Roger Clarke's Web-Site
© Xamax Consultancy Pty Ltd, 1995-2018
|Identity Matters||Other Topics||Waltzing Matilda||What's New|
Principal, Xamax Consultancy Pty Ltd, Canberra
Visiting Fellow, Department of Computer Science, Australian National University
Version of 25 November 1994
© Xamax Consultancy Pty Ltd, 1994
This is the final part of a multi-part Monograph whose contents-page is at http://www.rogerclarke.com/II/NetNation.html
This document is at http://www.rogerclarke.com/II/NetN9.html
If Australia wishes to escape from its economic dependence on agricultural and pastoral products and minerals, it must pay more than lip-service to the aim of becoming a 'clever country'. The basis for intellectually-based industries is the emergent information infrastructure. Government and the private sector will, by intent or design, make decisions in the next few years which will largely determine the success with which Australia will participate in the global information economy.
A quarter-century ago, Drucker asserted that major discontinuities were already upon us, including genuinely new technologies and "knowledge as the central capital, the cost centre and the crucial resource of the economy" (1969, p.9). It is increasingly clear that the notion of discontinuity is inadequate, because it implies that, although the relationship between variables is anything but smooth, the situation can nonetheless be modelled as a set of relationships among the same old variables. Instead the factors which most strongly influence change are themselves changing, and notions such as quantum shift and structural revolution seem more apt.
This paper has provided a background to the nature and origins of the information infrastructure notion. The political process leading to its establishment has been reviewed, including consideration of alternative metaphors, and the various stakeholders and their interests. Particular attention has been paid to the public interest, because this is diffuse and poorly represented in Australian political processes. Alternative approaches to funding the information infrastructure have been canvassed, and suggestions made regarding the appropriate mix.
A networked nation is emerging. It is critical that the public's interest in the services, and in the underlying infrastructure, be reflected at all stages in its development and use. Specific, targetted government actions will contribute to the process. Excessive governmental involvement in activities which will develop satisfactorily anyway, would, on the other hand, retard and distort the available services and the underlying infrastructure. The government must recognise the importance of its multiple roles:
A-G (1994) 'Report on Bulletin Boards Report' Attorney-General's Department, Canberra, 1994
Antonelli C. (Ed.) (1992) 'The Economics of Information Networks' North-Holland, Amsterdam, 1992
ASTEC (1994) 'The Networked Nation' Australian Science & Technology Council, Canberra (September 1994)
Bell D. (1973) 'The Coming of Post Industrial Society' Penguin, 1973
Benedikt M. (Ed.) (1989) 'Cyberspace: First Steps' MIT Press, Cambridge MA, 1989
Beniger J.R. (1986) 'The Control Revolution: Technological and Economic Origins of the Information Society' Harvard Uni. Press, Cambridge MA, 1986
Berleur J. & Drumm J. (Eds.) (1991) 'Information Technology Assessment' North-Holland, Amsterdam, 1991
Bolter J.D. (1984) 'Türing's Man: Western culture in the computer age' Chapel Hill, Uni. of North Carolina Press, 1984
Bolter J.D. (1991) 'Writing Space: The computer, hypertext, and the history of writing' Hillside, NJ, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1991
Brunner J. (1975) 'The Shockwave Rider' Methuen, London, 1975, 1988
BSEG (1994) 'Networking Australia's Future' Interim Report of the Broadband Services Expert Group, Dept of Communications, Canberra, July 1994
BTCE (1994a) 'Emerging Communications Services - An Analytical Framework' Communication Futures Project, Work-in-Progress Paper No. 1, Bureau of Transport and Communications Economics, Canberra, 1994
BTCE (1994b) 'Attachment 1 - A Summary of the Communications, Entertainment and Information Industries' Communication Futures Project, Bureau of Transport and Communications Economics, Canberra, 1994
BTCE (1994c) 'Delivery Technologies in the New Communications World' Communication Futures Project, Work-in-Progress Paper No. 2, Bureau of Transport and Communications Economics, Canberra, 1994
BTCE (1994d) 'New Forms and New Media: Commercial and Cultural Policy Implications' Communication Futures Project, Work-in-Progress Paper No. 3, Bureau of Transport and Communications Economics, Canberra, August 1994
BTCE (1994e) 'Costing New Residential Communications Networks' Communication Futures Project, Work-in-Progress Paper No. 5, Bureau of Transport and Communications Economics, Canberra, September 1994
Cawkwell A.E. (Ed.) (1987) 'Evolution of an Information Society' Aslib, London , 1987
Clarke R.A. (1988) 'Information Technology and Dataveillance' Commun. ACM 31,5 (May 1988) 498-512
Clarke R.A. (1992) 'The Resistible Rise of the Australian National Personal Data System' Software L. J. 5,1 (January 1992)
Clarke R.A. (1993) 'AARNet Economics: How To Avoid Cooking the Golden Goose' Proc. Networkshop'93, Melbourne, 1 December 1993
Clarke R.A. (1994a) 'Electronic Support for Research Practice' The Information Society 10,1 (March 1994)
Clarke R.A. (1994b) 'The Digital Persona and Its Application to Data Surveillance' The Information Society 10,2 (June 1994)
Clarke R.A. (1994c) 'EDI in Australian International Trade and Transportation' Proc. 7th EDI-IOS Conf., Bled, Slovenia, June 1994
Clarke R.A. (1994d) 'The Path of EDI Application in Australian Government Agencies: 1989-94' Proc. Int'l EDI Users' Congress, EDI Council of the U.K., Brighton, 14-17 June 1994
Clarke R.A. (1994e) 'Information Technology: Weapon of Authoritarianism or Tool of Democracy?' Proc. World Congress, Int'l Fed. of Info. Processing, Hamburg, September 1994
Clarke R.A. (1994f) 'The Information Age As Threat' Address to a Symposium on 'Public Access to Networked Information', National Scholarly Communications Forum, Canberra, 13 October 1994
Clarke R.A., Pedler M., Campbell P. & Swatman P.M.C. (1990) 'Commonwealth Government Practices and Intentions Relating to EFTS, EFT/POS and EDI: Report on a Survey', Australian National University, Canberra (September 1990), 100 pp.
Clarke R.A. & Worthington T. (1994) 'Vision for a Networked Nation: The Public Interest in Network Services' Proc. Conf. Int'l Telecommunications Soc., Sydney, July 1994
Cox D. J. (1990) 'The Art of Scientific Visualization' Academic Computing (March 1990) 20-40
CSPR (1993) 'Serving the Community: A Public-Interest Vision of the National Information Infrastructure' Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility, Washington DC (October 1993)
Cummings A.M., Witte M.L., Bowen W.G., Lazarus L.O. & Ekman R.H. (1993) 'University Libraries and Scholarly Communication' Association of Research Libraries, Washington DC, 1993
Cutler (1994) 'Commerce in Content: Australia and the Interactive Multi-Media Market' Cutler & Co., Canberra, September 1994
Daedalus (1992) Journal of the American academy of arts and sciences. Special Issue: A New Era in Computation (Winter, 1992)
Dancer H. (1993) 'Wiring the Future' 77-83 (4 pp.) and 'Converging Technologies' 104-106 (2 pp.) Austral. Personal Computer (December 1993)
Davies S. (1992) 'Big Brother: Australia's Growing Web of Surveillance' Simon & Schuster, Sydney, 1992
Denning P.J. (Ed.) (1990) 'Computers Under Attack: Intruders, Worms, and Viruses' Addison-Wesley, New York, 1990
Dibbell J. (1994) 'Data rape: a tale of torture and terrorism on-line' Good Weekend (Sydney Morning Herald), 19 february 1994, pp.30-38
Dreyfus H.L. (1972) 'What Computers Can't Do: A Critique of Artificial Reason' New York, Harper & Row 1972, 1979
Dreyfus H.L. & Dreyfus S.E. (1985) 'Mind Over Machine', New York, Macmillan/Free Press 1985, 1988
Drucker P.F. (1969) 'The Age of Discontinuiy' Penguin, 1969
EFF (1993) 'Open Platform Campaign: Public Policy for the Information Age' Electronic Frontier Foundation, Washington DC (November 1993)
Ellul J (1964) 'The Technological Society' Knopf, New York, 1964
Faulhaber G.R. (1992) 'Pricing Internet: The Efficient Subsidy' In Kahin (1992)
Forester T, (1988) 'The Myth of the Electronic Cottage' Futures 20,3 (June 1988)
Foucault M. (1975) 'Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison' Penguin, 1975, 1979
Galbraith J.K. (1967) 'The New Industrial State' Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 1967
Gardner H. (1985) 'The Mind's New Science: A History of the Cognitive Revolution', New York, Basic Books 1985
Gibson W. (1985) 'Neuromancer' Grafton, London, 1985
Goldstein C. & Heard R. (1991) 'Getting the most out of AARNet' Queensland University of Technology. Computing Services, Brisbane, 1991
Grief I. (1988) 'Computer-Supported and Cooperative Work: A Book of Readings' Morgan Kaufman, San Mateo, 1988
Harasim L. (Ed.) (1993) 'Global Networks: Computers and International Communication' MIT Press, Cambridge MA, 1993
Haugeland J. (Ed.) (1981) 'Mind Design: Philosophy, Psychology, Artificial Intelligence' MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 1981
v. Hayek F. (1945) 'The Use of Knowledge in Society' Am. Ec. Rev. (Sep 1945)
Helsel S.K. and Roth J.P. (1991) 'Virtual Reality: Theory, Practice, and Promise' Westport, CT, Meckler Publishing, 1991
Hiltz S.R. & Turoff M. (1978) 'The Network Nation: Human Communication via Computer' Addison-Wesley, Reading MA, 1978
Huston G. (1994) 'Trends in Communication Technologies: AARNet and the Internet' in Mulvaney & Steele (1994)
Ishida H. & Landweber L.H. (Eds.) (1993) 'Internetworking' Commun. ACM 36,8 (August 1993) 28-77
INET'92 (1992) Proc. Conf. INET'92, Kobe, Japan, August 1992, The Internet Society
Jones B. (1982) 'Sleepers, Wake! Technology and the Future of Work' Oxford Uni. Press, Melbourne, 1982
Kahin B. (Ed.) (1992) 'Building Information Infrastructure' McGraw-Hill Primis, New York, 1992
Kahin B. (Ed.) (1993) 'Information Infrastructure Sourcebook' John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard Uni., 1993
Kehoe B.P. (1992) 'Zen and the Art of the Internet' Prentice-Hall, 1992
Klobas J.E. (1994) 'Networked Information Resources: Electronic Opportunities for Users and Librarians' Information Technology & People 7,4 (December 1994)
Krol E. (1992) 'The Whole Internet' O'Reilly, Sebastapol CA, 1992
Krueger M. (1982) 'Artificial Reality' Reading, MA, Addison-Wesley, 1982
Krueger M. (1983) 'Artificial Reality II' Reading, MA, Addison-Wesley, 1983
LaQuey T. (1992) 'The Internet Companion: A Beginner's Guide to Global Networking' Addison-Wesley, 1992
Loch S. & Terry D. (Eds.) (1992) 'Information Filtering' Special Section of Commun. ACM 35,12 (December 1992) 26-81
McCormick B., DeFanti T., & Brown M. (1987) 'Visualization in Scientific Computing' Computer Graphics 21,6 (November 1987)
Machlup F. & Mansfield U. (Eds.) (1983) 'The Study of Information: Interdisciplinary Messages' Wiley, New York, 1983
MacKie-Mason J.K. & Varian H.R. (1993a) 'Some Economics of the Internet' Technical Report, Uni. of Michigan, version of June 1993, available from the authors at email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
MacKie-Mason J.K. & Varian H.R. (1993b) 'Pricing the Internet' Technical Report, Uni. of Michigan, version of June 1993, available from the authors at email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
Marcus A. (1991) 'Graphic Design for Electronic Documents and User Interface' Addison-Wesley, 1991
Masuda Y. (1981) 'The Information Society as Post-Industrial Society' World Future Society, Bethesda, 1981
Mulvaney J. & Steele C. (Eds.) (1993) 'Changes in Scholarly Communications Patterns' Aust. Academy of the Humanities, Canberra, 1993
Naisbitt J. (1982) 'Megatrends' London, Macdonald, 1982
Olson M.H. (1989) 'Information Technology and the Where and When of Office Work: Electronic Cottages or Flexible Organisations? Proc. Conf. SOST'89, Terrigal, May 1989. Republished in Clarke R. & Cameron J. (Eds.) 'Managing Information Technology's Organisational Impact' Elsevier, Amsterdam, 1991
Packard V. (1964) 'The Naked Society' McKay, New York, 1964
Porter M.E. (1980) 'Competitive Strategy: Techniques for Analyzing Industries and Competitors' Collier Macmillan, London, 1980
Porter M.E. (1985) 'Competitive Advantage: Creating and Sustaining Superior Performance' Maxwell Macmillan, London, 1985
Rapaport M.J. (1991) 'Computer-Mediated Communications' Wiley, New York, 1991
Ray D (1993) 'Network Usage Monitoring' Proc. Networkshop'93, 30 November - 2 December 1993, Melbourne, AARNet
Reinhardt A. (1994) 'Building the Data Highway' Byte Magazine (March 1994) pp.46-74 (14 pp.)
Rheingold H. (1994) 'The Virtual Community' Secker & Warburg, London, 1994
Rogers E.M. (1983) 'Diffusion of Innovations' The Free Press, New York, 3rd Ed., 1983
Roszak T. (1986) 'The Cult of Information' Pantheon 1986
Schumacher E.F. (1973) 'Small Is Beautiful: A Study of Economics as if People Mattered' Harper & Row, New York , 1973
Scientific American (1991) Special Issue: 'How to Work, Play, and Thrive in Cyberspace' September 1991
Smith A. (1980) 'The Geopolitics of Information' Oxford U.P., New York, 1980
Sproull L. & Kiesler S. (1991) 'Connections: New Ways of Working in the Networked World' MIT Press, Cambridge MA, 1991
Steele C. & Barry T. (1991) 'Libraries and the New Technologies' in Clarke R.A. & Cameron J. (Eds.) 'Managing the Organisational Implications of Information Technology' Elsevier / North Holland, Amsterdam, 1991
Sterling B. (Ed.) (1986) 'Mirrorshades: The Cyberpunk Anthology' Arbor House, New York, 1986
Stonier T. (1983) 'The Wealth of Information: A Profile of the Post-Industrial Economy' Methuen, London, 1983
Tebbutt D. (1993) 'Governing the Information Highway' Austral. Personal Computer (December 1993) 85-96 (7 pp.)
TIIPF (1993) 'Principles for the Development of the National Information Infrastructure' Telecommunications and Information Infrastructure Policy Forum, Am. Lib. Assoc., 1993
Toffler A. (1972-1985) 'The Adaptive Corporation' Pan, London, 1985 (most of the book comprises a 1972 consultancy report for AT&T, 'Social Dynamics and the Bell System')
Toffler A. (1980) 'The Third Wave' Collins, London, 1980
Toffler A. & H. (1993) 'War and anti-war' Little Brown, Boston, 1993
Wainwright E. (1994) 'Networked Library Applications: Towards a Coherent Strategy' National Library of Australia, Canberra, 1994
Weizenbaum J. (1976) 'Computer Power and Human Reason' Penguin, 1976, 1984
Winograd T. & Flores F. (1986) 'Understanding Computers and Cognition' Ablex 1986
Wigan M.R. (1992) 'Data Ownership' in Clarke R.A. & Cameron J. (Eds.) 'Managing the Organisational Implications of Information Technology, II' Elsevier / North Holland, Amsterdam, 1992
Worthington T. (1992a) 'Town Plan for the Global Village' Discussion Paper on Telecommunications in the Draft ACT Territory Plan, Austral. Comp. Soc., Canberra, 19 March 1992
Worthington T. (1992b) 'Avoiding 60's Regulations for 90's Technology: Multimedia and Hypermedia Technologies and Their Effect on Broadcast Media' Submission to the Senate Select Committee on Subscription Television Services, Austral. Comp. Soc., Canberra, 25 August 1992
Worthington T. (1993) 'The Regulation of Computer Games and Computer Software' Submission to the Office of Film and Literature Classification, Austral. Comp. Soc., Canberra, 19 July 1993
The Australian Academic and Research Network (AARNet) is a means for inter-connecting the networks of the organisations making up the Australian research community. It uses the TCP/IP (Transmission Control Protocol / Internet Protocol) suite of standards, although it also supports smaller volumes of DECnet, Appletalk and X.25 transmissions. It functions as the Australian segment of the worldwide 'Internet', which is the set of networks inter-connected using TCP/IP.
TCP/IP networks use a connectionless, packet-switching mechanism. This means that there is no committed connection between the two end-points of a transmission, and that data does not travel in a single, unbroken stream from sender to receiver. Instead, the data is broken into packets (of about 200-2,000 bytes) and sent from node to node along the network.
Packet-switched networks are distinctly different from connection-based networks such as the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) and on-line sessions between workstations and servers. These dedicate a series of arcs to make up a connection, and commit them for the duration of a session or call, rather than just for the time it takes to send a single message. The packet-switching approach denies priority to messages within pre-arranged conversations, and as a result real-time transmissions such as voice and video are likely to sound and appear jerky to the receiver. In return, packet-switching makes much more efficient use of the arcs and nodes in the network, provides much greater total throughput, and is accordingly much cheaper for a given volume of traffic.
Each node on the inter-network (roughly speaking, that means the gateway processor on each organisation's internal network) co-operates with the remainder by acting as a switch or exchange, and passing data along towards its target. In order to do this, some of the nodes act as 'name-servers', and maintain a set of routing tables which determine where, depending on its ultimate objective, each packet has to be sent next.
The Internet emerged during the 1980s from the Defence Advanced Research Project Agency's ARPANet. Since AARNet was implemented in 1990, its growth has been dramatic, initially in terms of the number of networks it connected, and continuously in terms of the volume of data it carries. It is essentially a non-hierarchic network, i.e. there is no central controlling point (although there is a central service point for management and trouble-shooting). Its functioning depends on co-operation among many processors and hence also among the organisations which own them.
To the end-user, AARNet is almost transparent. It provides an extended address-space of machines and users, which comprises the entire worldwide Internet. It has high resilience to downtime on individual nodes and arcs, and very high reliability and efficiency. The delivery time for a message is well under a second anywhere within Australia, and usually under a second anywhere in the world. The speed and convenience of data transmission results in greater immediacy in human communications, and has unleashed an explosion of new ideas and services.
In order to impose a limited degree of order on a dynamic field, this section somewhat arbitrarily distinguishes between the tools and services which came to prominence during the decade of the 1980s, and those which have recently emerged or are presently emerging.
During the 1970s, computing had involved singular resources controlled by a priestly caste. During the 1980s, this evolved to a position in which large numbers of inexpensive standalone microcomputers (commonly but imprecisely called 'personal computers') were much more readily accessible by people who could directly benefit from them, in a much less controlled environment. Where 'dumb' terminals had previously offered, to approved users only, pre-defined and restricted functionality, these machines provided power for a modest investment to anyone who wished to capture, store, process and publish data.
What has been usually referred to as 'the marriage of computing and telecommunications' enabled hitherto independent micro-computers to talk with one another, and (by emulating dumb terminals) to talk to mainframe equipment. Progressively, users' own microcomputers were linked with centrally controlled macro-processors (mainframes, 'mini-computers' and mid-range machines) to perform cooperative tasks in networks of dispersed machine intelligence. The old hierarchy of a central mainframe with slave terminals was inverted, and the users' workstations became the primary focus, with local, corporate and wide area networks placing 'servers' at the 'client's' disposal.
Accompanying these developments were great improvements in the learnability and usability of software development tools, of utility software and of applications. Scrolling displays and exotic command languages which were inimical to convenient use by non-specialists were replaced by menu-driven and icon-based human-computer interfaces. For the arbitrariness of the old ideas has been substituted consistent machine behavior, enabling the intuition users develop from their experiences with the first few functions they meet to be generalised to the learning of the remainder. The combination of these various factors has brought about the dispersion and democratisation of computing.
A wide range of tools very important to research were delivered or significantly improved during this phase. The management and analysis of structured, numerical data were better supported, and access to databases was facilitated by the alternative technologies of on-line access to remote databases and directories, and local optical storage (CD-ROM). Within free-text databases, the navigability improved, through the growing availability of so-called 'hypertext', i.e. the ability to roam along the inherent multi-dimensional paths in a document, rather than being limited to the linear sequence of the text (Bolter 1991). The concept has since been generalised to 'hypermedia' for compound documents, i.e. those which contain data in more than one format (Marcus 1991).
Document preparation was facilitated and researchers became less dependent on document preparation staff, not only in the sense of word processing, but also in regard to the preparation of diagrams and the incorporation of diagrams and images into text. Even more emphatically, the scope for refinement and revision was increased, with outcomes whose quality (at least potentially) was higher in terms of both content and presentation.
The long-standing dependence of academics on professional and relatively expensive design, production-editing and printing services was demolished. Desk-top publishing enables a team of a lone academic and a single moderately skilled support staff-member to produce conference proceedings, journals and monographs of a quality and at a cost directly comparable to, and in many cases superior to, those of the traditional publishing houses, and to do so much more quickly. The functions in which publishers retain significant advantages have been reduced to such areas as marketing, distribution and capital access.
During this period, communications between researchers were greatly enhanced. The telefax was the most explosive single change during the 1980s, but there was a vast increase also in the number of people connected to national networks such as Bitnet (U.S.A.), JANet (U.K.), EARN (Continental Europe) and ACSnet (Australia). The various networks were then linked via what began as a domestic United States initiative, but has since become the world-wide Internet.
What was originally a very basic and at best semi-reliable email service for unformatted text, has been progressively enhanced. Mailing-lists enable multiple copies of messages to be transmitted to many recipients with a single command. Mailing-lists can be stored centrally, rather than copies being maintained on multiple machines. Updates may be undertaken centrally, or the power to insert or delete one's own address may be vested in the individual, using emailed commands and so-called 'list-server' software.
A complement to the mailing list is the bulletin-board or news group, which stores messages in a database, displays data about the date, time, sender and subject, and enables individuals to read such messages as they choose. Because of the explosion of mail and news-groups, posting to some of the more influential mailing-lists and news-groups is not freely accessible, but is moderated by kind souls who dedicate much time to encouraging a sufficient volume of useful traffic, and filtering out the less constructive messages.
Remote login capabilities at local and distant servers enable access by pre-authorised users to specialised processing capabilities and databases. In addition, limited access is provided to all comers, to such openly accessible data as the catalogue systems of hundreds of university libraries, and the vast volume of material stored in areas which are labelled (less than clearly) 'anonymous ftp'. This is a form of publication which is at once very cheap and very open-ended, because anyone can use any form of computer-based aid to locate it, and copy from it.
By the beginning of the 1990s, the tools and services outlined in this section had been comprehensively prototyped by computer scientists and other devotees. The developments were by no means confined to the United States; for example, reflecting their deep-seated fear of isolation from the world mainstream and strong desire to overcome 'the tyranny of distance', Australians generate a significant volume of traffic over the Internet. For reviews of contemporary Internet services, see Benedikt (1989), Scientific American (1991), Kehoe (1992), Krol (1992) and LaQuey (1992).
No longer was information technology just about computing qua computation; it was about communication as well: "[an organisation] is constituted as a network of recurrent conversations ... computers are a tool for conducting the network of conversations" (Winograd and Flores 1985, pp.168, 172). The 1980s had seen the establishment of the basis for more widespread use of these tools, the development of more sophisticated services, and the customising of tools and services to the needs of particular disciplines, workgroups and individuals.
With many of the important breakthroughs in hardware and communications already achieved, developments in the early 1990's have been primarily in the software area. The implicit assumption of previous decades had been that individual users worked in isolation, or they cooperated with others but only by sharing the same database. A recurrent theme in the 1990s is the support of collaborative work between individuals, among members of localised workgroups, among widely dispersed workgroups, throughout organisations and even across organisational boundaries.
On-line access capabilities are now moving beyond library catalogues to full-text and image storage and retrieval. The data are increasingly available at the researcher's own workstation, rather than only on a specialised terminal in a library. Statistical databases and collections such as satellite images of weather and landforms are also becoming more widely available over the Internet. Meanwhile significant progress is being made in assisting researchers to locate material they need; in particular, Archie and Veronica provide centralised and frequently updated lists of files around the Internet; the Wide Area Information Service (WAIS) provides convenient but powerful search facilities, and a prototype distributed hypertext search product called World Wide Web (WWW) is also available.
Access to specialised computational capabilities on remote machines is also being facilitated through such initiatives as the U.S. supercomputer network, NFSnet. The emergent National Research and Education Network (NREN) in the United States and the Research Data Network (RDN) in Australia are preparing the ground for high-bandwidth telecommunications superhighways, and linkages across the oceans.
Weaknesses in worldwide email facilities are being quickly overcome. One of the greatest difficulties - finding the addresses of people you wish to communicate with, will be addressed during the next few years through what are commonly referred to as 'directories', both of the so-called white-pages variety (keyed by individuals' and institutions' names) and yellow-pages (organised by the class of service offered or research undertaken).
Beyond text-only mail is the ability to transmit formatted (so-called 'binary') documents. Provided that sender and recipient(s) have the same or compatible software, data can be sent in any format whatsoever (e.g. those of particular word processing, diagram-drawing, image-processing, desktop-publishing, or spreadsheet packages), and compound documents containing multiple media-forms can be supported. The products to produce and read these documents are increasingly including capabilities to attach annotations to any location within them, and thereby facilitate fast turnaround among co-authors, and among authors, referees and editors. Many discussions of these capabilities appear in the literature under the term 'computer-supported cooperative work (CSCW)', e.g. Grief (1988). Many documents will continue to be under the editorial control of one person, but conventional notions of document authorship and editorship are being complemented by alternative forms, some democratic and some intentionally anarchic.
Another emerging capability is workflow, which can be conceived as the creation of an intelligent virtual mailroom and file-register, such that documents route themselves between individuals' work-trays. Although this notion's primary applicability is in transaction-processing environments in business and government, it could be usefully applied to aspects of research work, including the receipt, editing, coding and analysis of data, and the management of conference papers and journal articles.
Researchers in group decision support systems (GDSS) distinguish a 2x2 (place and time) matrix of multi-person discourse, negotiation and decision processes. The participants may meet in the same place or remain dispersed, and the interactions may occur in the same time-frame (synchronously) or at different times (asynchronously). Each of the four combinations requires different forms of electronic support. Many of the emerging tools are of potential benefit in research as well as in business and government; for example much faster development of ideas can be facilitated by electronic conferences (which support different-time / different-place communications, and enable sharing of text, tables, graphics and voice data), and video-conferences (which provide same-time / different-place communications, with 'real-time' sharing of the various kinds of data, plus synchronised moving image and sound).
Another potential application is to enable doctoral supervisors who are remote from one another to 'meet' from time to time as an interactive panel, rather than restricting their operations to multiple one-to-one interactions with the candidate. With the trend from entirely government-funded to dual-funded research programmes, the importance of interaction between programme sponsors, directors and staff is greater than ever before, and GDSS tools have much to offer in this area also. A more exciting contribution is the facilitation of brain-storming by, for example, electronically-supported anonymous delphi techniques.
A related development is 'visualisation' (McCormick et al 1987, Cox 1990). Initially, this is enabling solo and co-located researchers to impose alternative models on data through iterative attempts to explain and replicate patterns. With the increasing availability of high-bandwidth networking, same-time / different-place experiment-ation will be possible in what amounts to a high-tech/high-science 'jam session'.
A further emergent notion with potential research applications is the 'digital persona'. This is a person's data shadow, or image, as projected out into the net; for example, each individual may use multiple identities to reflect different aspects of their 'real' personality, such as the enthusiastic researcher, the social advocate, the sceptic and the 'angry young man'. Ideas and reactions which would be inappropriate in one role may therefore be given free rein via one of the other personae. This is therefore a means whereby members of a community can gain access to all of the varied and often mutually inconsistent thoughts of outstanding individuals.
There are many other applications of the notion, however. In its more active sense, a digital persona encompasses the idea of an 'agent', which was conceived by computer scientists to perform functions on a person's behalf on a local workstation, a local server, or elsewhere in the net. One simple application is a mail-filter which vets a person's incoming mail, classifies and prioritises it, and perhaps discards low-interest messages, or places them in a 'read-only-if-something's-missing' pile (Loch & Terry 1992).
A more interesting class of active persona or agent is the so-called 'knowbot'. Because no central directory exists for the Internet as a whole, it is necessary to search multiple directories when trying to find a particular user or a particular data-file. Prototype programs are in use which adopt modestly efficient search patterns in order to find desired data from anywhere in the net. A further development is the notion of a news-gatherer or environmental scanner, which wanders the net, browsing through accessible files, and sending back references to or copies of items which appear to satisfy search criteria nominated by the 'real' person. A more sophisticated persona could 'learn' criteria through feedback gathered about the usefulness of earlier dispatches from the individual, and perhaps also from his work-group or a wider reference group.
The richness of emergent ideas is so great that individual researchers, and even whole research teams, are unlikely to apply more than a few of them. Selection and use of those most appropriate to the needs of particular individuals, teams and disciplines will be facilitated by 'researcher workbenches'. These incorporate a user interface supporting access to the various services; tutorial, on-line help and reference material; significant customisability for particular disciplines, research areas and personal preferences; and extensibility to additional and new applications. The most important feature which a workbench offers is, however, integration, both between functions and among local and remote team-members. Prototype workbenches have been reported in the legal area (Greenleaf et al 1992), and exist on the Internet (e.g. gopher). Although there are signs that mature products will soon begin to be offered commercially, the new ideas will continue to emerge from collaborative efforts among researchers themselves.
The content and infrastructure for these community service pages are provided by Roger Clarke through his consultancy company, Xamax.
From the site's beginnings in August 1994 until February 2009, the infrastructure was provided by the Australian National University. During that time, the site accumulated close to 30 million hits. It passed 50 million in early 2015.
Sponsored by Bunhybee Grasslands, the extended Clarke Family, Knights of the Spatchcock and their drummer
Xamax Consultancy Pty Ltd
ACN: 002 360 456
78 Sidaway St, Chapman ACT 2611 AUSTRALIA
Tel: +61 2 6288 6916
Created: 15 October 1995 - Last Amended: 28 October 1998 by Roger Clarke - Site Last Verified: 15 February 2009
This document is at www.rogerclarke.com/II/NetN9.html