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Diabetes on the Net

By David Mendosa

Last Update: July 11, 1996

In the last couple of years the Internet has become a wonderful resource for people with diabetes. But it changes so fast that it's hard to know what's going on.

Its big problem last year has disappeared—only to be replaced by a different set of difficulties. Last year the complaint was how hard it was to find anything. Now great new search engines can easily and quickly find just about anything your heart desires. The new problem is that they find so much.

The Web didn't exist until 1991.

Take, for example, trying to find references to diabetes on the Internet. When my Web page started keeping track of "On-line Diabetes Resources" in February 1995, the Internet had two mailing lists, two newsgroups, and two Web sites dealing with diabetes.

Now, as I write this column just 18 months later, my "On-line Diabetes Resources" page lists seven mailing lists, three newsgroups, and 125 Web sites. If you click on my page today you will almost certainly find even more resources for people with diabetes, which you can reach with another click.

Among the most valuable Web sites that you can find here is The Diabetes Monitor of the Midwest Diabetes Care Center. This comprehensive and well designed site is the creation of Dr. William W. Quick, the first endocrinologist to have a Web site.

Another is Jeff Hitchcock's Children with Diabetes site. Dedicated to children with insulin-dependent diabetes and their parents, this outstanding site has lots of information for all people who have diabetes.

And don't forget to visit the Web site of the American Diabetes Association. This site at has the latest information on diabetes and a complete directory of affiliates.

These are some of the best places to start exploring the Web for the wealth of information that it contains on diabetes. They will link you to an incredible wealth of resources.

Nowadays, on my Web page I don't even try to include every site that mentions diabetes. You can find them with powerful search engines like AltaVista. AltaVista, which searches for every mention of a word or phrase on more than 30 million Web pages, will report back to you that diabetes is discussed on about 40,000 pages.

These numbers show how the Web has come to be the most vital part of the Internet. The Internet grew slowly during the 1970s and 1980s. The Web, which combines text and graphics and permits users to jump easily from one area to another through what is called hypertext, didn't even exist until 1991, and didn't become popular until mid-1993 with the release of NCSA Mosaic, which made the Web easy to use. The team that wrote this so-called browser went on to create Netscape Navigator, by far the most popular Internet program today.

It is not too much of an exaggeration to say that, like Gaul in the days of Julius Caesar, the Internet is divided into three parts. With Netscape Navigator and similar programs you can browse not only Web pages but also reach other sites that use older and less attractive tools like ftp, gopher, and telnet. With other programs or separate parts of browser programs you can reach the two other most commonly used parts of the Internet, e-mail and newsgroups.

In spite of all the information on the Web, people still use the Internet more for e-mail than for anything else. Many individual messages go out every day, but in fact even more go to discussion groups of people with similar interests. These interest groups are called mailing lists.

Mailing lists are the high tech equivalent of the old-fashioned party line. One directory includes more than 54,000 such mailing lists. Only seven of these mailing lists deal with diabetes, but that's enough. Some of these sites exchange 50 or more messages every day. To join a mailing list you have to send a e-mail message that usually goes to a computer, rather than to a person, so it has to follow a precise form.

To join a newsgroup, on the other hand couldn't be simpler. Internet service providers typically gets a daily feed of 14,000 or more newsgroups from which you can pick. Then you can read the messages of the groups you chose. These messages do not come into your mailbox, so you can actively search newsgroups for messages that interest you.

Perhaps because it is so easy to subscribe to a newsgroup, the tenor of messages there differs from the more collegial exchanges usually found on mailing lists. Heated arguments, known as flames on the Internet, are common, and sadly newsgroups devoted to diabetes are no exception.

Hopefully, this column wets your appetite for diabetes-related information on the Net. In the months to come we will explore here in more detail some of the best sites, mailing lists, and newsgroups of value to people with diabetes. 

The American Diabetes Association originally published this article in its Diabetes Insider magazine and subsequently on its Web site as the first of my “About the Internet” columns.

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