happen to anyone, but the chances go way, way down if you just take a few simple steps.
1. Always let Windows update.
2. Always let your antivirus update. (Lane, I believe I set you up with AVG. It will probably need to update when you connect. It may take a while.) I recommend AVG or Avast if you don't have anti-virus on your computer. Norton probably came with your computer. They will charge you lots later, but they are reliable if you wish to keep them out of convenience.
3. Anti-spyware is an excellent thing to have (Lane, you have this). Spyware or Adware is often installed without your permission with games and other small downloads. I recommend Malwarebytes. Again, always let it update.
4. Don't use the email address the internet company gives you. It will go defunct every time you change services, and you will change services. Use Yahoo or Gmail, or something similar. This is a security issue because you are sometimes expected to use a separate email program to get to your mail. Don't do this. Email programs are notoriously vulnerable. Just get your email on the Web.
5. Don't open email from anyone you don't know. If you are invited to check out the latest pharmaceuticals, someone's hottt! pictures, or an improbable offer of cash, just delete the email. Do not open any attachments or follow any links from anyone you haven't shaken hands with. And sometimes not even then. If you get something questionable from someone you know, write them an email and ask them about it.
6. As you surf the Web, you will get flashing ads and popups, some of them saying alarming things like YOUR COMPUTER IS INFECTED! Don't fall for it, and don't click. They will turn your computer into a paperweight. If you're nervous about the warning, open up your anti-virus program and run a check.
7. Don't click ads, period. They are shifty.
8. Lane, I know you're going to want to look at lyric sites. Don't just search for them--they are the worst for malware! See Part III.
9. Not sure if a site is safe? You can check it at Norton Safe Web by typing the URL (the part that starts with HTTP or WWW) in the box.
Part II: Etiquette
There are lots of ways to look like a damned fool on the Web. People will cut you a lot of slack at first, but why not look savvy right away?
1. Don't forward emails, unless it's something you actually wrote. Funny things, alarming things, things that say you'll have seven years of bad luck if you don't forward to 20 people: don't do it. Everyone has already seen it, and will be greatly annoyed. Email is great for communicating directly with friends and businesses, and for getting newsletters about stuff you're interested in. Back away from the Forward button.
2. Get very friendly with the amazing Snopes.com. They are the debunkers of the Internet--though again, don't click on their popups or ads! Just because a site is trustworthy, doesn't mean their ads are (I know, it's weird, but true). Check out their Top Scams to get familiar with some of the crazy stuff you may see. Much of the stuff you're going to see posted on, say, Facebook, is utter bullshit. If you see a quote by a famous person, it's probably mis-credited. If you see a dire warning about the newest way people are targeted by thieves and killers, it's probably a hoax. If you see a story about a child needing donations for medical treatment--nope, hoax. Develop a cynical eye. It's very easy to type a bit of the article + "snopes" into Google, and find out if it's for real.
3. Facebook has wondrous games. Most of them encourage you to invite all your friends to play. Unless you know they want to, don't. This applies for any site that asks you to put in friends' emails. Never do that.
Part III: Wonders
So if it's so difficult and dangerous, why do we do it at all? Because it's bloody amazing. Here are a few basic things you will want to explore.
So unassuming. Just a logo and a box. That box is the gateway to the Web. Google is the web's premiere search engine. Type in anything you like. You can ask questions in natural language. You can even ask something like "how many cups are in a gallon." Ignore the first couple links, as they are usually ads (and we don't click on ads, right?), and explore the rest. You still need to be careful sometimes where you click. I repeat, make good use of Norton Safe Web.
Remember Foundation by Isaac Asimov, and his Encyclopedia Galactica? Wikipedia is better. Just go and get lost there, it's all free, and it's all safe.
Imagine a place where you can type in a band name, and dozens of videos and live performances come up. And that's just the beginning. Youtube is used to teach, to post funny stuff, to post, well, anything in video format.
This is like Wikipedia for music. Search for anything music related, and get boatloads of information.
One of the few safe lyric sites out there.
Free internet radio, based on your taste. A great way to find new music.
Free books! Anything in public domain, they'll have it. Catch up on your classics.
You can see if anything dangerous is heading for your sister in Florida.
People point out interesting things, and then they talk about them. This is a smart group, they've been around a long time, and I bet you'll get addicted to the fascinating things they find.
I'm not much of a gamer, but I did my best to find a place where you could play free chess online against other opponents. Plus a ton of other games. Looks safe, and is well rated. Just don't click on the ads--but you knew that!
Okay, that's all I have for you right now. It's a good start. Have fun exploring!
*The WWW is actually built on the Internet, which came first, but that's technical, and most folks use them interchangeably these days.