Current Cites (Digital Library SunSITE)

Volume 10, no. 5, May 1999

Edited by Teri Andrews Rinne

The Library, University of California, Berkeley, 94720
ISSN: 1060-2356 - http://sunsite.berkeley.edu/CurrentCites/1999/cc99.10.5.html

Contributors: Terry Huwe, Margaret Phillips, Richard Rinehart, Jim Ronningen, Roy Tennant, Lisa Yesson

Bosak, Jon and Tim Bray. "XML and the Second-Generation Web" Scientific American (May 1999) (http://www.sciam.com/1999/0599issue/0599bosak.html). - Two of the foremost authorities on the Extensible Markup Language (XML) have teamed up to provide a high-level overview of what it is and why it represents the next generation of the Web. You won't be able to create many XML documents based on what you learn here, but you will be able to use it to help explain XML and why it is so important to those who haven't run into it before. My one minor objection is the glibness with which they predict an "astonishing Internet growth rate" for the Resource Description Framework (RDF), which I think is being almost irresponsibly over-optimistic for a standard that appears to be about as fun as pulling teeth with pliers to implement. But chalk that up to a difference of opinion and you have an effective and authoritative introduction to this technology. I wouldn't drop it on my mother, but many of my colleagues should read it. - RT

Coffman, Steve. "Reference as Others Do It" American Libraries 30(5) (May 1999): 54-56. - If I were you, I'd keep my eyes on this guy (Steve Coffman). Last month I reviewed an article of his that used an existing commercial system (Amazon.com) as an example of what libraries could collectively achieve (see Building Earth's Largest Library: Driving Into the Future"). Now he's at it again. Only this time he investigates customer call centers for what we may be able to learn about providing library reference service. Customer call centers typically have centralized staff, interactive voice response systems, automated call distribution, question analysis techniques, sophisticated software support, and training and monitoring. There are obviously differences between the mission and goals of customer call centers and library reference services, but there are nonetheless lessons that can be learned from this comparison. Coffman draws out some of those lessons and challenges us to rethink how we provide reference service in our libraries. - RT

Everett-Church, Ray. "Why Spam is a Problem" OnTheInternet 5(3) (May/June 1999): 16-21. - At first I thought I didn't need this article to tell me why spam (unsolicited commercial email) is a problem -- I already know it is from personal experience (as do you, no doubt). But a quick glance at the piece showed me to be wrong. Everett-Church outlines six specific reasons why spam is a serious problem. And annoyance isn't one of them (I guess my list would have seven). His reasons are: cost shifting (making others pay your advertising costs, such as Internet service provider storage and delivery costs), fraud (in order to bypass spam filters, spammers will often take on other identities), theft (in as much as you may be paying the delivery or storage costs on their behalf), harm to the marketplace (a flood of messages places a load on the entire system), consumer perception (the annoyance and frustration caused by spam have caused consumers to view any request of their email address, even by legitimate businesses, with suspicion), and global implications (and here is where he gets fairly far afield, but the idea here is that the excesses of unscrupulous marketers will damage the growth of free speech and democracy around the world). Like I said, I'm already convinced that spam is a problem, but gosh, I guess I never knew just how much. An accompanying sidebar on spam law provides some basic information on recent legal developments and some useful links. - RT

Garman, Nancy, ed. "Special Search Engine Section" Online 23(3) (May, 1999) Miller, Kathy, managing ed. "Electronic Searching Tools and Methods in Flux" Computers in Libraries 19(5) (May, 1999) (http://www.infotoday.com/cilmag/may/cilmag.htm) - Like the little flowers that bloom in the spring, bits of good search advice seem to be popping up all over. A bunch of research and ideas is bundled into these two themed issues, each with a slightly different focus: in Online, the emphasis is on understanding the workings of search engines for the benefit of both Web searchers and Webmasters, and in CIL we have search strategies for librarians working in our usual "yes there's the Web but that's not all there is" environment. For example, go to Online to delve into topics like results ranking and natural language processing, and CIL for more Webology plus articles about online catalogs and mental models for searching. By the way, after enjoying these big bouquets of info on the subject, go check out Search Engine Watch (http://searchenginewatch.com/) if you haven't before. The periodical literature may blossom and die away again, but this spot is consistent and current. - JR

McKay, Sharon Cline. "Accessing Electronic Journals" Database 22 (2) (April/May 1999): 17-23. (http://www.onlineinc.com/database/DB1999/mckay4.html) - If you have been charged with the daunting task of leading your organization through the maze of the electronic journal (e-journal) world — fear is not an unfounded response. While this article may not completely ease your anxiety or answer all your questions, it should help anticipate a few unexpected issues in your decision making. The initiated may not find too many insights here, but McKay does make some good points on reporting considerations and provides a brief profile of services from major subscription agencies. She also predicts that e-journals will eventually be ordered through a single subscription agent, like print journals today. Hopefully this will be good news to information professionals, as well as to subscription agencies such as the author's. - LY

Members of the Clever Project. "Hypersearching the Web" Scientific American (June 1999) (http://www.sciam.com/1999/0699issue/0699raghavan.html). - This is a fascinating article on how research scientists are trying to do a better job of providing search tools for the Web. An IBM research team called the Clever Project is using mathematical analysis of links to identify Web sites that are "authorites" (the best sources of information) and "hubs" (collections of links to those locations) for any particular query. Also described briefly is similar work undertaken at Stanford University, which has resulted in the Google Web search engine. - RT

Nardi, Bonnie A., and O'Day, Vickie. "Information Ecologies: Using Technology with Heart." Special Issue. First Monday 4 (5) (May 3, 1999) (http://www.firstmonday.dk/issues/issue4_5/nardi_contents.html). - First Monday offers substantial excerpts from Nardi and O'Day new book, published by MIT Press in January 1999 under the same name. The authors argue persuasively that "the common rhetoric about technology falls into two extreme categories: uncritical acceptance or blanket rejection." Such extreme positions leave poor choices for action and critical thinking about what we really want from technology. They sustain the myth that whatever technological changes come along must be accepted out of hand. Nardi and O'Day go on to stake out a "middle ground" where managers, technologists and plain old folks might build a better awareness of the complex, "organic" nature of both technology and information resources. The chapters excerpted here do not cover librarians, but in the book, an entire chapter is devoted to librarians and the library as an "information ecology." This article (and the full book) should be required reading for any information specialist who is concerned about the impact of technology. - TH

Sperberg-McQueen, C.M. and B. Tommie Usdin, editors. Markup Languages MIT Press, ISSN 1099-6621 (http://mitpress.mit.edu/journal-home.tcl?issn=10996621). - The first and second issues (Winter 1999, Spring 1999) of this new journal demonstrate a very useful resource for anyone managing information which uses SGML, XML, or may be deployed on the Web—which means many professionals in information science today. This journal has articles from international authors, and aims at an intermediate to advanced reader. The journal contains several articles per issue, along with book and article reviews. Articles range from the theoretical ("SGML for electronic publishing at a technical society: Expectation meets reality" by Sally Fahrenholz-Mann in issue 2) to the practical ("A new generation of tools for SGML" by R.W. Matzen in issue 1). High quality printing and helpful (essential?) illustrations round out the utility of this publication. - RR

Tyckoson, David A. "What's Right with Reference" American Libraries 30(5) (May 1999): 57-63. - In this piece, Tyckoson revisits the seminal article on modern library reference service by Bill Miller, "What's Wrong with Reference: Coping with Success and Failure at the Reference Desk" (American Libraries, May 1984, p. 303-306; 321-322). Tyckoson notes that the problems remain, and in fact may be even more true now than they were then. But he also casts a critical eye at the various attempts to solve these problems over the intervening years, which he asserts have largely failed. After running through each attempted reform and why it has failed, his conclusion is that reference service as we know it isn't broken — just under-supported. Give us more support, he says, and get out of the way. - RT

Young, Jeffrey. "A Yale Professor's Software Aims to Bring Order to Your Hard Drive." Chronicle of Higher Education (May 21, 1999). - Yale University computer science professor's new operating system, called Lifestreams, has been reported on by Cites in the past (see http://sunsite.berkeley.edu/CurrentCites/bibondemand.cgi?query=lifestreams). Now, Gelertner is ready to go to market with a commercial product. Lifestreams offers users a visually-oriented display of files on their hard drives, eliminating the requirement of knowing directory paths. The visual appearance is strikingly similar to what Gopher on Macintosh looked like seven years ago, but this program is far more powerful and flexible. Lifestreams "rests on top" of MS Windows and lets users organize files and information in very personal and idiosyncratic ways, yet promises quick retrieval by weaving disparate items together by idea, theme, data bit or other indicators. "I don't ever want to see a directory again," explains Gelertner. The crucible of the marketplace will help determine if average users share Gelertner's wish. - TH


Current Cites 10(5) (May 1999) ISSN: 1060-2356
Copyright © 1999 by the Library, University of California, Berkeley. All rights reserved.
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Editor: Teri Andrews Rinne, trinne@library.berkeley.edu, (510) 642-8173

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Last update May 28, 1999. SunSITE Manager: manager@sunsite.berkeley.edu