THE PREPONDERANCE OF web pages continues to grow, leaving the uninitiated in the ever shrinking population of techno-wannabes. So be it. The web is here to stay.
A number of months ago, many of us Internet denizens thought to create the best and most extensive Encyclopedia that the world had ever seen. We thought that if each person wrote a page or two abouttheir speciality, be it Lacrosse or nuclear physics, with the right sort of index, any person could instantly find information on the subject of interest to them. We worked hard to design a reviewing process for the articles of the InterPedia as it was to be called, and we had hoped to include in its core, the 1910 11th edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica as authority. At the time neither the current edition, nor the Project Gutenberg edition were avilable electronically.
As time went on, the organization became organizationally top-heavy. We stayed in the design phase too long. As well, there was a hope that we would design an interface system for the InterPedia that would allow optional censoring features of every kind. The software required would have been relatively simple to write, and indeed a number of prototypes emerged. At the same time though, the rest of the Internet community kept creating too.
The World Wide Web was born, and with it, self publishing capabilities that the world has never before imagined; hold on to your printing presses, the second coming of Gutenberg has arrived. The Usenet News has for many years allowed people to hold public discussions about many exciting issues. The cryptic ftp protocol has been by its side, although designed only for the syntactically swift, allowing users to trade files and gifs and software around the world. And of course the staple of the Internet, email, has held out as the leading form of electronic communication in spite of the one-to-a-few publishing limit. (Of note is the largest mailing list on the Internet, the Letterman daily Top Ten List, which has over 27,000 subscribers.) But in spite of the wonderous communication potential that each of these media has offered, it is the Web, or WWW, that has captured our hearts, and our hours.
The HomePage offers each and every one of us the chance to say and display exactly what we personally would like to tell the world. Many Internet Service Providers (ISPs) treat their users' homepages promotionally to attract new users onto their service. And many users agree -- the HomePage is COOL. It's like putting a billboard up in front of your house right under the world network spy satellite and writing your favorite recipes there.
As the popularity of having your very own HomePage on the Web causes snippets of personal lives to populate the Internet, we'll find that most won't include more than a list of Joe's favorite links to other sites, or Nancy's paste up of her high-school air-brushed photograph, or Carsten's "Hi" to his visiting e-friends. These are not the people to watch.
But don't despair. The HomePage is also becoming an artform. There already exists a most intensive and exciting, though so far informal, "HomePage Coolness Competition". There are a number of ways to measure the coolest of cool pages on the net. The hard to use but simplest one is to count the number of other homepages that link to it as a "cool" homepage. But the connoisseur of good graphic design coupled with a longing for riveting content will find a way to surf the 'net herself looking for the tidbits of glory. And it isn't difficult since URLs of the best pages are indeed passed around by homepage enthusiasts.
I'll leave the discovery of these COOLEST PAGES up to you, with the hope that you too will enjoy the adventure and excitement of self-publication and freedom of expression on the Internet, made easier every day by the fast evolving Web browsers and html handlers. What's keeping you from going graphic?
And the InterPedia? It may not have taken the form many in the planning committee expected, but I'd say its nearly completed. The Web has it all.
Carolyn L Burke Fri Feb 17 1995
Finite Systems Consulting
THE FOLLOWING IS a short discussion of producing Web Pages that do a better job of reaching members of the "TV Generation".
Make each set of pages a complete package. TV viewers are conditioned to their programs beginning and ending within a set period of time. They don't like dangling threads of information and loose ends (unless it proceeds a commercial break -- they're used to that). They are easily enticed to follow-up such new threads - and on the Web, this means that they will have left your pages. In the metaphorical paradigm of TV, a story can take 30 seconds or 30 minutes to tell, while the average camera shot is about three to five seconds in duration. What matters is that your pages hold the reader long enough to complete their mission. Some of the most effective "stories" on TV today are 60-second commercials. The best ones make their point while holding you riveted to your TV set.
Remove most of the jargon and complexity from the subject matter. TV doesn't argue propositions, perplex the viewer or offer complex sequential information. The word that best describes an informational format that does without these elements is -- entertainment. Unfortunately, many Web pages are produced as "print-adapted-to-the-terminal" pieces, complete with format. The only break from this old-fashioned styling is the use of the graphics that make the Web so powerful. But these provide no relief. Most of these graphics were designed originally to be used as print handouts and contain much too much detail for the participative medium that is the Web. Here's the challenge: Design graphics that can communicate a message in under five seconds. If you can do this, you're in the ball park. And don't forget to make the graphc with as few bytes as possible. The slow transfer a fabulous but sizable file will discourage the reader from doing anything but wondering off to another page.
Provide a visual metaphor that makes the content easy to assimilate and remember. the Web is a multimedia communications medium which is best used to convey dynamic verbal paintings with supporting graphics and sound. A caveat: fancy 3-D graphics and special effects are a standard to today's media-educated audience, and they are becoming easier to produce as the Web browser producers play catchup very quickly. But don't use these elements unless they enhance your story or help you make your point. All too often, they are used only as messy attention-getters. In the worse cases, they actually detract from the story. Moreover, good graphics can't salvage a bad story or an inconsistent metaphor.
Support your pages with snappy print captioning. But make sure that the print is designed in a quick to skan format. This means that it is visually stimulating and very easy to read. You'll notice that the most attractive print pieces today appear as visual "works of art." Television is the primary reason most of us like colorful, highly visual graphic designs. Just compare today's standards in print design to those of 40 years ago and you'll see what I mean. TV is influencing every other medium in the mix. Web pages work well with presentations, slide shows, USA Today-style newsletters (a copy of the TV format), posters, and condensed, bulleted information.
As the Web expands everyday, update your pages with new information. There is nothing less exciting then a page that is already 5 months out of date. TV advertisers build new campaigns every few months, targetting the ever more jaded audience. The Web surfer needs the new and exciting too.
And remember, stay creative.
Carolyn L Burke Sat Mar 10 1995
Finite Systems Consulting
TRAVELLING THE NET can be fun and rewarding. It can also get you lost in back alleys very quickly. Those who approach this problem by using the big search engines such as Lycos or Yahoo  or one of the other engines  will have noted that they may end up in approximately the right areas of the web without too much semantic filtering of their own. But back alleys are dark and lonely, and trying to back out of them is dull and unrewarding. At best you will encounter a new fork to travel down. At best.
Wandering the web without using an engine is a different matter. Wandering is done simply by selecting the most interesting interesting link on the page you are currently at, and clicking it. Interestingly, you may not have read anything on that page at all. Pages often serve as gateways or linkages to other pages. Anyone who has gone to Yahoo knows what that is like. There is no content at Yahoo, only loosely categorized links to other sites. If what you want isn't there, you might still choose to pick the link most likely to go in the right direction. Fair enough if you have the time and patience to wander. This is like buying a EuroRail Pass as a student. You have a month to wander through Europe, and this gives you a lot of freedom to simply follow your own personal interests, even if they don't connect one to the other. The net wanderer can choose to read up on skiing at Aspen, and then move straight on to Gothic art, without a blink.
Doing research on the web should not be done in the same way. Research is an activity that should pay off. Time becomes a factor. Although surfing the Internet is a highly fun and rewarding activity, it is not always cost effective. So the question becomes, How can you do research effectively, timely, and easily on the World Wide Web?
To begin with, consider using some ofthe old-fashioned methods such as specialized mailing lists, news groups, and FAQs. Much of this information  is already available using your web browser any way! If this turns out to be a dead end, read on.
Although many engines use very fancy keyword search languages to assist you n finding what you want on the Internet, the semantic search has yet tobe invented. It seems that only humans can really recognize when two topics are related.
This is inconvenient and leads many humans to create and store information in great databanks. Computers and sort and search databank records very easily since the task is completely repetitive.
A lot of research is currently being done by both librarians and computer scientists to create the semanitc search engine. The concept behind this is the use of intended meaning rather than explicit vocabularly used to represent the intended meaning. You and I know that small furry, mouse eating, mammal and cat usually refer to the same things in the world. But a key word search engine doesn't.
Some engines build in reference dictionaries much like a thesaurus. This allows them to search for more than only the words you provided. Another mehtod of expanding the search in a pseudo-semantic manner is the fuzzy search. Words very similar to the keywords you entered are included in the search. This allows plural endings to be removed, or typos to be corrected for.
Someday this, the biggest problem in indexing since the Dewey decimal system was invented, will be solved.
One of the original and most important aspects of the Internet is that it counts amongst its users, a good proportion of the academic communities of the world. Name a topic, and you will find a professor or a grad student or a bevy of undergraduates who are each and every one of them experts to varying degrees on that topic. Many of them would be almost flattered to be asked a question about their own interests. These are the people who will know who wrote what and when about that topic.
Make this resource yours. Find the most relevant sci.* newsgroup if you can. Go there, and ever so politely post a question or two to that group. You will be surprised by the number and quality of responses you will get. Don't be nervous about doing this. It was these people who made the Internet an exciting and thoughtful place to be for decades. They haven't gone away. And in a news group, you can talk with many professionals at the same time about your interests.
One thing to note though. Please make sure that what you want to ask isn't in the groups FAQ already. You'll find that most news groups have the relevants FAQs posted monthly. If you can't find the FAQ, the netiquetted response is to request that someone please post the FAQ.
If after all this time, you still haven't found the answer you were looking for, then it semes that you're on your own. Its your turn to create a FAQ. After that, if you still don't know what you wanted to, pose your questions to the group, asking for any relevant information. Depending on the group, the topic, and the relevance of your questions to the news group, you hsould receive quite a lot of responses, some to you personally through email. It is a good strategy to offer to summarize or digest the responses to your question. So also request that all ofhte responses be sent to you in email. This will keep the news group from clogging up about thatone question. And it will also prevent many "Me toos." sent by others who are also interested.
Finally after about a week of accumulating the responses, hopefully the ones you were looking for, create a single file summarizing the results. It is polite to leave the text of their responses as is, to edit out the headers, and to leave in the email address and name of the various contributers. In the long run, your summary may be added to the FAQ itself. So leave your name and email address in too for others to reference inthe future. After all, you will become one of the experts on this topic yourself!
Often, you will end up with many references, either URLs of other Internet sites of interest, and the titles of some books. At the end of your summary, create a bibliography of these references so that others can follow the trail after you.
My own experience with discussing my questions in a news group is a good example of how to get everything wrong. Once, I inadvertantly forgot this, and after placing a question about how to double space Latex documents to the appropriate news group, I got 50 responses all telling me that this was a frequently asked quesiton. I hadn't done my research properly at all.
Off to the FAQ I went. And there was my answer. It couldn't be done easily at all. The answer had been there all along. It would have been useful to know this long before. I learned my lesson though, and now I rely on FAQs frequently.
Although this is hard to believe, not everything known to humankind has made it on to the Internet yet. If you find your searching for the unavailable, chances are you aren't the only one. If you find the topic interesting, write out what you know about it and make your brand new FAQ available to others. Place an ad or two in the proper newsgroups, find an ftp or www site that will carry your documents, and even consider formatting them in html with links to closely related sites.
Last but not least, find a listserv administrator who will support your organizing a mailing list fromher site. Announce the new list, and in no time at all, your original FAQ will have been updated many times, and you'll be issuing version 3.0 to the world.
Finding information on the Internet can be a rewarding experience if you use a little forethought in your search strategies. Just because the WWW has made the web page the state of the art medium for finding and publishing new information for others to access, does not mean that there is not a wealth of useful and interactive sources for gathering what you need. Don't lose sight of the old-fashioned, tried and true methods that made the Internet what it is today.
Carolyn L Burke Thurs Jun 8 1995
Finite Systems Consulting
I THINK ITS BECOMING really fun to have expanded my life on the Internet as part of its content. The ratio will never recover though as more people move on to the net. There used to be the news groups to talk in and the only strucutre one could add was another group, either quickly and often in jest, or slowly through the referendum processes.
Then came gopher, and then www, and now we have structure blooming. Where previous mediums were minimal in structure, having simple and unalterable tree-like relations internally, the new net is many layered. Metaphors do not do this justice. The net is the best metaphor for itself. A reporter asked me the other day ifthe Internet was like a network of networks. How do you explain that this worn-out cliche misses the point?
Look around the www. There are simple pages everywhere. Lists of links, big and slow image maps (not all of us live at the terminals of the servers), page of the days. Isn't it interesting to note that the smallest segment of time that these award pages find new winners is an indication of how long it takes to find a new interesting page on the net. Perhaps a day is the shortest you can leave the winner up to get a regular audience. Perhaps not. Either way, these award winners end up in a list of old winners. I'd like to see a site with the guts and marketing savvy to link only the current winner, drawing people to the site each day so as not to miss out. Perhaps movie critics should do this as well. Why should all the type they print live forever. [Ohoh this is getting close to home. Should my diary entries vanish as they become old?]
The idea that most of the internet is becoming structure and failing to add content in some way is extreme for sure. I should be clearer. There are many individuals and organizations adding content, either in the form of previously only printed media electronic versions, or in ways and manners that allow the new medium to influence and create their output. Both will serve to create a new community of people.
But still fast rate at which development of new browsers and new addons for the web is carried out - in part due to the desire to cash in at the beginning - influences how much time the end user will spend installing upgrades and improvements as compared to adding value on their own. Given a finite amount of time, how much time should be spent on each activity. I know people who live for their next upgrade, seemingly addicted to the state of the art in whatever technology they find themselves using. Others like me end up feeling a little backwards when I don't rush out the same day that Netscape announces a new beta version; backwards, but without a concern for the new crop of bugs in the software! I ony have a 386 on my desk, beside a PowerBook 100. I could swap both in for even last year's models. But I know these machines. They do what I wnat them to. I get to produce the content I want with them, and well gee, I saved quite a few thousands of dollars with this attitude. I feel the same way about the www.
I enjoy and find prodcutive the utilizing of a medium to the fullest it is capable. Give me html 2.0 and I will invent <hr> art:
And I don't stop there. With html 3.0 I'll go even further with flashing backgrounds, scrolling title bars, and funny embeds in table cells. Who knows what else is possible. Where others rely on new features being documented before they use them, I explore the medium of Advanced Duct Tape html and create my own graphic effects.
I don't see why the www should be any different. Let's not only create archives for others' outputs. Let's also create our own things.
With the availability of self-publication and self-promotion, get with it and go for it! Say what you want to. Make it noisier around here!
Carolyn L Burke Wed Jun 7 1995
Finite Systems Consulting
WHICH METHOD WOULD get you the best and fastest results? Did you think of Email?
Right now, while your questions are clear in your mind, you could instantly ask and receive an answer from FSC about office communications. That is, you could if you were able to send email using the Internet. Are you? Or will you have to wait during half an hour of phone tag? Or two days for a return fax? Or indefinitely? Can you afford to wait?
Would you wait that long for an answer from a member of your staff? No! So why wait any longer for outside communications? Perhaps more to the point, why keep you customers waiting?
The Internet is the most powerful medium the world has ever known -- communicating across global distances has never been simpler or more cost effective. As you've probably heard, anyone with the help of a few simple devices (a computer and a local phone line) can communicate by voice or by pen anywhere. Instantly!
Chances are, your customers aren't. Chances are, your competitors haven't. Chances are, if you accessed the Internet, you would find that most of your business associations, your raw materials suppliers, your transportation and distribution associates, your caterer, and even your accountant, are all waiting on the Internet for you.
Already waiting! Why are you?
|Send a letter on your company letterhead, anywhere in the world, instantly|
|the World Wide Web||Send your message, be it a catologue, your brochure, or a 1-800 number to each of the 50 million users on the Internet -- or to a select few -- the moment they require it!|
|Customer Support||Make your support services easily available to those who need them without the traditional overhead|
|Internal communications||Between remote offices, replace your dedicated lines, and fax machines with the Internet. The Internet can be both cheaper and faster, and in most cases more reliable, so don't slow down your own people!|
The Internet can be used to replace every existing traditional medium of communication, cheaply and effectively. The telephone is already absolete with Internet Phone. The fax has been absolete for years with email attachments. The content of most mail sent by either by courier or post can be more effectively and rapidly delivered with a effective and well designed combination of email and corporate web site.
And the list continues to grow, not just of replaced technologies, but also of brand new ones, technologies made possible by the Internet alone. Electronic news clipping services such as that of the Dow Jones are available. Hundreds of libraries, including the Library of Congress are providing their materials over the Internet. Credit card transactions, including verification, are available securely over the Internet. All of your banking needs can currently be filled. Every business service you've ever relied on is available on the Internet, cheaper and more easy to use.
You can't afford to ignore the opportunities any longer. You can't afford to wait around for it to get any better then this.
Carolyn L Burke Tues Dec 12 1995
Finite Systems Consulting
YOU'RE SITTING IN the living room, lights dim, computer on. The kids are in bed, and the spouse out for the evening. You know where I'm going with this.
The modem lights flash as data comes quickly over the wire. Another webpage pops up on the monitor seconds after your click. A java applet starts up. Cool.
You're surfing the 'net full speed. Beta Netscape, java browser, real audio, a VRML browser -- you're new Pentium is trembing in anticipation as you install yet more super cool wares. You think to yourself that it's nice your most wonderful spouse is late again. :)
But can you really justify the time, cost and energy that you've poored into hardware and software alike? Here's how.
Save time and energy using search engines to find exactly the right piece of information day or night anywhere in the world. Do you want to see a movie tonight? Look up what's playing in your town on a local website. These are often operated by one of your local newspapers or radio stations. Are you interested in taking that special someone out somewhere new? Look through the local listing of great restaurants near you.
At work, almost any question you have about the products you use, orthe skills you rely on to do your work, has been answered and collected up in a FAQ on the Internet. Are you wondering about the side effects of staring at computer monitors for too many late nights? All the information you could ever ask for is already on the'net.
Many websites have added games, treasurehunts, contests, archives of music, books, and movies, and many other assorted fun things to do and find. Check them out. Win something. Play against others who've wondered into the site too! There's a never ending world of java applets being written. Start with hangman and work your way up to chess!
Want to sell that old tv? How about your old 9600bd modem! Or your own services! There is a place to sell absolutely everything over the Internet, from specialised newsgroups, to mailing lists, and barter websites. Check them out, and replace that summer garage sale with Internet barter! You'll find that you can even get the price yuo actually want if you play your cards right!
And of course, there is shopping. Of all the purposes that the web has been put to, this is the most publicized, and strangely the least popular so far. That won't last long though. Just as the ATM and the debit card took off, so online shapping will, and very shortly. Fast food chains are placing delivery menus online as we speak. Catalogue companies are preparing to make 1996 the biggest Internet marketing
Carolyn L Burke Sat Jan 6 1996
Finite Systems Consulting
Similarly, Lycos has been swept up by MicroSoft, and who knows what the big co has in store for this engine. Will Lycos access simply be thrown in with the MS Windows Internet interface? [return]
Carolyn L Burke Wed Jun 7 1995
Finite Systems Consulting