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Dean's Digital World

Working with the Wonderful WEB

By Dean Tudor

Dean Tudor

Things happen so fast out in cyberspace that the world of print cannot even keep up with the changes, especially if the publication is like Sources, with its twice-a-year delivery. At least with a newspaper there is a chance of adding relevant, pertinent material when needed.

Last time out, I was enthusiastic about GOPHER, a text-based program that went out and fetched materials on the Internet and dropped them into your electronic account. GOPHER, though, is not exciting in this aberrant world: it is menu-driven and there is constant scrolling through hierarchies. This could be avoided on return visits by setting up a bookmark system. However, just merely exploring - "surfing" as the netters say - is kind of boring, since you have to plow initially through the menus. And, there are no images or sounds.

Nevertheless, as a fetcher or "go fer", GOPHER worked. It brought mainly-ASCII text to my account, and I printed off the file or shot it around to my friends for digital storage. I still like GOPHER. I still use it. But, only a few other people do. They've now moved on to hypertext, and the WEB.

The WEB is the fastest-growing application out on the Internet. It can do the same thing as GOPHER - and more. It can deliver text, images and sound to your account. It can go directly to the source, without you having to menu your way through. It can go directly to a connection through the world of hypertext. In a word, the WEB is A-M-A-Z-I-N-G. Sites are continually opening up, and sites are continually changing. It is de rigeur to date the information on the WEB, so that users know when the latest information was added. Each month's percentage increase of new sites appears to be 200 over the previous month's. The number of new domains is also increasing; most of these are for the creation of new WEB sites. For example, the latest figures I have (March 1995) show that 37 new domains are being registered every working hour.

To use the WEB, you need a surfing program. Free ones are available from Internet providers. You can use Lynx, which is just text-based (I use Lynx not only to get to the WEB but also to GOPHER), or you can use Mosaic, which is a GUI program. You can spend some money and get Netscape, which is a commercial version of Mosaic with more bells and whistles. The only drawback to the GUI programs, which allow transmital of video and audio components, is the extremely long time it takes to download the non-text data. If you have an account at a university, time will drag by slowly but you will eventually get the video and audio to play around with. If you connect by home phone through a modem, it can take what seems like forever just to receive images. And, you have to have a lot of hard-drive space. The situation will not be resolved for home users until fast speed phone lines are installed. And, when that happens, you should be able to watch a television program on your computer! Is it any wonder that the cable companies want a piece of the action? They want to be able to send you the Internet data to your TV set. And, the phone companies want to send TV shows to your computer. Aberrant behaviour...

Once you are online with the WEB surfer, you need to build up a series of addresses. These are called URLs (Uniform Resource Locators). Each place you visit has to have a statement like:

http://www.acs.ryerson.ca/~journal/megasources.html

(http stands for "hypertext transfer protocol": this tells Lynx or Mosaic to fetch the data; also, URLs are one word, with no spaces.)

So, this URL is for the WEB pages I constructed for the School of Journalism at Ryerson Polytechnic University. If you were to "visit" it by "pointing" your "surfer," you would find about 10 computer screens-worth of "gateways" to other sources out on the Internet. Some of these sources will be GOPHERS, and others will be file directories (FTPs). But most of them will be WEB sites. By the way, your surfer will also be able to handle TELNET, USENET, and E-MAIL, making it a "one-program-fits-all" application...

So, how do you find stuff out there? The best and easiest way is simply through the built-in index that comes with the application program. For example, in Lynx I push the "i" button (i stands for index) and I am immediately connected with the MetaIndex base at NSCA (the developers of Mosaic). This index gives a choice of highlighted names. By pushing the Enter button at each highlighted name, I can get to that particular WEB site. And, each site has more linked sites as gateways. You could spend days just exploring what you find through the "i" button.

But,if you want to be more organized, then you'll need some sophisticated search engines, that will scour the WEB world on a subject or name basis. There is one called the WWW Worm which answers more than 2 million enquiries every month (http://www.cs.colorado .edu/home/mcbryan/WWWW.html). There is LYCOS, which can index over 3.6 million documents by URLs, with abstracts from 23,550 WEB servers (http://lycos.cs.cmu.edu). There is YAHOO, which has about 50,000 sites listed (http://www.yahoo.com). Others, which you can find on my WEB page at Ryerson, include the Global Network Navigator, the EINet Galaxy (which can also search GOPHERS and HYTELNET), CUSI (Configurable Unified Search Interface), CUI WWW Catalog, NIKOS, WWW Wanderer Index, WWW Virtual Library, Harvest Broker (which is an index to personal home pages: these usually contain "weird" and "fun" stuff), Internet Index from SilverPlatter, the WebCrawler, and the Netscape Searcher. This latter comes from the Netscape program itself, and it should be the easiest to use if you have Netscape.

All of these will search and index sites for you. Usually, there is a space for you to type in a request. Most use Boolean logic (AND, OR, NOT) and some use single words; others use strict subject headings. You never know what you are likely to find, so it is wise to go to three different search engine sites - just to cover yourself. If you have plenty of time, you might want to try URoulette, which is a site that will put you into a random URL somewhere on the planet. You never know what'll turn up!

Sometimes, you might just want to know in what regions the sites are, which companies have sites, and their URLs. In that case, try the Comprehensive List of Sites (http://www.netgen .com/cgi/comprehensive) or the WWW Consortium Site List (http://www.w3.org/ hypertext/DataSources/WWW/Servers.html) and search by company or possible site name or geography. For Canada, there is the Canadian World Wide Web Servers (http://www.csr.ists.ca/w3can/Welcome.html) and, for Europe, there is Best of the British Web Sites or EUROPA (web server of the European Commission). Both are on my WEB page.

If you want direct links to subject areas, you might want to try the pages put together by MegaLinks (http://www.eskimo.com/~future/megalinks.htm), or the Web of Wonder, or Sleuth Resources, or Pointers to Pointers. One of the first list of special connections was Scott Yanoff's (http://info.cern.ch/hypertext/DataSources/Yanoff.html). Others that are used quite regularly include Doug's Hotlist (http://dsys.ncsl.nist.gov:80/~dwhite /drw_link.html) and Urb's Hot Spots (http://www.charm.net/~lejeune/urb-menu.html). All of these are on my WEB pages.

Okay, so now you know where to search, who's got all the links, and where the various sites are. Now, we need to know (shudder, shudder): what's new? There is a site called What's New, and it is at Mosaic (http://www.ncsa.uiuc.edu/SDG/Software/Mosaic/Docs/whats-new.html). It should be your first port of call after you get a handle on the WEB. Incredibly, it is put together three times a week: Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Each time, it has about 75K of data to send you, and it takes at least 10 minutes to review it - more if you want to try out the new URLs. In addition to highlighted addresses, it also has the URLs that you can capture to your bookmark. So, with a minimum of effort, you can get to the new stuff. There's just one drawback: you've got to go and get the file three times a week. If you get lazy and forget to go out for the stuff, then you'll end up skipping some days. The files are pulled down and shipped over to the What's New archives. This means additional searching. It's similar at Web News Service, another supplier of new listings. It is a lot more convenient to have announcements sent to your box as e-mail, that way you have to deal with it quickly. You can subscribe to the weekly Netsurfer Digest, which will have new stuff, or the Scout Report. Both can serve nicely as updates. But What's New is more comprehensive. You can also read Usenet news (comp.internet.net-happenings, or comp.infosystems.www.announce). I don't want to load up this article with cryptic URLs, so e-mail me (dtudor@acs.ryerson.ca) for specifics on how to subscribe. Like everything on the Internet, all this is free.

I used What's New to find WEB sites dealing with the Oklahoma City bombing. I could have searched through the WEB indexes, but I wanted immediate sites. Actually, I found more than I could handle through just my e-mail subscriptions to journalism discussion groups. Within minutes, items were posted. At the same time, URLs were posted for militia and white supremacist sites. Yahoo and Lycos were useful for searching for background (e.g., what had been said about militia groups over the past six months). A search of Lycos under "white power" showed a link to Stormfront, a white supremacist outfit in Florida, which had links and phone numbers for other areas and militia groups. That's the beauty of hypertext searching: find one link and it will have gateways to almost all the others. If you search the WWW Consortium on a geographic basis, then you can find all the servers in Oklahoma City. You can just start pushing buttons, or go to the University of Oklahoma server and check out their "Other Servers in Oklahoma," and - bingo: entire listings related to the bombing. This gets you information, but not more current than the last 30 minutes or so because somebody still has to input data. But, you can get the essential background data and images, and then download the files to play around with at some later point. You can discover the Usenet groups that deal with militia and begin searching with words such as "white," "guns," "militia," "supremacy." Some of the WEB sites that were useful:

http://www.accesscom.net/stormfront/
http://wwwvms.utexas.edu/~AXL/index.html
ftp://ftp.netcom.com/pub/NA/NA/
http://www.cpb.uokhsc.edu/okwww.html

And, some of the discussion groups:

alt.politics.nationalism.white
alt.politics.white-power
alt.revolution.counter
alr.revisionism
alt.conspiracy
misc.activism.militia

With the same caveats about any sources, the Internet is a wonderful place to do research, especially if you work at home and can phone out all-day long! You can do research (locate background material and source documents), reference (look up facts, statistics, names, dates), and rendezvous (find out where the experts gather, find the people with experience).

Does this give new meaning to the 3 Rs? Research, Reference, and Rendezvous...I wish I had said that, but I got it from Nora Paul, who runs the Research Library at the Poynter Institute in St.Petersburg, Florida (npaul@poynter.org). Every week or so, she and her staff come up with sources for the top US news story: a combination of book facts, periodicals, internet sources, people, usenet groups, etc., etc. You can get into it at:

http://www.nando.net/prof/poynter/hrintro.html


A typical recent story dealt with natural "disasters" (floods, earthquakes). Nora posted terrific stuff from the Federal Emergency Management Agency's website (texts, speeches, press releases, images), the Red Cross website, the Emergency Preparedness Information eXchange (EPIX) at Simon Fraser University's website, plus scores of agency listings and groups which provide disaster relief. She even had a GOPHER that provided information on more than 30 members of the National Voluntary Agencies Active in Disaster. Then, she had a subject breakdown, for specific sources on hurricanes, cyclones, earthquakes, floods, and volcanoes.

The Internet, of course, is American first, since that is where most of the audience and information providers come from. But, there is certainly a Canadian presence. Perhaps, we are second in usage, followed by Britain. Certainly, it is an English-language communication device.

 

Useful Resources about the Internet for Journalists

Try to buy the following books:

The Online Journalist: using the Internet and other electronic resources, by Randy Reddick and Elliot King (Harcourt Brace, 1995, 251p.) ISBN 0-15-502018-8.
It costs $30 CDN, but it is worth it, since it is the first book pitched to journalists and written by journalists. Of course, it is non-current, since the Internet changes every day and this book was finished off in September, 1994. But, unless you use the Internet every day, you don't really know that...

Canadian Internet Handbook, 1995 edition, by Jim Carroll and Rick Broadhead (Prentice Hall Canada, 1994, 798p.) ISBN 0-13-329350-5.
It costs $21.95, but it includes $20 in discount coupons for Internet providers. There is a lot of wasted space in this book, and, of course, it was put together last July, so it is even more non-current. But, it does give an explanation of the Internet. You don't need to buy any other generic book. You may also want to hold off until the 1996 edition comes out, then buy it right away.

Every Student's Guide to the Internet, by Keiko Pitter and four others (McGraw-Hill, 1995, 183p.) ISBN 0-07-051773-8, $22.95 CDN.
It was put together by five Internet instructors at an American university. It is laden with useful hands-on tutorials and exercises. Also good for its clarity and tips for doing "academic" research, which neither of the other two books handle.

There are two other "books" you will run into, but these are e-texts and they are freely available. You can surf over to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (via my website) to get a free copy of Adam Gaffin's Everybody's Guide to the Internet. It is about 500K in size (a normal 300-page textbook with no illustrations is about 625K). And, you can surf over to Norway and pick up Odd de Presno's The Online World. This is about 1 MEG, and it is e-text shareware (that is, he'd like some money if you find it useful; for that you'll also get his newsletter and generous updates, etc.). de Presno's book is updated every TWO months. You cannot beat that. Gaffin's book is updated occasionally. Certainly, both books are far more current than any print offering.

Also useful for documents are the Poynter Web site and the InfoPro gopher site (gopher://gopher.oss.net). The InfoPro site serves information brokers, information retrieval and investigative professionals. Among its resources are the Japanese Business Intelligence and Credit Information Resources, the National Voter Registration Database Contact Information, Securities and Exchange Commission Electronic Records (EDGAR), direct dial numbers for US court legal information and their BBSes, and an information broker's handbook. Quite a useful site for researchers.

Dean Tudor is Sources Informatics Consultant and a professor of Journalism and Information Science at Ryerson University. He can be reached at dtudor@acs.ryerson.ca.

Published in Sources, Number 36, Summer 1995 .

See:  Other Dean's Digital World Articles

www.deantudor.com



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