Links make the World Wide Web go 'round

I'm the kind of person who likes to know how something works. In a world where many things cannot be explained -- volcanoes, the afterlife, females -- it's good to know there is a logical explanation for Internet linking.

Linking is not a new concept. Marco Polo is said to have marveled at Asia's ability to store files and download directions from Mapquest. How do you think he made it back?

Here's a crash course explaining the concept: some computers, many of them located in Bangladesh, hold information that is accessible to the public. When you visit a Webpage, you oftentimes see blue, underlined text, which usually represents a link to more information. Another way to create a link is by using some type of graphic or image on a page. Your browser, whatever you happen to be using, reads the instructions given by those links and grabs the specified files.

Ever wonder why it is called the World Wide Web and not the Wild, Wild West, or even Walt's World of Wallpaper? Linking makes the Internet. So you visit a page, which has 10 links. You visit one of those links, and that gives you the opportunity to go to 25 other pages. From there, you can go back to the original page, go to a link that's common between both of those pages or go to one of the new links. Theoretically, you could run into every Web page and possibly secret KGB documents just by linking from the first site.

If you are still a little fuzzy on the concept, check out Linking and Liability. According to the disclaimer on the site, the information on the site is "intended as general information only, and is not intended to serve as legal advice or as a substitute for legal counsel." In other words, don't attempt to sue Bitlaw because you were trying different links while spilling PIPING HOT COFFEE in your lap.

Here's the real kicker about Internet linking -- without it, you wouldn't have an Internet. For some of you, that may be good, considering you wouldn't have to watch all those dot-com commercials. But for most of us, even the cashiers at Walt's World of Wallpaper, it would be a real letdown. So you should probably sit down, for what I'm about to tell you may make you want to defect to a random Asian country.

It is possible to create links that could violate copyright, defamation or unfair competition rules. You could call graphics and images from a remote site and make them appear as if they were yours. You could copy and paste entire Web site pages and make them look as if they were originals. Even better, you could hold the world ransom because Mapquest could not give you driving directions to all eight of Walt's locations in Nepal.

An even more perplexing area is the use of frames. A good example of framing can be seen through Hotmail . If you have an e-mail account through Hotmail and try to visit a link a friend sends you, the page pops up in a different window, but you still see Hotmail's logo at the top of the page. This shows the page has been loaded into a frame you can see this by taking a look at the URL, which may take up more space than is allocated in the window. From an Internet-company standpoint, frames are good because they keep people from leaving the site. From the general public point of view, frames can be misleading because it's hard to tell exactly what site you are actually visiting.

There have been plenty of court cases already involving linking and framing of sites. For the most part, the courts have been favoring the Web technology, and most decisions have leaned toward keeping the Internet as we know it intact. That being said, expect to see more cases in which linking and framing are questioned.

Back in June, British Telecom announced it invented Internet linking and therefore everyone who has ever lived on earth, including Marco Polo, violated copyright. Imagine if British Telecom had won the case -- every Web site would be buried in India, and a statue of me would have been erected right next to the Taj Mahal, which, of course, had since been turned into a Super Walt's World of Wallpaper. Actually I doubt British Telecom, which lost the case will ever gain any royalties from this supposed copyright. It's preposterous that the company would even try such a thing.

Without linking, and the ability to jump to information on different computers, the Internet would be pretty much useless. It is crucial for this technology to be kept under strict guard, like fish at the pet store, or we may just have to throw our computers away. If you are a Web designer, make sure you are careful about giving proper credit to creators of material you use, or at least add links within your site to make clear you didn't build the Taj Mahal. Other than that, you should fine, unless another genius comes forward to claim he invented the cursor. That's what happens when you sniff wallpaper for 13 straight days.