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((((((((((((((((( WEBREFERENCE UPDATE NEWSLETTER ))))))))))))))))) August 9, 2001


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This week Gary Mosher proposes a "whatis" database for easier informative queries about domains. Whatis would include available site characteristics like news, discussion, that would make finding the type of site you want easier, and help researchers map the Net.

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New this week on WebReference.com and the Web:

1. FEATURE: The Map To Better Web Searching 2. NET NEWS: * HP Open View Checks Your Site

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~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 1. FEATURE: The Map To Better Web Searching

The issue of Internet navigation is, in my opinion, the most important under-discussed Internet issue of our time. As I see it, the destiny and future value of a great technology will be decided by what course of evolution this first generation of users allow the Internet to take. Some might see this as over-statement, believing that no mistakes made now cannot be unmade in the future. I would argue that television's devolution into a stagnant, lowest-common-denominator medium clearly demonstrates the danger.

You don't need to understand how the Internet works to realize that navigation is a backbone element of Internet infrastructure. The fact that you need to know where a place is, and a map of some kind to get there efficiently, is too obvious to require explanation. What is not as obvious (at least to most "explorers") is that in this "New World" the science of map making has become the business of location promotion.

The Internet mapping, or indexing industry, is rife with corruption. From the standard practice of openly selling inclusion and placement, to the more subtle influence of affiliate preference, this industry is driven by bad policy and counterproductive incentives that make map perversion and distortion inevitable. As is usually the case when the capitalist system fails to produce an industry capable of serving the public interest, it is the rules of the game, and not the players, that are to blame.

For free enterprise to work there must be fair competition or, more precisely, competition with at least one honest producer - which is the check that balances corrupt influence from consuming an industry. Unfortunately sometimes the game starts before the rules that would allow fair competition have been established and rule making ends up being made just part of the game. Somewhere between this pointless chaos and Bill Gates-ien eternal dictatorship, there is the perfect freedom (all the freedom any honest player needs) that optimizes progress and innovation. That better way is the first thing we should be looking to find on and for the Internet.

In the Internet indexing (mapping) game, the playing field is made of URLs or site addresses. The ball is site description (submission) information provided by site owners, and the goal is to organize this raw information into an accurate, easy to read, complete map.

Unfortunately, under the current rules or "system," there is no real competitive game because the field and the ball have been declared private property, and no talented, innovative, motivated players are allowed access. Sadly, most people looking from a distance can't see that the action on the field is just some corporate CEOs kicking the ball around on their lunch hour.

To have a competitive game that produces the achieved goal, we must let real players on the field. In real world terms that means we must allow open access to the raw material of web indexing - site location and basic description information. The easiest, most harmless way to regain this openness is to simply prohibit corporate squatters from seizing control of what is effectively public land. By slightly modifying a few current regulations, the public's right to equal and complete access can be established and preserved.

Under the current system, the government requires the maintenance of a DNS, or registered name database, in compliance with the logical fact that Web sites must have unique addresses for the Internet to work. Unfortunately, this established minimum is about as useful as a Constitution absent a Bill of Rights. What the government hasn't guaranteed is that this basic asphalt of the information superhighway (domain registration information) be maintained as a useable or useful public resource. Currently "whois" information is accessible. What has not been made available is the infinitely more relevant "whatis" information that should be part of this essentially publicly owned database.


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What needs to be regulated into existence is a domain owner's right to include site relevant information as part of the "personal" information maintained in the "whois" database. By guaranteeing this simple right of ownership, a very liberating and powerful raw "whatis" index can be created without placing any substantial new burdens on the system. In effect this minor regulatory change would standardize and centralize the site submission process and create efficiencies in the indexing system that would save billions of man-hours of work now wasted by current chaos. For Web users, the benefits would be seen in a reformed indexing industry that could no longer treat web mapping as a part-time hobby or a promotional tool and remain competitively viable. For the first time there would be a level playing field made of guaranteed minimums that would promote the innovation that will lead to a more precisely navigable Internet.

From my perspective the logic of the simple expansion of the registration database to include site relevant information is irrefutable truth. What can be reasonably debated is the exact "hows" of this expansion. I would contend that there is little possibility of making a "bad" change to a system that currently:

* Requires redundant site submission, often in pointless futility.

* Provides no capacity to overcome the chaos created by human languages that are incompatible with computer-logic as they provide too many ways to say the same thing.

* Makes it virtually impossible to find all Web sites fitting a particular "class," Like - all sites relevant to a region or a particular subject. (The typical spam-ectory category is as incomplete and incoherent as this ODP example: http://dmoz.org/Computers/Internet/Searching/Discussion/ ).

* Gives the Web using public no ability to see or choose a better way.

I offer this crude blueprint of what I think needs to be done to create a better, more efficient system with the hopeful expectation that the attention of better minds will improve and refine it, and that the hysterical rhetoric of the lesser minded chaos parasites who wish to retain control of Internet navigation will be rejected.

The proposal:

As part of the "whois" database, registered site owners should be allowed to maintain a centralized, public registration page outlining site characteristics. Because many site attributes are not unique, and therefor do not require unique description (that would only complicate indexing). Certain standard content like, News, Discussion, Pictures, Links, Downloads, Zip code, etc... or qualities like, No membership, No pop-ups, No selling, No flash, etc... would be described using a standard multiple choice, or check off, form. More unique qualities of content would be described by providing the opportunity to include a limited number of relevant keywords. Domain owners would be held responsible (by those who would be reformatting or adding value to the raw index) for the quality (honesty) of the information provided and would be allowed to re-edit this information as required. To accommodate subpage content, not directly relevant to main site description, opportunity to provide a link to a sub-page index, of standard format, would also be made available for comprehensive sites, or sites that provide unrelated site hosting under their domain name. Once established this raw "whatis" database would be made freely available to be expanded on, and improved by, a larger, more capable and competitive, search industry.

# # # #

About the author: Gary Mosher is a 41 year old artist/mechanic living in New Jersey. He's been using computers for ten years and developing Web pages for four. He first became aware of the fact that there was something very wrong in the land of Web indexing after getting an insiders view at volunteer directories like the ODP. He has little financial interest in the Internet and is trying with sites like http://www.donotgo.com and http://www.inmendham.com to do what he can to help preserve the Internet's potential as a "better world" resource. He can be reached at webref@donotgo.com.


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~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 2. NET NEWS: HP Open View Checks Your Site

>Free Site Performance Service

If you haven't seen it check out HP's free Web site performance review, check it out at: http://www.hpchecksyourweb.com

That's it for this week, see you next time.

Andrew King Newsletter Editor, WebReference.com aking@internet.com

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