To the Editor:
I read with great interest Bella Weinberg's report of the panel I had the privilege to moderate at the last ASIS meeting (Bulletin of the American Society for Information Science, "Improved Internet Access. . ." pp. 26-29, December/January 1999). She is an insightful and eloquent speaker and writer. Either I mispoke/miswrote or she has me saying something I don't "hold to":
"Koehler suggested that the Web is unindexable by traditional methods because of the hugh number of sites on it."
Rather, I argue that the Web is difficult to index (perhaps closing in on impossible) not because of the large number of sites. (Bella clearly demonstrates that a few million is not so many when compared to print.) What I do argue is that a very large number of Web sites (almost 100%) and Web pages (almost 98%) will undergo some kind of change over the period of a year. Change may be profound (site/page demise to major information content change) to trivial. My question is: Can traditional cataloging cope with all that change? Well, maybe. But we need to explore that more.
Remember also that in the traditional world, once a publication is superceeded, the earlier document almost always continues to exist and often along side the new one. These may be identified as new editions or new imprints. This pattern is almost never followed on the Web. The new replaces and erases the old.
I also suggest that the Web offers attributes not found in print or not ordinarily cataloged that can be captured and used in the cataloging process. One obvious example is rate of change. Another is intermittence rates. Edu sites, for example, are more intermittent (come and go, disappear then reappear) than say, com sites. Com sites, on the other hand, change more frequently than the others. These data can be captured and reported for individual sites and pages. We can also capture object mixes, size in bytes or number of objects, link strutures and so on. All of these can be automated and reiterated as often as one chooses.
Yes, as Bella has it, nothing is new under the sun. And I appreciate the cocitation with King Solomon. But sometimes the analogy between the old and the new isn't quite as straightforward as we would like.
Assistant Professor, School of Library and Information Studies
University of Oklahoma
405/325-3921; fax: 405/325-7648