The Internet is a physically connected network of computers of different type and capacity located at some distance from each other. The physical connection between the computers is maintained by electronic hardware, a number of sophisticated computer programs with cryptic names and millions of miles of cables. The large capacity computers are usually networked 24-hours a day, while the smaller ones (the so-called ``personal computers'' or ``PCs'') are linked to the net only when their users wish to communicate. Therefore PC users entering the net usually first build up a connection to a high capacity computer (in most cases through phone lines) and utilize the latter's 24-hour technical services; thus these computers are called ``servers.''
Some forms of Internet communication require the simultaneous presence and activity of all communicators at the same time (as in a round-table discussion), others do not (they involve activities more like leaving messages on a bulletin board). Forms of Internet communication can also be classified on the basis of whether the communicated message goes from one person to one person, or from one person to many. Due to the rapid development of technology none of these forms are strictly separated, each uses some elements of the others. Most of them are literacy based verbal communication, but in the World-Wide-Web (WWW), - the most popular non-simultaneous one-to-many Internet communication - the role of audiovisual materials is increasing daily.
The technological standards of the Internet were developed in the 1960s and before the early 1990s these standards were used only for communication between academic institutions. The rapidly spreading popularity of the Internet in everyday life is due to a number of technical and social developments - the most obvious of these is the increasing availability of visual information supplementing information of the verbal type. In theory all forms of networked communication can be used for scholarly purposes, and in fact a number of such forms are in actual daily use in academic institutions. This introduction focuses on those forms of scholarly communication that are based on electronic mail, not only because these are the most popular ones, but also because the papers of this Monist Interactive Issue were prepared with this technology.