With all the hype recently, you'd be forgiven for thinking that the Internet consisted solely of the World Wide Web. This view, however, is ignoring the Internet's many other services. One such service, blatantly underhyped, is electronic mail, or email.
In its most basic form, email allows the transmission of a message from one network user to another. email is the network equivalent of a letter, except it doesn't need stamps or airmail stickers, and can be delivered anywhere on the planet in seconds.
email derives some of its utility from its direct approach. Unlike other network services, email is not seen by anyone except the sender and the recipient. It is relatively private, although experienced users treat it more like a postcard than a sealed envelope (for a sealed envelope, use encryption). When an email is sent, it picks its way across the network and arrives in the recipient's mailbox, ready for collection.
email differentiates itself from many network services in that it is almost universally accessible. Indeed, email is sometimes the only form of access some network users have. While point-and-click information discovery might be in vogue (as are expensive, high-speed modems to match), email offers thrifty, direct communication that is unrivalled in its reach to network users.
Of course, due to its frugal needs, email-only access is considerably cheaper than full Internet access, and due to its non-interactive nature, can be collected in a batch, read and replied to off-line, and sent in a batch. This is especially useful when you're paying by the minute, or by the byte, or both.
A useful email service is the listserver. Listservers maintain user mailing lists, and when they receive a message, forward it to everyone on the list. Operators establish a listserver on a particular topic and advertise it; interested parties then sign themselves up, and chat. Listservers cater for every conceivable topic, and the conversations held on them are delivered right to the mailbox of each member.
In all, email is probably the only ubiquitous network service there is, and given its one-to-one nature, and many-to-many listserver extensions, email provides simple, efficient and affordable Internet access. If you're just starting out on the net, or if you don't want to commit larger sums for full, faster access, email makes an ideal launching pad direct to the Internet's real stars - its users.