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Research @ Reynolds Libraries

5 a. Internet, open web & deep web

What's the difference between the internet, open web and deep web?

The internet is a worldwide network of computers. The internet, also known as the web or the open web is an information system that links to sources online and allows users to navigate through the web, moving quickly and seamlessly from one source to another via hyperlinks. Sources available on the web can include text, images, video and sound.

One prevailing misconception is that everything is available on the internet or open web. As a matter of fact, only a small fraction of the world of information is available on the internet or open web. Think of the web as an iceberg. Anyone can see and access roughly less than 5% of the information available on the web for free, using popular search engines like Google. Wikipedia articles, for example, are open web resources that are available online to anyone who searches for them. In the illustration below, the area above the line represents the open web, where anyone has easy access to free information.

The other 95% of information available on the web is hidden from view and is known as the deep web. The deep web is where information is not free and is not included in popular search engine results. Library databases, for example, are deep web subscription resources that are available online, but only to authorized users such as students enrolled at Reynolds. Books, journals, magazines, newspapers and videos that are commercially available are usually not available on the open web. Thus, some of the most reliable information in existence must still be obtained from licensed library databases or traditional print sources. In the illustration below, the area underneath the line represents the deep web, where it costs money to gain access to higher-quality, reliable information.

Original graphic created by Kevin Simons from Northern Virginia Community College, Annandale Campus and adapted by Virginia Community College System librarians for the statewide Connect for Success information literacy tutorial.