Inkwell: Authors and Artists
when cheese is insulted, it catches its winces! (pellmell) Wed 21 Jun 00 13:48
ooh, windoze type ftp. i need to crack the seal on that CD!
Reva Basch (reva) Wed 21 Jun 00 13:48
To tell you the truth, I'm not in the habit of using any of them. I've installed them to evaluate them for one project or another, and then promptly de-installed them when I'm finished. But I have colleagues who swear by one or another of them. On the search front, it's handy to be able to launch a search from your desktop and download the results, then use the built-in tools to evaluate them offline. Much more efficient than clicking from hit to hit on a search results page.
Reva Basch (reva) Wed 21 Jun 00 13:50
There ya go, Melina. I like WS_FTP a lot, despite -- or maybe because of -- the geeky name.
Linda Castellani (castle) Wed 21 Jun 00 13:59
I like it, too. Easy to use.
Gail Williams (gail) Wed 21 Jun 00 15:55
Reva & Mebs, have you done any of the google treasure-hunt games they put up recently, where you use their tools to find obscure info? Is anyone else doing that? It sure seems like a cool geeky game.
Reva Basch (reva) Wed 21 Jun 00 17:14
I haven't done it, because it seems too much like work to me. But I love the idea, and the homage to the old Internet Hunts that Rick Gates used to organize back in the pre-Web days.
Mary Ellen Bates (mebs) Wed 21 Jun 00 17:38
I echo Reva, mostly. Of the desktop tools, I still use Webforia, especially when I'm going to be doing a presentation and want to show a bunch of Web sites. I'll use a live connection if possible, but Murphy's Law being what it is, it's nice to have the sites cached. Webforia Reporter handles that very elegantly, IMO. And I'd been struggling along with one of the earliest versions of Zip (heck, my version was pre-windoze and was still called PKZip), so it was nice to get a fresh copy. I like the Google contests but, like Reva, it looks too much like work to me. This is when I think of the amount of time it'll take me to finish the contest, figure out how much I'd bill per hour for a client, and decide that I'd rather get *paid* to do that research. Call me mercenary, but there you have it.
I kiss your hand... (coop) Thu 22 Jun 00 06:11
I'm going to hide a post here from Topic 4, Reva's interview about the first edition of Dummies, for those readers who might like to know why Reva decided to write the book in the first place.
I kiss your hand... (coop) Thu 22 Jun 00 06:12
I kiss your hand... (coop) Thu 22 Jun 00 06:13
To open it, type o 34
I kiss your hand... (coop) Thu 22 Jun 00 06:13
I'd like to ask you a little about gated sites, particularly the professional online services. (There is a description of "gated sites" on pages 14-16.) I'm interested in end-user searching, for one thing. We've watched "non-info pros" get pretty savv y over the last ten years. We've watched the general public become willing to pay, if only $20 bucks a month or so, for access to the web in general. We've watched the demise of professional services' training programs, supposedly due to their belief t hat their systems are now user-friendly and "easy" to use. Do you foresee a day when your average pern-on-the-web will include gated sites in their daily decisions on where to go to find what they need, either for work or for personal use? We, in our field, talk a lot about how the explosion in the use of the internet has made us more valuable as searchers because everyone now understands the power of access to information, but are we fooling ourselves? I mean, as everyone becomes aware o f the value-added aspects of gated services, will they educate themselves, pay the fees and become as pro as the current pros? Much of the public used to have to hire scribes before they had the time and opportunity to learn to read and write. Are we looking at a second wave in the general use of the web-that of most everyone being able to conduct professional searches?
Mary Ellen Bates (mebs) Thu 22 Jun 00 07:09
Good questions, Linda! Here are my thoughts, in no particular order: *People will only use gated sites regularly when they remember that web search engines only cover (at most!) 15% or so of the open web. That's a shockingly small percent, IMO. (See Giles and Lawrence, "Accessibility of information on the web", Nature, 8 July 1999) Most folks think that a search engine covers it all and don't realize that gated sites aren't included. As folks find those gaps, they'll develop their own bookmark file of the best, most useful gated sites for their use. *I'm not sure how many people are willing to pay monthly fees (or even per document fees) for their personal web use. While gated sites are a boon to researchers, and I use them frequently in my work, I don't think they'll ever be "big, really big." Particularly in the work environment, I think the trend is more toward having librarians or IS/IT departments negotiating enterprise-wide licenses for access to high-value information directly to the desktop. This is more cost-effective in the long run, and the costs are invisible to the average user. Plus, everyone knows how difficult it is to get reimbursed for that $20 you just charged to your personal credit card, for research done for work..... *And while I think that the Web, and books like ours, go a long way toward enabling people to do much of their own research, it'll never take the place of info pros, any more than Quicken has caused the demise of CPAs. It enables us to find information we never could find before, so it lets us ask questions we never thought to ask before, but when someone has a lot riding on a research question, they still go to the pros.
Reva Basch (reva) Thu 22 Jun 00 12:30
I agree with everything MEB said, and I'll add that I don't believe the average net user -- certainly the average consumer-type user, as opposed to business user -- is even =aware= of the kinds of information they can get through gated services like Dialog, Dow Jones, and Lexis-Nexis. You know -- information from more than 5 years ago, information from esoteric scholarly or professional publications, information in specialized fields or broken down in a particular way or formatted for incorporation into a management report or spreadsheet or whatever. People really don't know what they're missing, for the most part, imo.
I kiss your hand... (coop) Thu 22 Jun 00 13:14
So, we may be talking about a collapse of the "peer review" system, wherein scholars, experts and writers may fall victim to making decisions on incomplete or suspect information. Now, I know that the gated services themselves cover only, what, 20 years of information, and that the info pro community was all hot and bothered about that for a while. It seems to be getting worse, not better. While there may be technical ways to deal with uploading all of history sometime in the future, I see this as an immediate concern. You don't know what you don't know. Or, you don't know what you can't find?
Reva Basch (reva) Thu 22 Jun 00 15:10
Both of those are true. It's the collapse of peer review, as you put it, or the decline of critical thinking skills, that really worries me. Some schools are teaching critical thinking as part of their "how to use the Internet" curricula. But with SO much "information" out there, and so much pressure, especially in the workplace, to produce or to LOOK productive, I think people are just grabbing the first thing that comes along that vaguely approximates an answer. One thing we emphasize in, ahem, Researching Online For Dummies is to look for subject hubs or megasites that someone -- an individual expert, a library, a trade association or whatever -- has compiled. Sites that involve some human mediation, some filtering, some informed selection. In a way, that's the closest thing we have to peer review on the net. It's still not perfect -- you can't accept someone's "expertise" at face value, and lots of expert-compiled sites do have a bias. But peer review in academia isn't all that pure and devoid of politics, either.
I kiss your hand... (coop) Thu 22 Jun 00 15:58
Agreed. On page 52 there is a nice sidebar talking about Mary Ellen's preference for reading a book recommended by someone she trusts. As mentioned there, a website like Google works the same. Can one of you explain Google's benefits, issues and problems? (She asks, reserving her own distrust of Google-like sites for later...)
Linda Castellani (castle) Thu 22 Jun 00 16:15
And could someone define "gated sites?" From the context it sounds like sites that require membership or that charge a fee? For people who aren't serious researchers, but are often mildly curious about a number of subjects and often idly do web searches to see what can be found, how would they benefit from using gated sites?
Mary Ellen Bates (mebs) Thu 22 Jun 00 16:55
In reverse order... <castle>, yes, gated sites are sites that require registration or a fee, or that have information that is only accessible through a search box within the site. Examples include most newspaper sites, Ticketmaster.com, and The Well. Casual researchers benefit from gated sites because they often have collections of information not found elsewhere. I'm a San Francisco area native and like to stay up to date on Bay Area stuff. So I wander around www.sfgate.com once a week or so to see what's going on. Hoover's (www.hoovers.com) is another example - if you're an investor, you can get nifty background profiles on companies through this gated site (some of which is available to anyone, some of which is further gated to those willing to pay a monthly or annual fee). And any Web site that has a discussion forum in it constitutes a gated site in that the content of the discussion forum won't appear in a search engine. The Well is, of course, the best example, but think, too, of sites like Parent Soup (www.parentsoup.com), The Motley Fool (www.fool.com), and Salon.com (the owner of The Well). To answer <coop>'s question about the benefits of Google: www.google.com is one of many search engines. It's currently one of the larger ones, and in my experience, seems to do an exceptional job at sorting search results with the most truly relevant stuff at the top. I also like its "cached" feature - it saves a snapshot of each web site it's indexed and you can display that cached page if the link to the site itself is down. Google does a lot of its ranking based on link analysis - it figures out how many sites have linked TO a particular site, and puts those highly-linked-to sites at the top of the search results. This is kind of a crude form of peer review. And finally, Google have a nice clean user interface that I find pleasing to the eye. No "punch the monkey" banner ads.
No "punch the monkey" banner ads. (vard) Thu 22 Jun 00 22:24
tftp mebs! I become increasingly frustrated dealing with people who find bad information online -- literally, false stuff, often posted intentionally by people servicing one or another political agenda. What about citizen-searchers, trying to decide how they feel about candidates or issues? What do you recommend (beyond the generally reliable news sites like nytimes.com and washingtonpost.com) for this kind of research?
Mary Ellen Bates (mebs) Fri 23 Jun 00 05:27
Glad to be able to provide you with that attractive new pseud, Stephanie. Yes, detecting misleading and downright fraudulent information on the Web is hard sometimes. My best suggestion is to use the Just-Doesn't-Smell-Right test. Look at the information APART from the nicely designed Web site. Does it seem right? Is it internally consistent? Can you find corroboration from another source? One trick I use when I'm trying to figure out who www.web-site-with-a-POV.com is, is to look up the owner of the domain name. There are a number of sites that let you do this; the granddaddy is Network Solutions' WhoIs site. Go to www.networksolutions.com and click [WHOIS lookup] in the upper right-hand corner. Type in the domain name WITHOUT the "www" and it'll show you who owns that domain. That often gives me a clue as to the point of view that's being presented. We have a whole chapter (17) in the book that looks at "The Big Issues: copyright, information use, and quality," and a sidebar on page 296 (for those of you following along with your own copy) listing some good sources for evaluating information quality. Two you can start with are <http://www.tiac.net/users/hope/findqual.html> and <http://www2.widener.edu/Wolfgram-Memorial-Library/webeval.htm> (note that upper/lower case is important) Since Reva handled Chapter 17, she may want to weigh in here with other thoughts.
Reva Basch (reva) Fri 23 Jun 00 10:33
With regard to political and public policy issues specifically, my first response is to ask who I trust in the =real= world: Common Cause? League of Women Voters? Various environmental and social reform groups? 99.9% of those agencies have a web presence, too, and their sites are often packed with position papers, recommendations, candidate scorecards and whatever. Publications, too: Ask yourself what print publications you trust; their online versions have the additional advantage of searchability. I don't think you should write off a site, necessarily, because it has a political bias or an agenda. The important thing is to learn how to recognize that bias and adjust for it. With regard to gated sites, mebs and I went round and round about the terminology here, but I also use the phrase to refer to the premium online services like Dow Jones, Dialog and Lexis-Nexis that involve not only registration and password entry, but also some form of payment. Some of my responses to earlier questions were based on the assumption that we were talking about that kind of site.
Avi Rappoport (avirr) Fri 23 Jun 00 22:09
This is a very helpful book, and I'd feel comfortable giving it to someone who calls themselves a "Dummy" about online research -- it provides information without making people feel stupid. I'm curious what you both think about Natural Language searching. Not so much AskJeeves, which has a lot of humans making up questions and answers, but search engines like NorthernLight and Autonomy which claim to understand questions more complex than sets of keywords and commands. Do you think that many people can formulate a whole sentance as a question? Do you think those search engines can interpret them correctly?
Kathy Whilden (wildini-k) Sat 24 Jun 00 10:26
I'm enjoying this conversation so much that I ordered the book so I can ask intelligent questions.
Reva Basch (reva) Sat 24 Jun 00 10:59
Excellent, Kathy; thank you! Avi, good question. One of the reasons Jeeves' natural language query system works as well as it does is that it operates -- in the "Jeeves Knows the Answer to these Questions" section, at least -- on a finite database, that knowledge base of human-created Q&As you mentioned. Natural language on the wide open web is something else. The most impressive natural language systems I've seen thus far are intended for specialized or proprietary information management systems, where the terminology is limited or extremely focused. But that's changing, slowly, as some of the more linguistically sophisticated natural language systems -- ones that examine queries and analyze them the way the human mind analyzes conversational speech -- start to show up on the web. We're seeing an interesting interim step, in the "I know what you mean" (or "tell me what you mean") search engines like Oingo and SimpliFind, that, when you enter a term with multiple meanings, like "circuit", ask you whether you mean electrical circuits, circuit courts, or circuit as in tour or racing. These disambiguation engines ride on a complex set of thesauri and linguistic guidelines, although the query unit is a word or phrase rather than a plain English sentence.
I kiss your hand... (coop) Sat 24 Jun 00 16:57
Hold the fone...there are search engines that argue with you? Or, to put it in "librarian language"... Search engines are now conducting reference interviews?
Members: Enter the conference to participate