Text and photographs copyright of Jim Shead.
Top 100 Sites
This article Surfing the Cut is the copyright of Jim Shead - Waterways on the web. First published in Waterways World April 2000.
Surfing the Cut
The Internet for Non-nerds
With millions of people in the UK already connected to the Internet and thousands more joining every day you may think we are turning into a nation of computer anoraks. An alternative view is that ordinary people are finding that it offers interesting and useful services. So what is the Internet and what can it do for you? The Internet started forty years ago as a method of transferring data between computers. It began as a network of lines connecting various university and government computers together, later more commercial organisations joined the net and new services were introduced like electronic mail (e-mail). Ten years ago the World Wide Web was invented and has become so successful that many people think the Web is synonymous with the internet, but it is only one aspect of the internet, others being e-mail, file transfer and document transfer. The great attraction of the Web is that each Web page can contain pictures, video, animation and sounds as well as text. Individuals and organisations can publish world wide for very little cost, which means that there are vast amounts of information available to anyone with Internet access. Phone numbers, train times, hotel listings, financial advice, town maps and every type of special interest group and fan club you can imagine, are all there for your perusal. Do you want to know the history of your local canal, book a boating holiday or buy anything from a guidebook to new boat? The Web can provide the answer.
How to Get Started
If you are thinking about getting on the Web the first thing that you need is a computer, although other means of connection are becoming available, e.g. through television and mobile phones, the computer remains the usual method of access. A standard Personal Computer (PC), an Apple Mac or any type of computer with Web browser software can be used. To connect over a standard telephone line you will also need a modem to convert the data into a form suitable for sending over the line. Most computers sold these days come with a modem already installed. Perhaps you don't want to buy a computer until you have tried using the net. If you don't know someone who will let you have a go on their machine, and your town doesn't boast an Internet cafe, visit your local library where you may find you can get internet access at a reasonable cost.
Having got a computer, modem and phone line the next step is to select an Internet Service Provider (ISP) who provides you with the link into the Internet and thus connects you to the World Wide Web (WWW). There are hundreds of ISPs to choose from, many of them giving free access, although you usually still have to pay for the phone call while on-line. Normally an ISP will provide you with a Web Browser (the software that displays the Web pages on your PC and allows you to navigate from page to page), a number of e-mail addresses, a local rate phone number to make the connection and some Web space (for you to publish your own web pages if you want). Free ISPs can give a good service but there have been complaints about some and if you have problems you may find that their support is on a premium rate telephone line. If you buy a PC or Internet magazine you will probably find a CD inside giving a free months trial of one of the major ISPs. Increasingly these Web start up CDs are available at shops and supermarkets.
Surfing the Web
The Web Browser (Internet Explorer and Netscape being the two most used) provides a view of the Web and normally displays a standard page on first connecting to the Web. This page is most often one provided by our ISP and may have a list of subjects for you to select, for example Sport, Entertainment, Finance etc. These links can take the form of buttons, pictures or underlined text in a contrasting colour, but what ever their form pointing to these and clicking on the mouse will display the requested page with more information and more links to click. We are now surfing the Web or surfing the net, but finding the piece of information you require would be a very long process if we could only move from page to page in this way. Although you can go directly to a page should you know the address, the real power of the Web is to be found in its search engines. These programs enable the user to scan vast numbers of pages looking for key words. Clicking on the Search icon on your browser will display a list of search engines for you to use, some popular ones being Excite, Lycos, AltaVista and Yahoo. Each of these uses different methods of finding and rating web pages so the results from each will vary.
Having selected a search engine we enter a keyword in the search field and set it going. Suppose we enter the word Canals. The search engine will find thousands of pages that mention canals and display details of the top ten or twenty pages according to its rating system. Some of these pages will be about dentistry and mention root canals; some will be about irrigation or ornamental canals, some about foreign canals and others about the canals of Mars. This is not really what we wanted - try again. This time we enter Waterways Canals so that we get pages that mention both. This gives a better response but the results are still different depending on which search engine is used.
Waterways on the Web
One of the best sites that you are likely to find from a search on Waterways Canals is George's Canal Boating in the UK and Europe - www.canals.com/index.htm. This site contains all sorts of waterways information and a lot of links to other Web sites, including the personal pages of a lot of enthusiasts. There is also a mailing list and Newsgroup where you can read the chat, give your views or ask your own canal-related question. This site, and many others, is a member of The UK Waterways Network. Once you have found a member of this Web Ring, displaying the logo, you can go from site to site or display a full list of member sites. Another useful starting point is the Boat & Waterways Directory - www.canals.com/The_Directory/index.htm - which lists boats, waterways, hire companies etc.
Before going onto more specialist pages two more general sites deserve a mention. Canal Junction - www.canaljunction.com - which has a good selection of information about canals, boating, holiday hire, history and much more. The second site is Canalia - www.canalia.com - which describes itself as an "on-line magazine" and contains a good range of waterways pages. More specialist pages encompass a wide range of subjects: boat clubs, canal societies, hire boats, boat builders, boat brokerage, waterways organisations and personal pages of waterway enthusiasts.
Waterway Holidays are a large category. I have found thirty hire firms with pages on the web plus pages for Hotel boats. Some of these sites have more than just the boat and booking details you might expect. H & H Narrowboat Hotels - www.spithra.net/hindhart/index.htm - has information on places of interest and some very useful pages on where to shop.
At national level all the organisations you would expect have web sites - British Waterways, The Environment Agency, The Inland Waterways Association, The National Association of Boat Owners and The Association of Waterways Cruising Clubs and many more, some less well known like the Wooden Canal Boat Society and the Cutweb Internet Boating Club, a virtual boating club, with no moorings or club house, that is affiliated to the AWCC.
Individual waterways are served by the web sites of local organisations such as boat clubs, canal societies and others. I have found 43 of these sites, some covering well known waterways like the BCN and the Shropshire Union while at the other end of the scale the long gone Dorset & Somerset Canal is represented. These are only the UK groups, there are 10 sites I have found from other countries; Ireland, Australia, Canada and the USA.
The personal pages, where individual web users publish their own information, are also worth a look. Some of these hold very little information but I have found 13 sites that I think are of interest, ranging from the story of the floods at Evesham - www.members.tripod.com/~Andrew_Dyke/evesham-in-flood-easter-1998.html, with good photographs, to the restoration of a 1976 built narrowboat.
You may have noticed, as you look through your copy of Waterways World that more and more advertisers are including a web address. Not just the hire firms, which I have already mentioned, but boat builders, boat sales and brokerage, suppliers of boat equipment and even boat insurance and finance are all on the internet. Many of these sites hold a lot more information than can be carried in even the largest printed advert, such as pictures and information for hundreds of products or services.
Having gone through the main categories of site, let's have a look at one or two more individual pages. One unique site is the Canal Bridge Stores - www.canals.co.uk/ - an on-line canal shop. The National Waterways Museum at Gloucester has a site www.nwm.org.uk/ as does the London Canal Museum - www.canalmuseum.org.uk - situated at King's Cross. There are quite a lot of maps available but the best large-scale canal maps I have seen are on the British Waterways site. Talking of maps - have you found any errors in the Nicholson Guides? Why not check it out with Nicholson OS Guides Updates - www.waterwaysguides.freeserve.co.uk. This is not an official Nicholson site but it has pages for each of the seven guides and lists various corrections and updates. If the mistake you found has not been spotted just click on Submission and let them know.
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