Activities for FYF 101J
7 October 2009

Information and the Web

Overview

The purpose of today's session is to:

Provide a few comments about information dissemination, particularly:


Introduction

The digital revolution that has taken place over the past three decades has transformed the way that people work, play, and communicate.  In particular, the development of the Internet has had a profound influence on virtually every aspect of our lives.


Web 1.0

For its first decade or so, the Internet (or more specifically the World Wide Web) was set up mainly in a provider-user format.  People or organizations seeking to disseminate information did so by creating webpages (typically using a hypertext markup language (HTML)), and would upload those page to a server.  Each page would have its own unique Universal Resource Locator (URL) address that would be accessible to other computers connected to the Internet. 

While it is easy to think that providers disseminated mostly printed words, in reality they made a rich array of digital content available, including images, sounds, videos, and data.

Using this model, a user seeking information from the Internet would open a browser, which is an application able to read HTML and translate it into an image viewable by the user.  The user would need to locate the URL of interest, either by typing it into an address bar or by being directed by a link from another webpage.  Once the URL is located, the webpage would load - assuming that the host and user computer were successfully communicating.  The contents of the page would be available to the user in a format dictated by the content provider.

By virtue of this arrangement, the flow of information was generally one-way, from provider to user.  Moreover, many Internet users found it difficult to be content providers because of their inability to author HTML documents, and because of various factors preventing them from uploading their pages to servers.


Web 2.0

With the turn of the century, the dynamic of the Internet started to change.  Systems developed that allowed users to more easily post information.  Chief among those technologies included weblogs, social bookmarking, wikis, digital libraries and sites like
YouTube, Panoramio, Facebook, and MySpace.  This communal approach to the Internet has been termed Web 2.0.  It has created a second digital revolution, particularly by enabling nearly anybody with Internet access the potential to be a significant content provider.


Getting the Word Out: Then and Now

Then

In pre-web days, if you wanted to reach a mass audience via the printed word, you had to generate a document and submit it to a publisher. If accepted, the publisher would typeset your document, print it on a press, and then distribute it. 

The significant point is that only a small fraction of submitted documents found their way into print.  For documents submitted to commercial publishing houses (e.g., novels), the publisher would have to decide whether the submitted item had commercial value.  Documents submitted to non-scholarly periodicals (e.g., magazine articles) would have to be reviewed and approved by an editor.  Items submitted to scholarly journals (e.g., technical reports) would have to pass peer review and the scrutiny of a subject-matter editor.

Now

The advent of the Internet now allows individuals to bypass any form of review, and reach the audience directly.  Many feel that such a system has clear benefits, leading to a much greater democratization of available information, disseminated at greater speed than otherwise possible.

The downside is that Internet-based documents are often fraught with misinformation.  Users need to employ their own filters, discerning the meaningful from the meaningless.  Some people are well equipped to make those distinction, while others are not.  The difficulty is that a great deal of information on the Internet is extremely reliable, and is often peer-reviewed.  Thus, users can be lulled into a false sense of security.

Many have recognized the need to equip people with critical thinking skills that will allow them to successfully evaluate information on the web.  To that end, numerous sites (especially from academic institutions contain suggestions for web users.  Some of the best include:

A second issue is that individuals seeking to publish their own material must be aware that style does matter. Numerous websites provide tips concerning effective webpage design. A sampling is provided here, here, and especially here.


Go to assignment for this session.


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This page posted and maintained by Kenneth M. Klemow, Ph.D., Biology Department, Wilkes University, Wilkes-Barre, PA 18766. (570) 408-4758, kklemow@wilkes.edu.