The SOURCES SELECT Online
By Barrie Zwicker
Back in the late 1980s, we started to hear about the dawning of
a wondrous new age. A time of global E-mail, the paperless office,
and instant electronic communication.
The "digital revolution," we've been told, is on a par
with the inventions of the printing press and television. It will
irreversibly change and shape our lives, our societies, history.
Through all the hype, a few people - consultants and gurus such
as Alvin Toffler and Nicholas Negroponte - have grown rich offering
their predictions and insights to the rich and powerful.
But others - thousands of people who do not stand to gain personally
- are just caught up in talk about revolutions. Many do not see,
as York University professor Trevor Owen has observed, that "instant
communication" is an oxymoron.
And the greatest danger of new technologies, as McLuhan pointed
out, is that they'll be adopted without sufficient thought about
By mid-1995 much of the hype is wearing thin. Some find themselves
asking some important McLuhan questions: Who is developing and promoting
this technology? What are their motivations? How is this technology
likely to be used? Who might gain and who might lose? What effect
is it going to have on society?
A widespread reaction against the digital revolution is taking
root. A book called Silicon
Snake Oil is a best seller, while "Crime in
Cybercity" stories appear almost everywhere, including the
cover of Maclean's.
Fewer and fewer can declare with confidence that "improved"
communications such as the Internet are blameless in the rise of
social violence. Did the Internet help or hinder social peace in
connection with the Oklahoma City bombing? Does the Internet help
or hinder social understanding? The answer surely is: both.
Within this discussion one point especially deserves further examination,
in my view. Hateful messages and images can travel just as fast
as messages and images promoting comprehension, understanding and
tolerance. That's a commonplace. But how do we grapple with this:
hateful ideas, messages and images have always been simpler than
deeper thought and therefore always easier and faster to the grasp.
Ideas, messages and images of hate, bigotry and intolerance are
more action-oriented, externalized, easier to remember and refer
In other words, there is a fundamental uphill battle for proponents
of tolerance and understanding. As H. G. Wells put it: "History
is a race between education and destruction."
Beyond reaction, more people see the need for action: to consciously
relate new communications technologies, and the content they store
and transmit, to the problems and opportunities that people and
the planet face.
A great deal is going on in the world besides the rapid development
of new communications technologies. Billions are starving. The Earth's
ecosystems continue to be pummelled, even while a new breed of tricksters,
such as those in the "wise use" movement, is in ascendancy.
The gap between rich and poor continues to widen at the local, provincial,
national and global levels. One per cent of the American population
now owns 40 per cent of that country's wealth.
In the lead essay in the May 1995 edition of Harper's,
titled "To Have and Have Not: Notes on the Progress of the
American Class War," author Michael Lind claims the much-touted
global economy is developing into a series of "sweatshop republics"
constituting a feudal-like "global plantation capitalism."
A good portion of blue collar industrial work has already been
exported to countries with low wages and lax labour laws. Now the
same thing is happening with software research and design; more
firms are farming this work to poorly-paid local computer specialists
in Russia, Poland and India. A new social inequity has been established,
that of the informational "haves" and "have nots."
But not all those who consider themselves "haves" will
There is a question as to whether these growing inequities will
even benefit those promoting them most vigorously. In a world where
the pool of poor and disadvantaged grows ever larger, to whom will
the "haves" sell their products?
To help promote a system of informational fairness is part of the
mandate of SOURCES
SELECT Online. Communications resources
are equivalent to other basic needs - shelter, food, health care,
for example. Everyone should have reasonable access to all. The
greatest good for the greatest number.
In SOURCES SELECT Online (SSO) we attempt to provide true
diversity: access to people in organizations large and small, for-profit
and not-for-profit, from low-tech to high-tech, long-established
Within SSO you will find both mainstream and alternative information.
Some may consider alternative as off to one side, not quite up to
par, more or less second hand. Within SSO "alternative"
is considered differently, considered as authentic and substantial,
even if normally less accessible.
The surprises, the jarring notes, the flashes of insight, the "odd
takes," the pearls of wisdom, the cries de coeur, the avant
garde, tomorrow's news, the prophesies, the unfiltered, the exciting,
the elsewhere-squelched, the memorable, the eccentric, the thought-out-at-length,
the unmentionable in polite company, the outrageous, the uncensored
... these are what "alternative" media offer. So far as
we can, we will include the alternative on SSO.
SSO's driving philosophy is flat-out informational democracy enabled
by user-friendly technology. The assumption is that there is a significant
fraction of Canadians who want to use and benefit from such an information
The assumption is that a significant fraction of Canadians want
to expand their search for solutions, and deepen their understandings,
rather than chant conventional wisdoms (however freshly minted)
to each other.
Tensions exist in society and in informational communities that
make for excitement, danger and opportunity. Your comments on our
services and philosophy are sought.
The number of users and calls to SOURCES SELECT Online has
grown steadily since it became operational the first week of January
this year (1995).
The first SSO line was opened on a test basis on June 30 1994.
To the end of May this year, more than 5,000 calls were registered.
Inside the system more than 12,000 activities (searches, E-mail
dispatches, etc.) are taking place monthly.
By the end of this year, expanded Internet connectivity will be
established. The data on SSO will be available to anyone on the
Internet, and enhanced Internet access will be open to local callers
registered on SSO. For more information send an E-mail message.
The World of SSO
At the core of SOURCES SELECT Online are the listings from
Sources and from Connexions.
And by the time you read this, the entire Parliamentary
Names & Numbers (PNN) database (192 pages
in print) will be on SSO.
PNN includes all Tier I and selected Tier II lobbyists.
Tier I comprises firms that lobby professionally for clients (such
as Hill & Knowlton Canada Ltd.). Tier II comprises organizations
that engage in lobbying for their own interests (such as the Alberta
Medical Association, the first one listed).
You can search for and find a registered lobbying firm or find
an organization that lobbies. You can do this by the name of the
outfit or by subject (examples: air transport, youth issues).
Or you can find a client of a registered lobbyist firm. Or an individual
lobbyist by his or her name, by subject, by his or her client(s)
or through his or her lobbyist firm or lobbying organization.
To the Provinces and Territories
Provincial and territorial legislators are being added, following
provincial and territorial elections. This process will continue
until all provinces and territories are included. Because of this
added scope, the database may be retitled, in both print and online
form. Political Names & Numbers (and internationally, Canadian
Political Names & Numbers) may be the new titles.
A growing amount of editorial
material (book reviews
Digital World," for instance) is being keyboarded
into SSO from back issues of the Sources directory
and from other sources.
Also on SSO, you'll find Internet newsgroups, including ones devoted
to journalism (alt.journalism), journalism criticism (alt.journalism.criticism),
censorship, Canadian culture, news media and Noam Chomsky.
Documents online cover topics from astronomy to workplace hazards.
A large number of documents relate to health and social justice
issues, thanks to the Connexions
Three important features earn SSO a place among the best online
The Benefits of SSO
The first is that when you use SSO you can access thousands of
people and their communications numbers. Experts. Walking encyclopedias.
People who know what they're talking about on 14,000 topics. People
who express themselves well, and who are offering their time, knowledge
and expert opinions.
A second feature is selectivity. Judgments applied in the development
of SSO are based on its being a specialized service for editors,
reporters and researchers, or to put it another way, for people
who often need to track down the most up-to-date information very
fast. So newsworthiness, diversity and accuracy are key criteria.
That this selectivity underlies the project is reflected in the
fact that - as the culmination of a two-year process - SOURCES SELECT
was granted final registration as a Canadian federal trade mark
The third critical feature is indexing. Not automated keyword retrieval,
which has its place, but honest-to-goodness human judgment-based
indexing, as at the back of any quality book.
Indexing and service by people, not machines
Nothing (apart from the mass of messages in the Internet newsgroups)
goes onto SOURCES SELECT Online until it is fully indexed by Ulli
Diemer, editor of Connexions and new General Manager
Also critical to the successful functioning of an online service
is the human backup, especially the system operator (known as the
Sysop). The Sysop behind SOURCES SELECT Online is Richard
Simm of RKS Enterprises in Willowdale, Ont. Richard is also the
R&D Associate for Sources as a company. Richard had five years'
experience operating his own BBS, which provides support for an
international franchise company, before becoming involved in SSO.
A large number of Bulletin Board Systems, it seems to us, are less
useful to the serious researcher than they could be because of three
common characteristics. First, they tend to be skewed toward computer
utilities and entertainment (games). Second, they tend to duplicate
each other with freely-downloaded unselective information. Thirdly
The information on SOURCES SELECT Online is for the most
part originated (actually written or compiled and indexed) by this
organization, with your needs in mind. The balance is selected and
indexed with your needs in mind.
SSO, as with the print Sources directory, is free
to accredited editors, reporters and researchers. And like sources,
SSO is available to non-journalists for a modest fee. PNN
is available for a modest fee to journalists and non-journalists
Tell us what you want
Your suggestions are important. Please use whatever means you wish
to let us know improvements you want.
Phone (416) 964-7799, fax (416) 964-8763, or E-mail
Or drop in to our office. Ask for a coffee. --BZ
This article originally appeared in Sources
#36, Summer 1995.
Sources, and Getting the Most Out of the Internet:
Including Six Internet Fictions to Consider
Publisher Barrie Zwicker looks back -- and ahead
A Quick History to 1997
Letter (Sources 42)
Sources, 489 College
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Phone: (416) 964-7799 FAX: (416) 964-8763
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