The World Wide Webgif at UWO
A Report to the ITS Senior Director

Peter Marshall <peter@julian.uwo.ca> and
Colleen Bretzlaff <colleen@julian.uwo.ca>

Revision: 1.8


On an almost daily basis, ITS is contacted by departments and individuals seeking to use the Web to promote or provide information about their services, curriculum, or research. We feel that the UWO Web service is already viewed as a UWO resource, rather than just an ITS offering. We now need to build the governance and support structures to meet that expectation.gif

1 The UWO Web: Background

1.1 History

The UWO World Wide Web server began operation in September 1994.gif It grew out of the work that the authors had been doing on the UWO Gopher and is seen as the follow-on technology for providing information on and about the University via the Internet. Central administration and general policy making, primarily for the server on www.uwo.ca, is provided by the campus webmasters: Colleen Bretzlaff and Peter Marshall.

The May 11, 1995 Western News article entitled Welcome To The Virtual University by John Sloan summarized the philosophy being used to build UWO's on-line information services:

Who is responsible for building Western's way stop on the information highway? The answer to that one may well be everybody. Western's Gopher and Web services are being built cooperatively by individuals all across campus who are working as ``information providers'' with the support of ITS (see the related story Taking the Information Highway: Partners in Cyberspace).

``The model that ITS is using for UWO Gopher and Web information providers delegates a large role to our partners in this enterprise, the owners of the information,'' said Marshall.

The information providers in various academic and support departments across campus take on the primary responsibility for the data and its presentation while ITS assumes the role of consultant, technical advisor and storage provider. Marshall described the arrangement as a win-win situation which is tapping everybody's talent for everybody's benefit.

``It empowers the data owners and provides the University with a very flexible support model,'' said Marshall. ``Instead of a centralized bottleneck, we have creativity and innovation from people who really care about their information.''

When a department or faculty decides to establish a presence on the Web, they typically gather a representative group (often including the department chair or dean) to meet with the UWO webmasters to learn more about the possibilities and issues involved. During these meetings we discuss both the glossy possibilities of a multi-media presentation and caution the group about keeping their content useful, accurate and current. In many cases this leads to a team or committee being established in the department to oversee the development and maintenance of the unit's Web presence. To help in a practical way, the webmasters wrote the Guide for UWO Web Information Providers which provides detailed (but always incomplete) information about establishing a Web page collection and making information available on the Web at UWO.

The Guideis also the repository for a nascent suite of policies and standards that the webmasters have set for pages that are part of the central server. Enforcing these on the central server is possible (mostly since ITS is providing the disk space), but we have no possibility of control over web pages maintained on departmental or faculty pages. Currently, this isn't a large problem but it does have some potential to become one.

The Web's growth both from on-campus and off-campus computers has been substantial with the number of accesses to the system growing continuously since our server was built. This growth can be attributed primarily to the initiative of the many web information providers as they add valuable content to the collection of UWO Web pages. The Local Web News and History section of the UWO Web Homepage chronologically documents the growth of the central UWO server.

1.2 The UWO Web is Big

The UWO Web is already large and continues to grow quickly. Our Web includes approximately:

1.3 What is the Web used for?

  1. Brochures: electronic versions of a department's or research group's glossy brochures (typically the sort of thing that is sent out to prospective graduate students) for academic departments; an electronic Services and Facilities for campus service departments.
  2. Compiled sets of links to information available on the Internet for a particular subject area (to peers and respected authorities).
  3. Instructional uses: Both Michael Clark and Ralph Buchal will be experimenting this fall (1995) with making their course notes and other course related information available to their students via the Web.
  4. Publishing of papers and computer programs: the compression algorithms of Xiaolin Wu in Computer Science have been made available via the Computer Science web server.

1.4 Growth Areas

While much of the current work on the Web at UWO is oriented toward brochure-type information, primarily aimed at providing information to new students, there is continuing pressure to expand and to provide more. The aim is to make the information in the UWO Web as complete as possible so that it becomes the primary source of information about the university for students, faculty, staff and the wider public.

To achieve this we must develop expertise, tools and facilities in the following areas:

Many of these new application and services will require a higher level of support that we are now able to provide. Common Gateway Interface (CGI) programmers, well versed in the security aspects of this type of programming will be essential.

2 Issues

While we have not officially defined what the Web is at UWO, now is the time to turn UWO's Web into a ``high-profile, institutional information resource''.gif

The existing UWO ad hoc groupgif frequently runs into issues that are primarily beyond the scope of ITS. The time has come to provide a more formal mechanism to provide direction for these issues. That direction should match the scope of the UWO Web itself and be formulated at the university level to help us all build a better system. A detailed list of major issues is included as Appendix A of this document.

3 What are our Peers Doing?

  Research via the Web demonstrated that several other universities are involved in the process of formalizing the Web on their campuses. Two sites, Dalhousiegif and Queen's,gif stood out because their documents spoke to many of the issues that we are facing here at UWO.

Both recognized that many universities are using the Web as a means of advertising and providing detailed information to on- and off-campus users. Use of the Web was encouraged but they felt it important to achieve some degree of consistency. An ad hoc group of those involved with the Web at Dalhousie was formed to coordinate activities and address issues relating to quality. The main objective of the Queen's and Dalhousie working groups was:

To provide Internet users with good quality and well presented current information on Dalhousie (Queen's) University, and to do so in an efficient manner.

Their general recommendation was:

We should aim at making information on Dal (Queen's) WWW pages as complete as possible so that they become the primary source of information about the university for students, faculty, staff and the wider public.

Their recommendations also went on to cover details relating to:

Two sub-committees of the Queen's Steering Committee have also a produced a draft report (June 1995) defining the terms of reference for an Editorial Board including content issues, coordination issues and recommendations.

Just as Queen's based their document on the pioneering work done at Dalhousie, we should be able to get our formalization efforts off to a flying start by using these papers as background. At UWO we have already developed, on an ad hoc basis, guidelines and procedures that adhere broadly to the guidelines outlined in the Dalhousie and Queen's papers.

4 Recommendations

4.1 UWO Web Steering Committee

Our primary recommendation is that a Web steering committee be formed to formulate and adopt guidelines and a governing structure for the UWO Web. This committee should be sponsored by SCITS so that it has the proper university-wide mandate. The Dalhousie and Queen's papers as well as the issues outlined in this paper can provide the Web steering committee with a well articulated base for a quick start.

The composition of a Web steering committee is critical. Its membership should acknowledge the existing expertise in the current UWO Web Information Provider community and, for efficiency, members must be chosen with expertise in more than one areagif needed by the group. We would like the opportunity to work with the committee to share our Web and general networking experience as well as providing a link to the existing UWO Web community.

4.2 ITS Web Support

Our secondary recommendation is that ITS should, in parallel, continue its support roles and define in greater detail the support requirements for the UWO Web. This support must address both the university reader community and increased support for our campus information providers. ITS must make a commitment to this technology and designate the appropriate groups to provide this support in a coherent and coordinated manner. The support structure must be in place and ready to meet the needs of the UWO community as the use and dependence on the Web increases.


A Current Issues

  While the papers from Dalhousie and Queen's outline many of the general issues that need to be worked out at UWO, there are some specific questions that have already come up at UWO that need answers (some perhaps before the committee work is complete):
  1. Front page organization:
  2. Who should be allowed to post information on the UWO Web? And what should the charges be? We have established an interim guideline of providing up to 2MB for each campus department or unit. We have had requests from the following categories of users that don't fit our guidelines or our categorization well. How should they be handled?
  3. Should the rules be the same for both the central server and departmental servers? Currently we can exert more control over the users of the central server. Compliance for other servers is much harder! For example, see the Visual Arts or English web pages.
  4. Who should be referred to from the UWO pages? Having a pointer from UWO could mean a lot to the Web-visibility of a small company. We are asked on a weekly basis to include references to other Web sites on the UWO server. Some examples: (many) local Internet providers, charitable organizations, London Free Press, student opinion paper out of York University.
  5. Since the UWO Web is to be seen as a University-wide resource,
  6. LARG*net appears to be selling space on their Web server. This may violate the ONet Acceptable Use Policy. Do we intervene? We have a stake since they make use of our .uwo.ca name and have some stature because of it.
  7. Western News has approached us about having advertisers sponsor various pages of the on-line version. The Graduate School of Journalism has also recently asked about taking sponsors for their planned (January 1996) on-line student run newspaper. Is this a suitable use of university resources? LARG*net and Team SunStang 96 in Engineering currently include listings of their sponsors on their pages.
  8. Liability issues - who is ultimately responsible?
  9. Ensuring equality of access to information.
  10. Expanding the current UWO acceptable use policy to deal specifically with information made available via the Web:
  11. Use of official UWO logos and marks.
  12. Protection of individual rights - if someone doesn't want to have their picture used in a staff or faculty directory should they have the right to refuse?

About this document ...

The World Wide Webgif at UWO
A Report to the ITS Senior Director

This document was generated using the LaTeX2HTML translator Version 0.6.4 (Tues Aug 30 1994) [uwo $Revision: 1.4 $] Copyright © 1993, 1994, Nikos Drakos, Computer Based Learning Unit, University of Leeds. (With minor modifications by Peter Marshall <peter@julian.uwo.ca>.)

The command line arguments were:
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The translation was initiated by "JOSHUA PETER JP MUHLSTOCK" on Sun Oct 15 23:03:48 EDT 1995

Web Support, ITS, UWO <webmaster@uwo.ca> Last update: 95-10-15 23:03 by peter