Socially Responsible Publishing on the Internet
---------- theory & past projects ----------
To: Prospective Publisher
Dear Sir / Madam,
What content exists on the Internet? What should I publish? How many people can I expect to visit my electronic publication? What documents may help me form a useful publication policy for my organization? Once done, how do I promote the page?
This document will help you answer some of these questions and find the answers to others. Certain questions are poorly understood, but something is still better than nothing. This document comes from the work of Community Networking in establishing the wa-publishing forum. It developed as an effort to bring certain participating organizations into the fold thinking about certain issues which advance the needs of the Internet community.
1) WebScan May '96 and Aug '96.
In May '96, Community Networking catalogued all of the community, civic or economic information about WA found on Western Australian web pages. The document runs into 12 pages. In August '96, I repeated this project. Both documents make interesting, if dry, reading about certain types of information on the Internet.
Following the first webscan, I wrote a simple document which discusses certain issues I found from looking at all these web pages. A similar document will soon describe items to learn from the second webscan. Visit the Community Networking site for these documents (http://cn.net.au/).
2) Organizational adoption of the Internet Technology.
It appears all organizations, government or private, pass through four stages in the use of the Internet Technology:
Organizations nearly always progress sequentially despite the most benefits coming from the third and last steps. Therefore, when we ask what is on the Internet, part of the answer is the results of a large number of organizations who have not yet begun to use this technology to develop the community, not yet use it for staff development & research. That is, mostly expressions of interest and simple, largely self-interested, web pages.
Yes, there are a number of exceptions.
The irony here is that the final stage can be incredibly inexpensive and lead to considerable savings. The initial publishing effort can be incredibly expensive - often with few results.
3) Who puts what on the Internet.
Another way of looking at what is on the Internet is to look closely at who is doing what. Commercial organizations typically post a specific type of information, largely advertising material and sales information. Government agencies tend to release both information about their role and information about the community - both often of very high quality. Individuals often publish information of much less quality, dominated by links to further resources, but far more personal and frequent.
A more detailed description of this is present in Section 3 of the Internet Training guide for government staff training tutorials, found on the Lectures, Presentations & Guest Speaker Roles section of the Community Networking Page.
In summary, there are brilliant web sites on-line and absolutely dismal web sites. I used to think the dismal web sites were largely the concoction of a few twisted minds, but no, organizations both commercial and public service do very poorly too. The document summarizing the results of the Webscan May '96 discusses this in more detail.
1) What do you have which could be published?
Think about what you have to offer. Organizations often retain a considerable amount of information of brilliant quality information which previously would never be seen outside a small group of individuals. Public sector organizations are often bursting with brilliant information of extreme value and depth.
A very exciting revolution occurring now is the liberation of this information from organizations with no need to keep them.
Think about this. Most documents, even from corporate organizations, do not need to be kept private for competitive or privacy reasons. Previously, organizations would consider that the publishing cost and promotional costs of a simple document never stay under $1000. Today, I have offered to publish certain documents, and promote them, for free. A 40 page document on Volunteering in Western Australia would take between 2 and 3 hours to convert, publish and promote today. New technology coming onto the market make the conversion and publishing process much simpler (I think Word 7 has rudimentary conversion built in).
Corporate organizations often have real difficulty with this because their aim is to accomplish something very difficult to do - sell on-line. The challenge is to find information which has some appeal to your audience. Take our local stock exchange. What information would they have that they could display which would interest their target audience? Currently they have real-time stock quotes (I think), links to other related web sites and information about periodic seminars.
Have they liberated any information from within their organization which previously never saw the light of day? This type of information is often the most interesting to an audience.
2) Know what documents capture the communities attention.
The research is incomplete but based on a few facts, there are a few simple factors which appear to capture attention on-line.
a) The interest in a specific topic.
3) Puffery versus Community/Civic/Economic information.
Pet hate. Many organizations make a big show of using this technology by electronically publishing some of the documents currently published in paper. There is no effort at liberating information found within the organization, or delivering useful information to the community. The result is a web site with no depth, little value; an electronic equivalent of junk mail.
The alternative is a web site which publishes depth and detail. Documents, charts, resources, advice, assistance, and then maybe even something for sale.
Take, for example, the difference between a beautiful 2 page 'brochure' type description of the health risks of smoking or a simple document outlining the past 3 years of a stop smoking campaign. The first would provide the type of information you are likely to get at your doctors office; few surprises here. The second would give you far more information about a specific topic - how someone really wants you to stop smoking - while also improving the transparency of the publishing organization, releasing information you were never likely to see, and provide the depth for an informative discussion on some mailing list or another. The second is also very easy to promote.
In developing a web site, reach for items of community/civic/economic importance. Shy away from simple brochure style web pages. The two webscans will give you plenty of examples.
4) Community Publishing Initiative.
Community Networking publishes information of community/civic/economic value for either below market rates or for free. Certain documents on the Family and Children's Services web site and the Office of Seniors Interests have benefited from our assistance. We look for detail and can find web space if necessary. There is more information about this on the Community Networking web site.
Under some circumstances, it may be possible to find sponsors to cover the costs of electronically publishing documents. Speak to David about this personally.
There is another way to publish information - by releasing it to a mailing list. A mailing list is a collection of individuals who discuss a certain topic. If you can provide a document electronically, usually as a text or word processing file, you can post it to a mailing list where it will often be archived and always read.
1) The difference between a 'hit', and a visit.
When a visitor decides to type in an address, there is an item of software which records each and every item downloaded - one for the text file and one for each graphic (but not multiple copies of the same graphic). Sometimes a request will download a copy in a cache or proxy (which does not count) but the resulting number of 'hits' is one description of traffic to your site.
As you can see, the hit count is not terribly useful. This has become a major form of misinformation. I remember last year agencies were in awe that a certain page in the Northern Territories received some 100,000 hits. If it was a web page like mine at Community Networking, with nine graphics, makes only 10,000 recorded copies of the html page - which over several months may not be surprising.
Web visits, found by analyzing the web counts and removing hits to graphics (among other things) are a much more useful measurement.
I encountered false counts a few months ago - counts to a web page (a directory really), which does not exist. In the case of Family and Children's Services, the false web visits represented 30% of the recorded html pages downloaded. Perhaps this was a result of a search engine but this further complicated the issue. Another situation happened a few months before that. I was responsible for updating and checking a web site and I found I represented over 10% of all visits.
To be safe, web counts or web page visits should be tied to a description of how you came to measure them.
2) Web counters
One possible solution is the use of web counters. As your web page downloads, a reference is made to a different site to add one to a small counter keeping track of web visits. Unfortunately, you and I often find these little counters missing, perhaps because these counting programs are often busy. This means web counters often don't count true. Irrespective, they are not as effective as we would wish.
3) Government Experience
The WA-Publishing forum will shortly discuss this issue. Perhaps once this has occurred we can speak more concretely about what is likely. From past involvement, I know web counts for government web pages are considerably higher than others because they rest on one of the primary Internet structures - the state government web page of government agencies.
4) Needing information on this...
If you have a web site, kindly share this information. There is too little known and too much confusion for a proper understanding of what is occurring.
1) What to include.
There are a selection of issues to consider in writing a publication policy. These include:
Thankfully, experience, advice and examples exist.
2) Regional Documents on this issue.
Community Networking · Suggested Government and NGO Publishing Policy - Recommendations by Community Networking on the development of an effective publications and Internet involvement policy. (http://cn.net.au/wa-publi/ppolicy.html)
Auditor General WA Special Report: · "The Internet and Public Sector Agencies".
Information Policy Council · Information Planning
Information Policy Council · Publishing on Internet or other Public Networked Information Services
Information Policy Council · A Guide to Information Resource Planning
Mr Paul Houghton · The Managing the Information Resources Report
3) International Examples.
There are four brilliant and short documents about publication policy.
1."Guidelines for Publication and Maintenance of Internet-based Information Services
Further documents can be found in the wa-publishing directory of the Community Networking archive. Look for Internet Resources · Internet resources on government publishing policy.
On the issue of an acceptable Internet involvement policy, consider these two sites:
1) Description of information structures and footpaths or pathways.
One model describing movement on the Internet rests on the existence of electronic footpaths which guide and direct the search for information. The Official WA State Government Web Page is one example of this. If you are looking for a government agency web page, start at the State Government Home Page, select the list of government agencies, then select the web site of the government agency. This constitutes a well trodden footpath towards your web site.
A similar concept is an Information Structure, a construction as real as a highway, which organizes information.
The process of capturing interest and attention on your web pages is tightly linked to the process of linking to and creating a footpath or information structure to guide those interested in your content to your site.
2) Email and http addresses on print publications and documents.
Beyond the Internet, your email and web site address can be distributed on your stationary. Http addresses have also begun appearing on TV commercials, the West Australian has a web site list every Tuesday and collections of Internet resources can even be found in popular magazines like Cleo. There are individuals in town who can advise on this issue if required.
3) Linking to National/International Search Engines
There are guides which teach you some of the basics. First and foremost, arrange for your web pages to be listed in certain large international search engines. Next, try to either organize your web page is such a way to maximize the value of your draw cards (documents with some social/civic/economic value or free services). A useful further resources section can assist with this. Thirdly, arrange for your page to be linked on other pages which capture interest among your target audience. We have several lists of local businesses in WA.
4) The role of Mailing lists in this process.
Web pages are only one structure on the Internet. Mailing lists, newsgroups, independent files all play a role in the movement of information through the Internet. A new web site could be promoted on the Internetwa mailing list. Existing structures & footpaths are very useful in promoting new services and resources.
1) No discussion about security here.
Neither the WA-Publishing forum nor my own personal research has delved into this issue. If you have an IT support section, they will be very familiar with these issues. Most Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are also very knowledgeable.
2) Costs of electronic publishing.
The cost of publishing on the Internet varies extremely. Complex programming (such as java) and graphic artistry are often very expensive. Straight conversion and publishing of documents costs less and is swiftly becoming automated. Publishing experience also varies considerably. In time the wa-publishing forum will discuss this issue more completely.
3) Advanced tools and their potential value.
The GovPub list, and international list on government publishing, has repeatedly discussed the dangers of using java, magic cookies and other advanced tools. Certain other tools, like search engines, automatic conversion and scripts have come into common use. Just remember not everyone uses Netscape 3.0 to visit your site.
Just as the Internet works to liberate information from organizations, the Internet as a technology is also driving an improvement in the way we share information. On the Internet, ownership of experience means less. Information ownership erodes rapidly in an arena where others may give their experience freely. Giving information freely raises your reputation and often returns as information given freely from others.
This is particularly true of individuals on a mailing list. Only by collectively sharing information does a group make progress towards raising the experience and quality of a discussion.
Liberating organizational information and sharing of information is an emerging trend but depends on voluntary changes to culture and habits. Do you wish to make these changes?
2) WA-Publishing Forum.
The wa-publishing forum is one venue to share and discuss aspects of publishing here in Western Australia. Consider becoming a member and participating. The recent Auditor General's report made a recommendation that agencies share more of their experience in this field. This is one concrete opportunity to do this. See the Community Networking web site for more detail.
3) Making yourself known to Community Networking.
Community Networking brings together the many strings of Internet development. If you are publishing, make yourself known to Community Networking so we can assist with advice, participation or promotion.
What must be in doubt is the degree to which we will use this technology to socially transform our lives. Looking beyond the fact that our computer is a hopeless tool for communicating all the nuances and emotions of us as humans, it none-the-less represents the source of most dramatic change in our society today.
When discussing socially responsible publishing, think about it this way:
Direct Community Involvement in Government:
Liberation of Information:
Not making progress quickly
In addition, here in Western Australia we see the mis-interpretation of a mandated tender which works to reduce the pace of government publishing, we have an NGO sector which has barely begun the process of liberating the valuable information from their private libraries to a more accessible form and we have a situation where graphics and advertising-style presentation still gains more attention than the publishing of quality documents.
Where is the information about homelessness in Western Australia? Why are the documents describing our unemployment not published yet? When will the information describing the fight against smoking become available?
Not until the message of socially responsible publishing is more widely heard.