17 January 2007

NET11 - Module 4: Tools for using the Web, Searching the Web, Evaluating the Web

Downloading tools/plug-ins task
In your learning log record which programs you downloaded and note which (if any) facets you think might prove useful.
The two programs I downloaded were Copernic Agent Basic - a search engine client; and URL Organiser from Bookmark Buddy.

Copernic has a couple of features which could make it useful, such as saving searches, verifying links and integration with Internet Explorer. I'm not yet convinced on the benefits of using this tool over accessing other search engines via their websites, it will need a good test run to prove its search capabilities.

URL Organiser is a very simple tool but already I can see how useful it might be for maintaining large lists of website links. The interface is more open and flexible than the link manager in a browser, links can be easily sorted and annotated. This is a good example of the important relationship of data to meta data, particularly in cases where there is a large volumes to manage and utilise.

Search engine task
1. Choose your most commonly used internet search engine and do a search for the words: advanced internet users
A search for the exact phrase from Google Advanced Search produced around 13,300 listings, the first (and second) in the list was the 'Advanced Internet User Tutorial' at the Center for Improved Engineering and Science Education (CIESE).

2. Using copernicus or similar, set it up to search at least three search engines (including one that will search the 'deep web') and repeat exactly the same search

For the same search most surprisingly, Copernic produced just 38 listings in its results even though it had been set to retrieve results from eleven search engines and directories. The CIESE site ranked high in the listings here also.

Boolean searching task
How I would best search for the following:
  • the biggest number of hits relating to 'advanced internet users'
    Of the three Boolean logical operators, results are least filtered by OR therefore I would use 'advanced OR internet OR users' to obtain the greatest number of hits in my search
  • sources relating to skills-based information on 'advanced internet users'
    I would first define the skills-based information I was seeking, for example the XHTML markup language. My entry into the search engine would be for the exact phrase 'advanced internet users' with the logical operator 'AND xhtml'. This would search for pages which contain the phrase 'advanced internet users' and filter out those pages which did not contain the word 'xhtml'.
  • information on 'advanced internet users' coming only from university sources
    Some search engines provide an option to search within specific domain name addresses. To utilise this option for searching university sources you need to know the characteristics of university domain names. In Australia, these typically end with 'edu.au'. In the US it is just 'edu'. In the UK it is 'ac.uk'. My search on Google allowed me to combine the results of all three of these as follows: "advanced internet users" AND site:.ac.uk OR site:.edu OR site:.edu.au
Organising search information task
From the above task I saved the following sites in "URL Organizer", the software I installed earlier. The software makes it very easy to organise URLs into categories and sub-categories, and allows an annotation to be saved with the record.

As much as I like this piece of software, I have since been introduced (by another NET11 student) to an online bookmarking service located at http://del.icio.us which uses a system of "tags" to categorise URLs. I prefer this online service to URL Organiser because it makes it possible to access my bookmark list from anywhere, not just my computer. Also, the service encourages sharing of bookmark lists with other users. The resultant directory of URLs is another great resource for searching the Web.
  • http://www.webfoot.com (linked from "Internet Guidebooks", Google search)
  • Kaitlin Duck Sherwood
  • World Wide Webfoot Press
  • This is a site dedicated to educating internet users about the effective use of email communication. The author, Kaitlin Duck Sherwood has also published a couple of books on the subject. She explains the concepts which make email different from other forms of communication, provides guidelines for understanding how email addresses are formed, how to find email addresses for people you wish to correspond with and how to effectively write email messages. There are links to another site produced by Sherwood at http://www.overcomeemailoverload.com which deals with the organisation and management of email messages. Both sites are a little dated but the information is still useful and quite relevant to several of the concepts we are studying in NET11.
  • http://www.lib.berkeley.edu/TeachingLib/Guides/Internet/FindInfo.html (from "advanced internet users" + search, from Google)
  • Joe Barker
  • University of California, Berkeley
  • "This tutorial presents the substance of the Internet Workshops ... offered year-round by the Teaching Library at the University of California at Berkeley. The content on this site has been updated to reflect the latest trends in search engines, directories, and evaluating web pages. The title reflects our belief that there is a lot of great material on the Web - primary sources, specialized directories and databases, statistical information, educational sites on many levels, policy, opinion of all kinds, and so much more - and we have better tools for finding this great stuff." (Barker, 2006)

Barker, J (2006). Finding Information on the Internet: A Tutorial. Retrieved February 9, 2007, from The Library - University of California, Berkeley Web site: http://www.lib.berkeley.edu/TeachingLib/Guides/Internet/FindInfo.html

  • http://www.newcommreview.com (from "advanced internet users" + electronic communications, from Google)
  • Society for New Communications Research
  • The New Communications Review web site is produced by a non-profit group who study electronic communication and emerging technologies, and the effect on business, society and traditional media. The latest articles take an indepth look at the blogging phenomena and their impact on news media.
Evaluating the Web
I chose to evaluate the World Wide Webfoot Press web site because some of the articles incorporate concepts we are studying in NET11 - such as asynchronicity, effective use of email communication, reflective communicative practice, non-speech communication through text and automation.
  • http://www.webfoot.com
  • Kaitlin Duck Sherwood
  • World Wide Webfoot Press
  • In determining the credibility of this particular web site one needs to look beyond its appearance - it is basically just content with very little style and not the best navigation. The author, Kaitlin Duck Sherwood tells us she is a computer sciences post-graduate student, an early end-user of email, a code developer, author and trainer. World Wide Webfoot Press is her own publishing company, which has published two email-related books. The two books are now out of print, and Sherwood seems to have moved onto other things - there has been very little work done on the site for a few years (although I noticed one of the articles had been updated this year).

    There is little doubt of the credibility of this source when you search for back links - the site is linked from about 597 other pages, some of them university/college sites. Astoundingly there are over 16,000 pages which reference the author "Kaitlin Duck Sherwood". One of the pages contained an internet radio recording with her which was quite interesting - www.lets-talk-computers.net/guests/webfoot/overload

    The content of the site is informational, although Sherwood's opinion emerges in some topics, particularly about how email clients should work, and how existing commercial clients miss the mark. The site includes quite a good bibliography with wide coverage of the topic. Interestingly one or two of the web sites listed quote extensively from Sherwood's writings. She explains that her material was placed in the public domain, another signal to the purpose of her writing.
In most circumstances I think a description of the content is a more useful annotation than an evaluation of the source. Sometimes the title of the source is too general, and the descriptive annotation acts as a preview of the source, helping the reader filter out sources which aren't useful to their purpose.

I think a good annotation will include some signal of the source's credibility, such as stating the author's occupation or the nature of their interest in the material.

13 January 2007

NET11 - Module 3: HTML tags, standards, ftp & blog

HTML tags
Using content from one of my own posts on a discussion forum I followed the instructions to create a HTML 3.2 document as per the tutorial.

I am familiar with later HTML standards and noted that some of the tags in HTML 3.2 such as <b> and <i> are now deprecated (not included in later versions). Since HTML 4.0 there has been a move for semantic markup to completely separate style and layout from page elements, through the use of cascading style sheets (CSS).

An excellent article recommended by Keith (a fellow NET11 student), Bulletproof HTML: 37 Steps to Perfect Markup by Tommy Olsson answers common questions about the most current markup standards and why validation is important.

As well as HTML markup standards there are standards for online content. 'Usability' of a web site has become a common benchmark as a way to ensure effective communication in the digital environment:
  1. Text must be easily scannable - concise, main points accessible. People tend to 'scan' text on the screen, instead of reading it word for word so it is easy to miss information that is buried within a wordy document.
  2. Consistent navigation - as a non-linear form of writing, readers will arrive and end at different points, and take entirely different paths. Navigation needs to be easily grasped without requirement for specific instruction, and consistent. This is probably one of the most obvious and important standards for web page authoring - consider 'back', 'next' and 'home' links on a web page.
  3. Write in the language and style of the reader - the text should be easily and quickly understood without having to decipher its meaning.
  4. Effective use of links - make them meaningful. Links can be a distraction - or they can be used to help highlight important points. A page should not be overloaded with links and they should not be gratuitous - they should fulfill the purpose of pointing to where further information is to be obtained.
  5. Chunking - segment information to make it easily accessible, may be repeated on each page to make it 'portable' for non-linear reading. Apparently chunking is a concept that dates back to the 50's. It was put forward by a Harvard psychologist George A. Miller and describes the capacity of short term memory. Miller's theory states that by grouping similar items into a small collection or 'chunk', short term memory can be expanded.
The 'usability king' Jakob Nielsen was studying interface usability before the world wide web phenomena even began. His 1997 report on Writing for the Web is still very relevant today, as it addresses common human behaviour such as the way people read content on a web site (by 'scanning').

W3C validation
My first page did not pass W3C validation because no character encoding had been specified in the document. I uploaded a second page which includes a meta tag specifying character encoding of ISO-8859-1 and it passed validation.

In my browser these two pages look identical, but this particular tag is important for accessibility across different languages and platforms. If the character encoding is not specified there may be unpredictable results. A good article about character encoding by Tommy Olsson is The Definitive Guide to Web Character Encoding.

Have you used images or words on your web page or website that contravene copyright laws?
On my WebCT presentation space I have used an image of a smiling coffee cup which I obtained from a clip art web site claiming the material was 'free for personal use'. If a copyright dispute arose I would at least be able to demonstrate that I had acted in good faith, and that my use of the image was not commercial.

Would you be in breach of copyright if you put the Curtin logo at the top of your web page for an assignment?
In this circumstance I believe use of the Curtin logo would be allowable under the 'fair dealings' provisions of the Australian Copyright Act, since it is being used for academic purposes. This provision is mentioned in the copyright statement on the Curtin web site.


The url to the page I uploaded via FTP is mod3task.html

FTP is a tool I am very familiar with, and I used space on my own server so I did not experience any problems with this task - although I note some of the other students were having problems uploading to web space on OASIS. I believe the problem related to students being unaware of the requirement for specific security settings to access the OASIS server. This information was found in the relevant OASIS Help page. I later did a test connection to my OASIS space and uploaded a file at http://www.student.curtin.edu.au/~13713634/

The task calls for pasting a screenshot of my blog, which seems a little redundant since this learning log is being written on a blog provided by blogger.com!

Blogger.com, now owned by internet behemoth Google has been around since the early days of blogging and shares credit for the popularity of blogging today. It is a hosted, easy to use, free service and users don't have to worry about any of the technical aspects of running a web site.

Top five tips for new bloggers
  • Decide a purpose or theme of your blog!
  • Commit to regular posts - nothing worse than a dead blog
  • Look at other blogs, participate, leave your url with comments
  • Get to know your blog software/service - know the possibilities
  • Observe blogging 'etiquette'
A good guide for beginners to blogging is Beginner Guides: Creating a Weblog/Blog at PCStats.com

I love blogging. I use a wonderful app called WordPress on my own personal site mja.blog. Even though I know how to create webpages 'from scratch', building and maintaining a website through blog or CMS software is so much quicker and easier. WordPress and other applications like it are quite flexible and dynamic, with support from a large developer community and multitude of plugins available to extend functionality.

NET11 - Module 1 & 2: Self-evaluation

I thought I would include here the questions I answered incorrectly for two reasons. Firstly, to help me remember the correct answers and secondly, to remind myself to pay attention!

Q1 - Which of the following is NOT an example of email metadata? a) Body, b) Subject, c) From, d) To, e) All of the above, f) None of the above.
I answered f) None of the above. WRONG. What is metadata? data about the message. The body is the message.. ALTHOUGH one of the concepts we've been studying (No. 6 - Reading the difference between 'surface' metadata and 'implied' metadata) suggests that sometimes we need to look at the body of a message to verify its suitability from various signals that are provided in the content.

Q16 - What program, still in use today, is widely referred to as the 'first' internet application?
I answered "email". WRONG. How could I forget about telnet?

A third question was marked incorrect also, although I was on the right track with my answer.

Q14 - The Usenet is a distributed system of messages and is divided into ...?
I answered "groups". I should have been more specific and used the correct term "newsgroups".