The Internet Resources Newsletter from Heriot-Watt University
The Internet Resources Newsletter which is published by the Internet Resource Centre at Heriot-Watt University and edited by myself and Gordon Andrew is one of a large number of Internet current awareness services, but is different from most in that it concentrates on items of interest to academics, especially those in the UK who specialise in science, engineering, and the social sciences. Its raison d'etre is that it informs students and staff of Heriot-Watt about new and recent Internet resources of potential interest and provides news about developments in various networked resources such as BIDS, NISS, BUBL, EEVL, and SOSIG, but it is also written with an eye to a wider audience in the knowledge that whatever interest academics at Heriot-Watt may also interest academics and others elsewhere.
Currently a free monthly Web based publication, the Newsletter started out in October 1994 as an in-house email service, and in this form it borrowed heavily on the work done at the University of Hull Brynmor Jones Library (McNab, Alison, "Navigating the Networks" The Times Higher Education Supplement, June 25, 1993, p. 26). At that time it was one element in a draft strategic plan which aimed to raise the profile of the Library within Heriot-Watt University. Other elements included the development of a library email helpdesk, various printed publications about networked resources, and a blueprint for a dedicated Internet Resource Centre within the Library. The Newsletter attempted to answer the much repeated criticism of the time that there seemed to be only worthless ephemera on the Internet by highlighting the most useful and academically related resources which were appearing in ever greater numbers.
The first email edition was distributed to staff and students of Heriot-Watt who had registered for BIDS, plus various people who were known to have an interest in or influence over locally networked information. When the University Computing Services urgently advised against sending the same 35Kb email message to over 200 addresses on the mainframe computer, the idea surfaced to publish it on the Web. At that time little was known about restricting access to local users, and this was not considered as an option - in any case, it seemed to be in the spirit of the Internet to make it available to anyone else who might find it of use, both as an example of a library publication, and as a current awareness service. I did not expect it to become as popular as it has, and I have been very pleasantly surprised to find that it is regularly accessed by quite large numbers of readers in the UK and elsewhere. Rather ironically, the number of accesses from within Heriot-Watt (.hw.ac.uk) has sometimes been disappointing, but steps have recently been taken to market it more energetically within the University, including the production of a leaflet.
Attempts are made to make the Newsletter appear as professional as possible, but at the same time graphics are used sparingly, and little advanced HTML coding is used. Feedback has indicated that this is appreciated because it reduces downloading times, and as the publication is produced largely in the editors' spare time, there is really no other option. Apart from knowing that each issue will appear at the beginning of the month, there is little in the way of a publication plan, but we are fortunate in that, on the Internet, something interesting inevitably crops up, and the main problem is not in discovering things to write about, but rather in finding the time to write about them. The Newsletter has neither an income or a budget, and so it is likely to remain a simple, but hopefully appreciated publication.
Content and sources
The largest section of each issue of the Newsletter consists of an A-Z listing of new and recent Web, gopher, and telnet resources. Recently this has become an almost exclusively Web resource list. Resource descriptions are kept as brief as possible, and often a quotation from the resources' home-page suffices.
There is a New Resources Submission Form facility which allows anyone to submit details of new sites by email to the editors, and each month perhaps two dozen items are received. Only a proportion of these are included in the following issue, the rest being rejected because they are deemed to be of little interest to academics, however all submissions are acknowledged. Information about other new resources is gleaned from a variety of printed and electronic sources. Perhaps the most productive is the What's New Too! announcing service which is a daily listing of several hundred new Internet resources. On average, each day two or three sites listed in What's New Too! are visited and included in the Newsletter. What's New on the Internet [tm] from EMAP Computing, the publishers of the , and UK Yellow Web: New in the UK are examples of announcing services which do not depend entirely on submissions, and tend to list more useful new sites. The best source of this kind is undoubtedly the Scout Report, a weekly publication which employs reviewers to select a handful of the best new resources.
Other services which are occasionally checked include What's New for Commercial Sites Index, a daily listing from Open Market, an Internet commerce company, Whats New in CooLynx from a Canadian company called VirtuaLynx, and WebCrawler Select: New Sites This Week from the WebCrawler search engine.
The Netlink Server from Washington & Lee University, is regularly checked, normally when its new additions are posted to Net-happenings, and new engineering sites are often found using EEVL's Engineering Newsgroup Archive. The Newsgroups uk.announce and scot.announce occasionally yield a site of interest, but these, along with many other announcing services, tend not to be very fruitful.
Printed sources available to the editors include The Financial Times which normally includes a Cyber Sightings list in its Media Futures section, the network sections of various other daily newspapers, some popular magazines such as the Web, newspapers and journals aimed at information professionals such as Information World Review and Online & CDROM Review, the excellent Science & Engineering Network News (SENN) which also has a Web site, and numerous trade journals which have started to give news about new sites. Many of the Mailbase mailing lists carry announcements about new sites, and these are often repeated in the Newsletter, as are announcements about relevant new Mailbase mailing lists, and listserv lists.
In a small way, the Newsletter tries to encourage good practice by promoting what are deemed to be well designed and particularly useful sites through a regular Nice Web Site section. Featured recently have been reviews of the UK Building Resources Pages, Applegate Media, Pharmaceuticals Today, and the British Council, all of which are high quality resources.
The Newsletter attempts to be more than just an Internet current awareness service, and periodically included are short items on topics of interest to students and academics - recent features have included summaries about Internet recruitment agencies and job sites, and information on networked resources about Edinburgh. New printed Internet journals and magazines are also reviewed, and lists of new Internet related books received by Heriot-Watt University Library are included. Occasionally other relevant news is added.
Finally, to make the Newsletter appear less formal, and in an attempt to catch the attention of students, there is now a regular column which briefly lists leisure orientated sites, especially those in the Edinburgh area, such as football and other sports clubs, camera clubs, and local bands.
Microsoft Access is used to collate the resources listed in the Newsletter, and in particular to produce the Archive which currently contains details of over 2500 resources in a 5MB file plus smaller A-Z lists. Although all links are checked at the time of publication, no attempt is made to update this archive. After some discussion, it was also decided not to list the resources by subject.
The original email distribution list mentioned above of 200 addresses has been used to notify readers as each new issue of the Newsletter is published, and has been added to from time to time in response to requests to the editors, and in addition monthly mailings are sent to four Mailbase lists and two listserv lists. Alerts are also normally sent to a few Newsgroups, and two announcing services (Net-happenings, and What's New Too!).
Any regular user of the Internet will quickly realise that there is currently a great deal of duplicated effort in the provision of various networked services. Perhaps the most cutthroat competition can at the moment be found in the areas of search engines, Internet access provision, news feeds, lists of lists, and subject directories. As can be seen from the number of electronic announcing services mentioned earlier (and the list is by no means complete), the Internet Resources Newsletter is one of many vaguely similar publications, and to these might be added NISS What's New, and BUBL Updates, both of which inform about new Internet resources. A number of the resources mentioned in the Newsletter A-Z lists also find their way into the BUBL and NISS updates, but many are not (and vice versa), and this is because the focus of the Newsletter is rather different from any other publication, electronic or printed. Perhaps the most similar publication is the Info To Go print and electronic newsletter from California, which lists new sites relevant to "information specialists: educators, libraries, leading government agencies...law schools and legal professionals, medical schools and medical professionals, and major corporations", in a similar way to the Internet Resources Newsletter. However Info To Go not only has a heavy bias to the US, but is only available on subscription (currently US$120 for 12 issues).
The Newsletter has no pretentions to being anything other than a minor player in the Internet world. The editors are happy if people find it useful, and most of the feedback received indicates that this is the case. I was delighted when it received 3 stars from Magellan, but the most rewarding aspects have been to see it appreciated within Heriot-Watt University and in the friends that have been made, both virtual and otherwise, through its publication.