Communication Magazine / Volume 1, Number 6 / October 1, 1994 /
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by John December (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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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.
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.
Specifically, the growth of Web information challenges information providers to increase quality in these areas:
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 web's information.
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 Unleashed by John December, Neil Randall, and others (Sams Publishing, 1994).Go to the beginning of this article.
Copyright © 1994 Sams Publishing. All rights reserved. Printed by Permission.