Computer-Mediated Communication Magazine / Volume 1, Number 6 / October 1, 1994 / Page 8
by John December (email@example.com)
[This article is a chapter in the forthcoming book, The World Wide Web Unleashed (Sams Publishing, 1994).]
Developers are producing information on the Web, and users are accessing it at a breakneck rate. Web traffic over the National Science Foundation (NSFNET) Backbone (just one conduit for exchanging Internet packets) increased from a monthly transfer total of 78 megabytes in December 1992 to 1,056,081 megabytes (over 1 terabyte) in July 1994. It would be cliche to call this an "information explosion." However, this rapid growth in Web use begs the question--what is the meaning of all this "information" transmitted so feverishly? What are the considerations for making sense of it and improving information quality? While there certainly has been an explosion of activity, traffic, servers, and data or "stuff" presented on the Web, an explosion of information leading to knowledge and wisdom, to significance, is still in its nascent stages.
Without tools and methodologies for gathering, evaluating, managing, and presenting information, the Web's potential as a universe of knowledge could be lost.
These information shaping abilities cannot be based on machine intelligence alone. Human wisdom, judgment, and aesthetics must play a part in improving the quality of Web information. In this chapter, I first explore the growth in Web activity in terms of increased Web servers, traffic, and information. I then survey some indicators of a growing diversity and expanding extent of Web communication. These growth indicators dramatize the need to increase information quality. Next, I describe lessons I've learned about providing information through my experiences in gathering, managing, and presenting Internet information. Finally, I discuss what all this adds up to for a notion for information quality for Web information providers.
An extensive user community has developed on the Web since its public introduction in 1991. In the early 1990s, the developers at CERN spread word of the Web's capabilities to scientific audiences worldwide. By September 1993, the share of Web traffic traversing the NSFNET (National Science Foundation Network) Internet backbone reached 1 percent. On December 8, 1993, John Markoff reported on Mosaic on the front page of the business section of The New York Times. At the same time, Mecklermedia's Internet World '93 conference and exposition in New York City featured colorful views of the Web through NCSA's Mosaic, released (working versions for X, Windows, and Mac) just a few months before. By January 1994, the Web comprised 2.6 percent of NSFNET backbone traffic. Web growth, however, includes not just traffic increases. Web growth can also be seen in terms of the number of servers, amount of traffic, and increasingly various kinds of information offered.
Matthew Gray, writing in his web page "Growth of the World Wide Web" reports a dramatic increase in the number of servers. Using his "World Wide Web Wanderer" (W4) program, Gray found the following results:
Date Number of identified Web servers Jun 1993 130 Sep 1993 204 Oct 1993 228 Nov 1993 272 Dec 1993 623 Mar 1994 1265 Jun 1994 3184
Gray notes that this W4 survey does have limitations, and these figures should be looked on as representative of what W4 could find. However, these figures give a good snapshot of the rapid growth in the number of Web servers--one part of the "information explosion" on the Web. Each server represents the work of one or more administrators (webmasters) and as well as a group of people who are working to provide information in large or small local webs on each server. Each of these servers, then, are potentially large sources of even more information, and are analogous to television stations ready to broadcast to the masses--and the June 1994 figure is like a world with more than 3,000 channels. Moreover, by August 1994, the SG-Scout robot had located over 7,000 Web servers.
Along with an increasing number of Web servers, of course, there have been dramatic increases in Web traffic. According to NSFNET backbone statistics, during the first several months of 1994, the Web's share of NSFNET backbone traffic increased from 2.6 percent in January to 6.1 percent in June, surpassing Gopher in terms of bytes transferred in March. (Note, however, that this is only a limited measurement of traffic and only over the NSFNET backbone; other estimates place the Web still behind Gopher in terms of traffic; see also Georgia Tech's NSFNET statistic's page). This growth is significant because Gopher, just a year before, was ahead of the Web--in January 1993, Gopher's share of the backbone was 0.8 percent (the Web's was 0.002 percent), and by June 1993, Gopher was at 1.61 percent (Web 0.515 percent). The Web thus has overtaken Gopher---an information system that had reached wide popularity and had a large base of deployed information in place previous to the Web's widespread use. This "byte ratings" race on the NSFNET backbone dramatizes the pull the Web has for information and traffic.
WWW TRAFFIC OVER NSFNET BACKBONE - IN MEGABYTES/MONTH MONTH/YEAR WWW GOPHER Dec 92 78 34,247 Jan 93 122 43,238 Feb 93 512 60,897 Mar 93 3,613 79,024 Apr 93 8,116 89,074 May 93 17,298 103,870 Jun 93 35,701 111,881 Jul 93 48,728 139,006 Aug 93 50,779 148,795 Sep 93 75,401 198,096 Oct 93 122,174 250,785 Nov 93 172,340 291,133 Dec 93 225,443 309,691 Jan 94 269,129 374,681 Feb 94 347,503 396,066 Mar 94 518,084 480,690 Apr 94 671,950 517,625 May 94 799,163 555,708 Jun 94 946,539 567,479 Jul 94 1,056,081 555,089
The above statistics show a dramatic increase in Web traffic. The daily average number of Web bytes exchanged in July 1994 (34,067 megabytes) exceeds the monthly total for May 1993. Also, notice that there was a slight decrease in the number of Gopher bytes transferred from June to July 1994.
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