Spinning a Useful Weblet
Al Globus and Chris Beaumont
Computer Sciences Corporation
Numerical Aerodynamic Simulation Systems Division
NASA Ames Research Center
10 October 1994
weblet: a highly interconnected portion of the World Wide Web devoted
to a particular end, usually maintained by a single individual or organization
and located at a single site.
The WWW is a marvelous medium, but in spite of rapid improvement,
the content leaves
something to be desired. Our research group has
addressed three content related deficiencies:
1. lack of technical depth,
and 3. few educational materials on traditional subjects. We briefly
discuss each item, what we've done about it, and examine
usage statistics gathered by
our Web Server and custom software.
- Technical Depth. The bulk of the world's technical
literature is not accessible via the Web. Our part of a solution
is to place all of our
approximately 100 technical reports, on line.
We hope this activity will be replicated by research institutions
everywhere, each supporting an area of expertise, to create
a complete and utilitarian web of instantly accessible,
- Disorganization. Because the Web is
developed anarchically, organization is weak. However, anyone
can create an organizational structure with links to source
materials. We maintain three structural pages for the Web:
Annotated Scientific Visualization Weblet Bibliography
with links to all the relevent weblets we are aware of.
Each entry is annotated with a few comments
to give the user some idea of what to expect if a link is followed.
An annotated bibliography is more work than a simple pointer page, since the
author must actually examine and judge the weblets to which
the page is linked.
Web Weavers page
contains links to pages with information useful to those developing
weblets. This page has been available for about three months.
K-12 online educational resources page has links to a wide
variety of K-12 educational resources. This page is about
two months old and, as one might expect, is difficult to
keep up-to-date. NASA intends to expand this page to be a
major central resource for K-12 educators.
- Educational Materials. The Web is
well-suited to delivering educational materials, but
there is a gigantic need for content. Teachers are an obvious
resource to develop these
materials, and teachers are often available in the summer. Thus,
we hired two high
school teachers this summer to develop educational Web pages related to
computational aerosciences. Only one of them has finished. This
atmospheric ozone hole page is meant to teach high school students
the important field of atmospheric ozone chemistry.
To see how successful (or otherwise) these offerings are,
were gathered from our WWW server and custom software
and graphed in the figure. These data
were massaged to eliminate obvious sources of error. For example,
home page accesses were subtracted from the total html accessses because the home
page is accessed every time anyone starts up Mosaic at our large facility.
Note the strong upward trend in total accesses and unique hosts, with
a particularly strong acceleration around May. This may reflect
placing the last of the technical reports on line and, later, new users
as the Web Weavers and K-12 pages became available. Overall Web traffic
was also up and may have accounted for some of the increase.
The biggest surprise is interest in technical papers.
Although we expected
minor interest in these reports, they are requested approximately
1000 times per month. These accesses are for the full papers,
not just abstracts. In contrast, over the last six years
only a few
hundred paper copies of these reports have been sent out to
requesters, although many of the reports have been published in journals
and conferences. We cannot know how many people actually
read the reports gathered electronically, or how many read the reports in
the standard literature, but it is quite clear that WWW publishing is
much superior to sending out paper copies of technical reports on request.
Specifically, more reports are delivered to more users with much
less manpower and fewer dollars. Printing, envelope stuffing, and mailing
are eliminated, and users can find the reports via net surfing.
The Annotated Scientific Visualization Weblet Bibliography
has a very stable access pattern -- 850 (mean)
accesses per month for the
last eight months with a standard deviation of 71.
For reference, about 350-500 people attend the annual
IEEE Visualization conference. Our page has apparently
captured the 'market' for a scientific
visualization jump page. Most
of the scientific visualization community is on the Internet.
This community is not growing much, which the stable statistics
As might be expected, the
Web Weavers and K-12 education pages are very popular, with
skyrocketing access statistics. Note that almost identical
numbers for the last two months cause the lines to overlap.
With increases in WWW use and more schools coming
on line, we expect access to these pages to increase rapidly.
atmospheric ozone hole work received 121 accesses the first month
it was available but only 19 the next. This usage suggests
that a great deal of work is necessary to make much of an impact
by developing new materials.
Beyond expanding current efforts, there are a few new
avenues we would like to persue:
- Web access for students at K-12 schools in the
local telephone calling area. The school supplies a PC, modem and phone line
(which many have), and we provide a network server that
only allows WWW access. Other facilities, e.g. email, will
not be provided so as to reduce support requirements and avoid competition with
private providers. Since we already have fast network connections,
the additional hardware needed is quite
inexpensive, but minimizing support costs is difficult and may
scuttle the concept. If successful, this project will provide a bridge
between now and a future where high speed data pipes will (we
hope) connect schools to the world.
- Online technical journals. The cost and number of technical
journals is growing rapidly. This is straining library budgets and
some libraries have had to drop journal subscriptions. Online
journals require only disk space, a network connection, and a running
computer to be available around the world, although indexing
issues need to be worked out. Such journals require
the same rigorous editing and reviewing paper journals enjoy; otherwise,
online journals will acquire a reputation for sloppy, low-quality work.
Such reputations are difficult to lose.
The Web is a superb means of
disseminating technical information to a large audience at low cost. Also,
pages with links in a specific subject area seem to find broad
acceptance very quickly and provide significant utility, although
they must constantly be kept up to date. Finally, developing
textbook-like K-12 educational materials will require a sustained and
large effort to provide significant utility.