Computer-Mediated Communication Magazine / Volume 1, Number 6 / October 1, 1994 / Page 12

Challenges for Web Information Providers

by John December (

Continued from page 11 / Link to article's front page

As my list grew, however, a serious usability problem arose. The size of the list, particularly in its HTML form (one very large page) caused problems with some Web browsers (crashing them). Therefore, during the summer of 1994, I modified my translation program to also create a "segmented" hypertext version as shown below.

Figure showing Segmented Hypertext version

This segmented version divides the file into various-sized "chunks": sections, subsections, and sub-subsections (which had already been marked in the database file). Using automatically generated tables of contents at one, two, or three levels, users can retrieve just the part of the document they need. This dramatically reduces the amount of download time for a user. Moreover, the separation of the list into files of varying sizes allows the user to select the amount of information they want to encounter. This change was essential for the continued usability of the document itself. The list's size before segmentation was over 150K, requiring large amounts of time to download as well as frustrating the user with information overload.

Improving Content

In the course of improving my processes for information retrieval, selection, and presentation, I've also developed processes for improving various aspects of my list's content. The content aspects include:

Expanding the Context and Activity

I've recognized that my list of information sources is just one part of developing my understanding in my area of study in computer-mediated communication. Therefore, I've begun another stage important in developing online information--gathering together a community of people interested in the information itself. The tradition of Usenet FAQs is very rich because participants share and build elaborate information artifacts in the context of a group identity (for example, there often seems to be a strong sense of community and group ownership of a FAQ). On the Web, subject-specific information doesn't necessarily rise directly out of such group forums.

With this idea of a need to gather a group of peers, I've created a Web-based forum for sharing information and connecting with other people interested in computer-mediated communication, The Computer-Mediated Communication Studies Center, which includes a resource collection, a directory of people interested in CMC, a list of activities, and a publication, Computer-Mediated Communication Magazine.

By expanding the context in which I develop my list, and by gathering together domain experts interested in the same field, I'm starting to make the important transition from information to knowledge.

Lessons Learned

In developing my CMC Information Sources list, I've learned various lessons which may be useful to other information providers:
  1. It is possible to develop and maintain a handcrafted index to Internet resources where:
  2. A single database design using a markup language combined with a translator program is essential to providing multiple formats of a list. It would be far too difficult for me to create and maintain the individual files required for the segmented hypertext version. I would not even attempt to make a single LaTeX version of the file by hand.
  3. In order to develop a successful list, the list maintainer should:
  4. A resource list exists within a larger context in which its value as information can be used to create or develop knowledge (and hopefully, eventually wisdom). In order to accomplish this, a resource list should be presented and used within a community of people interested in the information, in order to provide the critical review as well as suggestions to improve it.
  5. A resource list's ultimate value lies in the judgment and care of the list maintainer. Annotation becomes very important; and, as the information spaces which the list points into become saturated and polluted, the judgment about what to leave out becomes even more important. Eventually, the list maintainer relies on others who create more focused and specialized collections of information to provide excellent destinations as links.
  6. It is important to recognize the limitations of Web-based information. In most academic disciplines, important journals, books, and other scholarly materials are still on paper. Net-based information should recognize this, and point the user to appropriate paper-based resources.

Continued on page 13

Copyright © 1994 Sams Publishing. All rights reserved. Printed by Permission.

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