butterfly Socially Responsible Publishing on the Internet

---------- theory & past projects ----------

1996 & 1997

David Novak

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.

Chapter 1: What's on the Internet?
1) WebScan May '96 and Aug '96.
2) Organizational adoption of the Internet Technology.
3) Who puts what on the Internet.
Chapter 2: What should I publish?
1) What do you have which could be published?
2) Know what documents capture the communities attention.
3) Puffery versus Community/Civic/Economic information.
4) Community Publishing Initiative.
Chapter 3: How many people can I expect to visit my site?
1) The difference between a 'hit', and a visit.
2) Web counters
3) Government Experience
4) Needing information on this...
Chapter 4: How would I write a publication policy?
1) What to include.
2) Regional Documents on this issue.
3) International Examples.
Chapter 5: What about promoting the web page?
1) Description of information structures and footpaths or pathways.
2) Email and http addresses on Print publications and documents.
3) Linking to National/International Search Engines
4) The role of Mailing lists in this process.
Chapter 6: What have we missed?
1) No discussion about security here.
2) Costs of electronic publishing.
3) Advanced tools and their potential value.
Chapter 7: Sharing information, Learning more.
1) Attitude
2) WA-Publishing Forum.
3) Making yourself known to Community Networking.
Chapter 8: The Potential of Socially Responsible Publishing
(originally from a separate document)
2) Not making progress quickly.

Chapter 1: What's on the Internet? [Contents]

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:

a) Express an interest in this technology.
b) Develop a web site for publishing.
c) Explore the staff development & research value of the Internet
d) Consider using the Internet to develop the community.

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.

Chapter 2: What should I publish? [Contents]

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.
There are very few documents in the world about families, so much so that when Family and Children's Services WA electronically published a summary document about Families : Our Future, it received 800+ visits in 70 days, Perhaps 25% or more from the US, close to 10 times the interest of a higher quality document on Volunteering. Clearly, people searching for family information on certain large search engines were locating this document, then reading it.
      b) The quality of a specific document.
Commerce and Trade published a proposed Science and Technology policy here in WA. The document was well written and valuable so that during 40 days at the end of last year, 180 visits occurred - 20% or more coming directly to that web page and not through the publications page which listed it. Someone posted a recommendation to read this document on a local mailing list. A similar example occurred with the Volunteering document mentioned above. There were two versions displayed - a four page summary document and a 40 page full document. Both had tables and charts. Most visitors looked over both versions.
      c) First Impressions.
I have only personal experience to support this but when I am researching I make snap judgments on the value of web pages based on certain clues. I always look at publication pages. I always look more closely at documents with charts and graphs. I ignore documents which start with "annual report" but would read the same information if prepared as a vision statement. Most government web sites have a very high level of casual interest which can be very useful for informing people from the first page. Far fewer visitors go further.

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.

Chapter 3: How many people can I expect to visit my site? [Contents]

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.

Chapter 4: How would I write a publication policy? [Contents]

1) What to include. There are a selection of issues to consider in writing a publication policy. These include:
      What to publish,
      Who authorizes a document to be published,
      How to manage and measure this form of marketing,
      and more.

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".
- Found as a PDF file in the web site of the Auditor General of WA. Released June '96. (http://www.iinet.net.au/~oagwa/internet.html)

Information Policy Council Information Planning
- 5 page guideline to government agencies http://www.wa.gov.au/IPC/policies/infopln1.html

Information Policy Council Publishing on Internet or other Public Networked Information Services
- Simple but important 3 page guideline to government agencies http://www.wa.gov.au/IPC/policies/netpub.html

Information Policy Council A Guide to Information Resource Planning
- large 40 page info pack & recent (june july?) http://www.wa.gov.au/IPC/policies/infoguide/httoc.htm

Mr Paul Houghton The Managing the Information Resources Report
- An aging (1992) but important and visionary report. Mr Houghton continues this work in the Information Policy Council. http://www.wa.gov.au/IPC/policies/

3) International Examples.

There are four brilliant and short documents about publication policy.

1."Guidelines for Publication and Maintenance of Internet-based Information Services
DRAFT - Prepared by the Internet Publications Working Group" http://www.gov.bc.ca:1080/netpubguide.html [Look at the section 3 regarding contents.] 2.A Sample Publication Policy:
DIA Intranet/Internet Policy, Department of Internal Affairs for New Zealand. http://armpit.dia.govt.nz/homepage/owner/inet-pol/dii.htm
Look particularly at the Content Issues section.
3.Publishing Government Information On-line
North Star - Minnesota Government Resources
4.Government Web Publishing Guide (New Zealand)

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:
            Employee Internet Ethics and Acceptable Use Agreement
            Internet Use Guidelines

Chapter 5: What about promoting the web page? [Contents]

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.

Chapter 6: What have we missed? [Contents]

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.

Chapter 7: Sharing information, Learning more. [Contents]

1) Attitude

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.

Chapter 8: The Potential of Socially Responsible Publishing. [Contents]
The Internet is a brilliant feat of engineering. We have the opportunity to reach out and touch others irrespective of distance. There can be no doubt Internet technology will make it easier to communicate.

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:

Organizational Transparency:
Internet Technology radically alter the degree of transparency of our government. This of it as the Freedom of Information Act on stearoids. Beyond the law allowing us to monitor what our government accomplishes is the act of watching big brother.

Direct Community Involvement in Government:
This technology holds the opportunity to directly involve citizens in government. Ranging from the development of forums to discuss certain community topics, the use of online voting, the development of submissions for comment from the community, this technology holds out the promise of involving the community in its management. This may be the best chance we have at again believing in our government.

Liberation of Information:
Consider again that within organizations, non-profit, commercial and government, lies vast reservoirs of information which while recognized as valuable, does not warrant the expense of making it publicly available through printed publishing. Part of the change already experienced on the Internet is a 10 fold drop in publishing costs - which should lead to a liberation of valuable documents from organizations which do not consider them proprietary. Sharing this kind of information can only enrich the society and form the basis of far more factual discussions on a given topic.

Community Self-Awareness:
Following on from the electronic publishing revolution is the distinct opportunity to dramatically facilitate people finding others of similar or collaborative intent.

Not making progress quickly
Please do not be misinformed into believing we are making rapid progress towards these goals. When we focus our attention on documents of community/civic/economic importance alone, we have very little. Western Australia is the regional leader in Internet adoption. Despite this, only in the last month did we finally get some decent statistics about our economy online. We still have only a handful of documents describing the state of our society - and many of these documents are aging 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.

© 1997 Community Networking (cn.net.au). This is just one page from a much larger archive.