What's there to do online? Pretty much anything you can do offline--especially if you're one of the people for whom the online world is part of the natural landscape. For others, though, what's "there" may not be so obvious. Here, we discuss just 10 things you can do online, some of which may surprise you.

We also offer some reality-check advice--the Internet is convenient, fast and constantly growing, but it still runs on the same fallible human brainpower as the physical world.


If you want to find information on virtually any subject, try searching for it on the Internet. It doesn't matter whether you're writing a research paper, drafting a business plan, or planning a trip to the local zoo. The Internet is a great source from which to gather intelligence. If you doubt this, tap into one of the major portals like Yahoo! http://www.yahoo.com{gt} or AOL http://www.aol.com{gt} and scan the first page that appears, salted with links to reference materials, movie reviews, news, weather forecasts and who knows what else. But: People are no smarter online than off. Just because something's on the Web doesn't mean it's true.


The ads you see on TV about online trading are true: it's a little scary the first time. After that, you may wonder why you still have a broker. Internet-only trading companies such as E-Trade http://www.etrade.com{gt} and established firms like Charles Schwab http://www.schwab.com{gt} make online trading quicker and cheaper than offline-trades usually cost between $7.95 to $29.95, depending on the company. Moreover, your online account reflects any changes in real-time, so you can view any balance or position changes instantly. But: Quick and easy trading can also mean quick and easy losses, as most 'day traders' have learned.


Online banking is one of those things that, once you get used to it, you may ask yourself how you lived without it before. At any time of the day or night you can check the balances of your accounts, pay bills, inquire about deposits or withdrawals or transfer funds. Online banking keeps you in touch with your money 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and you never have to wait in line. Better still, you don't have to suffer through a telephone banking system. But: Actually paying bills on the Web is much harder; many banks still charge extra for it, while some don't offer it at all (Bank of America, this means you).


You can purchase just about anything online these days: cars, clothing, antiques, groceries, drugs, beauty products, toys, books, CDs and hardware. Moreover, if you can't find what you want at one location, you can probably find it somewhere else. Best of all, there are Web sites that exist solely to look around for the lowest price; see, for instance, PrceScan .

You're not about to run into friends shopping online the way you might at a neighborhood bookstore, but online shopping will get you the widest selection possible. On the eBay auction site http://www.ebay.com{gt}, for instance, you can find obscure antiques and collectibles that might take weeks, months, or even years to find physically combing antique shops.

But: You still need to make sure you're dealing with a reputable merchant, and returning defective items can be a pain.


The Internet is a great place to commune with people you know or others who share common interests. You may already send e-mail to colleagues, family and friends, but there are also newsgroups, Web forums and chat rooms where you can also socialize. Some follow the boundaries of the offline world-neighborhood mailing lists, for instance-while others simply join together people interested in one topic. You might be the only person on the block to have an interest in the singer-songwriter Richard Thompson, baking bagels or crocheting, but it's a safe bet you're not the only person online with those interests. But: Online arguments can bring out the worst in people; it's possible for formerly worthwhile, intelligent forums to implode from uncontained arguments.


The good news about the Internet is there is a lot of information. The bad news is there's too much. That's why personalized news services like InfoBeat http://www.infobeat.com{gt} let you choose what types of news you receive. Increasingly, online newspapers and news-based Web sites also offer this capability, which gives you control over the news that crosses your desk. But: Many of these customized-news sites draw on the same pool of wire-service reports; drilling down to in-depth reports is generally something you'll have to "by hand."


If you want to spend more time enjoying yourself on vacation, visit the airline, hotel, car rental company, restaurants and entertainment companies online first. You can check out restaurants, tours, hotels, and travel packages before you commit to them, and you can read up on the place ahead of time at travel-info sites, online guidebooks and in the local newspaper. But: Don't expect to find a cheap fare quickly online; the industry has yet to deliver on that promise with any consistency.


Millions of people are setting up Web-based businesses because the basic process is often cheaper and easier than setting up an offline business. You can also take an existing business onto the Web without too much effort: Internet service providers, portals, and specialized businesses provide a number of options that allow you to set up a Web-based business quickly and cost-effectively. But: Not everyone with a Web site gets rich; being online is often simply a requirement for continued survival, not a route to some competitive edge.


If you want to learn more about a subject but don't have the time to attend a regular class, try one of the new online classes. Colleges, universities, and content companies, like Ziff-Davis http:///www.zdu.com{gt}, are offering a host of "virtual classes" on the Internet. Using your PC, you can register, download a class syllabus, interact with other students, submit assignments, take tests and get your grades. But: The school or class you want may not be available online, limiting you to second-tier options.


Do people really meet online like in the movies? People do. There are a lot of online communities for singles where you can meet people, such as Match.com http://www.match.com{gt}. These services allow you to describe yourself and your dream mate in a significant amount of detail, which significantly increases your chances of meeting a compatible mate. Your descriptions may include a physical description, professional background, hobbies, accomplishments, the type of relationship you seek and a dissertation on your life's philosophy. Thoughtful, well-written profiles sometimes yield surprising successful results. But: Then again, they might not.