Communication Magazine /
Volume 1, Number 6 / October 1, 1994 / Page 14
Challenges for Web Information Providers
Continued from page 13
/ Link to article's front page
What Information Providers Need to Increase Quality
The Web has the potential to help people articulate and arrange
information more expressively than any other information delivery
system in history. In order to tap into this potential, and to ensure
and develop notions of quality such as those outlined earlier in this
chapter, the following methodologies and tools for information
providers might be developed:
While some of the preceding tools and methods might involve
computer-assistance or automation (for example, link freshness
checks), the key element in successful webs is human intelligence and
judgment. We need to leverage automated tools to free up humans to
contribute to a web what they can do best.
- Tools to assist in web design and implementation:
- Automated tools for maintaining HTML files or to create and
enforce web "look and feel" design decisions.
- Automated tools for web link maintenance (to verify link
freshness) and assist in other tasks of web
development and maintenance.
- Higher-level languages that articulate web constructs and
structures above the HTML level, capturing notions of
inheritance (from object-oriented design methodologies),
packaging (module concept from procedural programming
languages), and information-shaping (from rhetoric,
composition, and technical communication techniques).
These higher-level languages might include a logical level
over Uniform Resource Locators (or Identifiers), that
captures abstraction in naming. For example, a link to a
national Network Information Center (NIC) could be expressed
as a generic term within an anchor
that is instantiated in a web-generation scheme to an
appropriate URL or URI which is specific to a given
parameter (for example, yielding a a specific link for a web
for Europe, another link for a web for Australia).
- Automated tools to help a designer evaluate a web's
performance--accesses by page, perhaps graphically
represented, to alert web designers to how the web's
information is actually being used
(See the WebViz approach to this.)
- Methodologies to support web planning, analysis, design, and
- Techniques for web usability testing.
- Methods for web audience analysis.
- Strategies for planning and developing webs within a variety of
- Techniques for information presentation that help a diverse
audience of users find different "ways into" or views of
a body of information.
A management system for information providers should thus
include automated procedures along with ways for
information providers to contribute add value to information as a
result of their judgment and knowledge. For example, in information
discovery, hand-crafted indexes are costly in terms of
time, but can lead to valuable results for specialized uses. While
automated methods (WAIS, Veronica, Archie, WWW Search engines) can
scan a large amount of information, the raw search results
can bewilder an inexperienced user. Combining human judgment with the
strength of automated tools may ultimately lead to more powerful
ways to gather and shape information.
Ultimately, web information providers also need an
information-literate audience. Information literacy includes the
ability to access, evaluate, and use networked information in the
pursuit of a goal. Helping a user gain this literacy and progress from
using information to gaining knowledge involves presenting the right
information at the right time in the right context. Often, web
developers can do this by providing a variety of ways to access, view,
and understand the continually changing resources on the Internet.
What Information Providers Can Do to Increase Quality
Specifically, the growth of Web information challenges information
providers to increase quality in these areas:
- Draw on domain experts to judge and critique information,
and to suggest content development and improvements.
- Tirelessly work for authoritative sources and fresh links to
them in the web.
- Use the power of collaborating experts to fuel content development
- Use techniques to cue users to the purpose, offerings,
status, and usability of web information.
- Use HTML design techniques that exploit the power of hypertext.
"Chunk" information into manageable pieces. Use links to refer
to concepts and information rather than reproducing it.
- Keep graphics, multimedia and other features serving the best
interests of the users. This includes minimizing where
necessary, and including where appropriate.
- Keep aware of subject-oriented collections as well as indexes
on the Web. Publicize your web's information so that
it is included in appropriate indexes and subject trees.
- Be aware of schemes for spider indexing. Design document
hotspots, titles, and other features to provide the best
information for spiders.
- Provide your web's information within the context and
communities of its intended audience so that your users (and
potential users) know your web's offerings and new
Unceasingly work for innovative techniques used for your web's
presentation and content so that it meets and exceeds your
users' changing needs.
- Creatively experiment in nontraditional expression to exploit
new hypermedia features and techniques that meet your users'
- Adjust your web development processes to allow for new ideas,
approaches, and techniques, so that creativity can flourish.
If there were only a few Web resources, users could easily find and
compare them to identify the most useful ones for their needs.
However, with an increasingly large and diverse universe of Web
servers, traffic, documents, and audiences, even smart Web spiders
can't identify the resources that are correct, complete, or most
useful for a given purpose.
The Web itself is a means of expression, not just a conduit for
delivering information or a collection of protocols and tools to be
adjusted for maximum technical efficiency. The challenge for Web
information providers is to recognize this and to increase the quality
of information they deliver--both in terms of its content and
methods of presentation. Therefore, Web information providers must
examine the processes by which they gather, present, and improve their
By refining skills and techniques for gathering and presenting
information and tapping into the wisdom of experts for critical
review, Web information providers can engage in a continuous process
of quality improvement. Methods for presenting Web information can
draw from fields such as technical communication, rhetoric, and
composition to shape information. Web information providers can also
draw on concepts and practices from software engineering to inform
design and implementation techniques. Automated tools and higher-level
hypertext languages can provide more abstract levels above HTML, so
that larger units of thought and web structure can be articulated.
Ultimately, the challenge for a Web information provider is to
acknowledge the dynamic nature of Web information and recognize that
information quality is not just a set of outward characteristics or
design decisions, but a part of a continuous process in which content
and presentation are adjusted to meet user needs. Webs that more
completely articulate information so that it can become knowledge may
be the key to the Web's continued growth.
This article appears as a chapter in the forthcoming book,
The World Wide Web
by John December, Neil Randall, and others
(Sams Publishing, 1994).
Copyright © 1994 Sams Publishing. All rights reserved. Printed
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