Report from the ITS Web Support Group


Revision: 1.9

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But such one-sided views [of the pending collapse of the Web due to boredom] overlook one of the most astounding developments on the Web since its invention: the Web's rapid transition from mere brochure-ware and text-based information to a vibrant new Second Generation distinguished by its transactional nature. [*]

1 Introduction and Summary

The group was formed in February 1996 and intended to finish in May but due primarily to a busy summer season at ITS, the completion date had to be put off to early September. This report summarizes the work of the group and makes recommendations for the ongoing support of the Web.

Briefly, we recommend that a small support group consisting of five members from the original group with the addition of some programming support, continue to work on discovering, evaluating and recommending new support tools, and on providing new server-based Web services including contract programming. We assume that over time more of the general support for the campus web information providers (IPs) will become a main-line support service handled primarily by Help Desk staff but the current ongoing and rapid development of the Web requires a significant and continuing effort by members of both the User Services and Research and Instructional Support groups.

2 Activities

During the life of this project we concentrated our efforts in five areas:

  1. Gopher: We moved existing Gopher information providers to the Web.
  2. Tools: We evaluated and recommended a small suite of tools to help Web IPs make their information available on the Web.
  3. Courses: We developed and taught Introduction to HTML which will be revised and offered again in the fall '96 term. In addition, two new courses will be developed and delivered for the first time in the fall term: Inputting Graphics for the Web and Using the WP 6.1 Internet Publisher. See the ITS Fall 1996 Computer Courses brochure for detailed descriptions of the courses.
  4. Documentation: We developed and published four new How do I...s: Become a Web Information Provider, Use the Latex to HTML converter, Use the Text to HTML converter and Create Graphics for the Web -- see the How do I... index page to review the full text of the How do I...s. In addition, the Guide for UWO Web Information Providers was expanded and revised.
  5. Support Model: We discussed and made recommendations for how ITS should provide follow-on support for the Web.

3 Gopher Transition to the Web

The shutdown of the UWO Gopher was scheduled for September 3rd. The server software became unstable about a week before this time, but fortunately by that date the gopher information providers had converted almost all of their data to the Web.

In late spring, the group contacted all of the gopher IPs and those that needed help to convert were given the support necessary to complete their transitions. Major efforts by ITS (primarily by members of this group) were put into the Student Employment Services, University Secretariat and the ITS conversions. Others handled most of their own conversions while we converted the indexing functions.

4 Recommended Tools

We reviewed about 18 tools to help Web Information Providers work with the Web. There are a few reviews still to be completed and put into a common format, but that work is expected to be done over the next few weeks. The results of these reviews and evaluations have been posted to the ITS Web documentation area. To increase the awareness in the community of this work,

Work on testing, using and recommending tools will be a continuing priority for the ongoing support group as new tools are developed and new techniques learned. We intend to keep the tools area fresh and up to date as new work is performed in this area. We also hope to establish a two-way dialog with the existing Web Information Providers to help in the large and sometimes overwhelming task of finding the best support tools.

4.1 HTML Writing and Editing

The group currently recommends that a simple text editor or your favourite wordprocessor (like WordPerfect in text mode) be used to write HTML. Use the ITS supplied templates to get a start. It is the opinion of the members of the Support Group that most HTML editors, while helping in the beginning, tend to quickly get in the way.

There seem to be a number of users who have become enamored by one or other of the Web authoring packages. The front runners seem to be FrontPage from MicroSoft, and Navigator Gold from Netscape. Investigation of these tools will be an early focus of the on-going support group members.

4.2 Checking Tools

This group scoured the net PC and Mac-based syntax checkers of HTML code, but none were discovered. The Unix and Web page versions of our original htmlcheck has recently been updated to handle the new HTML 3.2 standard.

We have also been investigating Unix-based programs for checking the validity of hyperlinks on the server. We hope to have a command-line and web-form-based service available by October.

5 A Support Model for the UWO Web

Desktop Tools Support:

Desktop tools for the Web cover the following general categories:

It is essential in the lightning fast world of the Web to dedicate significant resources to the ongoing task of identifying, evaluating, recommending and providing back-end support for desktop Web tools. The speed of change makes it essential that we take a highly proactive approach to this task -- we cannot wait for the demand to appear. With the inevitable requirement to provide ``personal'' web pages for faculty and eventually students, we will have to have tools ready before the flood-gates are opened.

The best model for this is to identify three primary support people who will ``lead the charge'' for Web support tools for the three major platforms supported by ITS: PCs, Macs and Unix. These support people will, in varying degrees, be supported by others in the department, but it is to them that the responsibility for ITS's service offering in this area rests. We also strongly recommend that the support staff be responsible for the maintenance of a portion of the ITS Web in order that they have first hand experience with the types of challenges that campus information providers face.

We recommend the following assignments based on the work done and experience gained in this initial tools support group:

PC (DOS, Windows) tools --
Merran + support from others in User Services
Mac tools --
Debbie with a slow transition to the Mac support people in User Services
Unix tools --
Wei-Mei + the webmasters and others in the Research and Instructional Support group

Each of these people would be expected to devote (with their support groups) at least half an FTE to this effort with perhaps a full FTE or more being required in the key PC/Windows support area.

Content and Application Building:

Keeping up and pushing ahead with the desktop tools must also be balanced with the new and emerging need to develop dynamic, programmed content for the Web. This will involve at least

Some of this work will be in getting the tools out to users, but we expect that a significant portion of this work will be well beyond the capacity of most Web IPs -- it is just too specialized. This will require us to establish a contract programming service. Currently our primary experience in this area has been provided by Brian Borowski who has completed the major Student Employment Services project and a number of smaller Web-based services. However, since Brian is also heavily involved in supporting the network we recommend that Brian and Gerard be included in this group with Gerard helping to off-load Brian in the Web support area. Again, we recommend that a total of at least 0.5 an FTE be devoted to this effort.


To provide leadership and on-going coordination with the campus governing committees like SUWWW the UWO Webmasters must be included in the support group. Wei-Mei provides support for the server itself.

The support of the Web is a daunting challenge and it will continue to take the dedicated efforts of an enthusiastic group to provide it the support that will be essential.

Instructional Web:

Recently it has become clear that there is a need for a support group drawn from within the Research and Instructional Support Group to provide web-based services like conferencing, exams and course presentation tools for instructional purposes. The goals of such a server differ markedly from the corporate-information-based web, support for which has been the focus of this report. The membership on this, just forming group, is expected to overlap considerably with the group proposed in this report. This effectively uses the expertise of these members and will provide the communications necessary between the two groups to ensure that wheels are not re-invented.

5.1 Recommended On-going Web Support Group Membership

Merran Neville, Debbie Jones, Wei-Mei Shyr, Brian Borowski, Gerard Stafleu, Peter Marshall and Colleen Bretzlaff.

About this document ...

Report from the ITS Web Support Group

This document was generated using the LaTeX2HTML translator Version 96.1-c (Feb 29, 1996) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, Nikos Drakos, Computer Based Learning Unit, University of Leeds.

The command line arguments were:
latex2html -split 0 -t web-report.tex -address Peter Marshall, ITS, UWO <> Last update: 96-09-12 01:23 by peter -show_section_numbers -dir /usr/internal/nst/peter/public_html web-report.tex.

The translation was initiated by Peter Marshall on Thu Sep 12 01:23:11 EDT 1996

ITS Web Support Group: Peter Marshall (leader), Vivi Tryphonopoulos (chair), Colleen Bretzlaff, Merran Neville, Debbie Jones, Judy Steward, and Bob Michels all of ITS at UWO.
From The Ten Commandments of Multimedia by Don Tapscott, in Information World, September 2, 1996, p54.

Peter Marshall, ITS, UWO <> Last update: 96-09-12 01:23 by peter