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1977

A Meeting-related Information Exchange Facility

within a computer conferencing environment

- / -


Report prepared in response to a request from an Ad Hoc Meeting on Conference Information Systems held on the initiative of the Committee for Information on Science and Technology (CIDST) of the Commission of the European Communities. (Luxembourg, September 1977). Version française

Introduction

Work on this report was initiated in response to a request from an d Hoc Meeting on Conference Information Systems (Luxembourg, September 1977) held on the initiative of the Committee for Information and documentation on Science and Technology (CIDST) of the Commission of the European Communities. The purpose of the report is to outline the context within which conference information could be maintained and made accessible on-line via the European On-line Information Network (euronet), and to consider: (a) the organizational questions of ensuring appropriate collaboration amongst existing suppliers of such information, (b) the problems of transition to the new system and (c) the nature of a suitable pilot project. The whole question of conference information services had been reviewed at an earlier meeting (York, June 1576) sponsored by the Commission (K.P. Barr (Ed) Report of the Workshop on Information on Conferences. (York, British Library Lending Division, 1976).). On the basis of the 1976 and 1977 meetings, a report has also been prepared on the conference information system itself (L.J. Anthony. Main parameters of a system for handling conference information. (London, Aslib, 1977).), so that this question will not be considered in detail here.

Preliminary considerations

It is appropriate to note the following points :

1 . There is little point in undertaking the relatively costly exercise of putting onto an on-line system information which is already available at reasonable cost via conventional services, unless there are a significant number of additional benefits to the users and suppliers of the information.

2. Organizations and individuals responsible for meetings are not universally enthusiastic about ensuring wide dissemination of information about their event. Such publicity can lead to much unnecessary and time-consuming, correspondence for the organizer who frequently has a perfectly adequate means of informing those who may wish to attend the meeting. For any new service to be acceptable, rather than to generate increased resistance, it should in some way be of additional benefit to the organizer.

3.In attempting to increase coverage and quality (including timeliness) of conference information, a system dependent on extracting information from unenthusiastic organizations responsible for meetings or from unmotivated secondary sources is bound to become increasingly costly and impractical in proportion to the percentage of complete coverage desired. This cost decreases to the extent that information in volunteered because the originators derive some direct benefit from participation in the service.

4.There are already a considerable number of general and special services supplying conference information ; whether world-wide, by region, by sector, etc. Some of these are funded purely for prestige purposes, others to provide a focal service for a loosely organized constituency, others as a source of revenue or for other reasons. A new service must face the reality of these often competing interests. It mould have to offer features which mould make it attractive and valuable to them. And whatever is done, parallel services mill continue to exist for a variety of reasons. Some of them may mill be made available on-line.

5.It would be extremely short-sighted to design a system for today's needs and problems. By the time it is implemented, it mould already be out of data and inadequate. Despite the difficulty, it is important to attempt to respond to the needs of the period 1980-1990 particularly since EURONET itself is being set up with that period in viem.

Context

In presenting EURONET in 1976, the Commission of the European Community estimated that by 1980 there mould be a user demand in the Community for 2 million on-line data bank queries per year, doubling to 4 million per year by 1985. Over 400 data bases already exist in Europe. (See also Table 1: International organization information systems.) These figures are mentioned to emphasize that a new communication environment is being created a revolution corresponding in many ways to the widespread introduction of the telephone. The price of access to this environment is the computer terminal, and the cost of terminals is dropping rapidly (probably to the price of a colour TV set by 1980). The best way to appreciate our limited ability to understand how rapidly they will become standard office equipment is to consider the introduction of the (pocket) electronic calculator. In 1973 these were considered luxury items of little future relevance to ordinary office operations. In 1977 they are in the hands of anyone who needs one.

Table 1 Categorization of international information systems and programmes.
  • AGRIS international Information System for Agricultural Sciences and Technology (FAO)
  • INIS international Nuclear Information System (IAEA)
  • ISONET International Organization for Standardization Information Network (ISO)
  • ARKlSYST International information System for Architecture (UNESCO)
  • CARIS Current Agricultural Research Information System (FAO)
  • INDIS Industrial Abstract Information Service (UNIDO)
  • ISIS Integrated Scientific information System (ILO)
  • AOE information Service on Industrial Equipment and connected Technologies (UNlDO)
  • INPADOC international Patent Documentation Centre (WIPO)
  • SDI Selective Dissemination of Information Service (UNIDO)
  • WHlS World Health Information System (WHO)
  • WWW World Weather Watch (WMO)
  • CIS International Occupational Safety and Health Information Center (ILO)
  • US industrial Inquiry Service (UNIDO)
  • DEVSIS International Information System tor the Development Sciences (IDRC)
  • IRS International Referral Service (UNEP)
  • DARE Data Retrieval System for Documentation in the Social and Human Sciences (UNESCO)
  • GEMS Global Environmental Monitoring System (UNEP)
  • MEDI Marine Environmental Data and Information Referral Service
  • (UNESCO/UNEP) POPINS Population Information System (Population Division of the U.N.
  • Secretarial) SPINES Science and Technology Policies Information Exchange System
  • (UNESCO)
  • DRS Development Referral Service (SID-OECD) CLADES Latin American Center for Economic and Social Documentation
  • (ECLA)
  • IDCHEC Intergovernmental Documentation Centre on Housing and Environment tor the countries of ECE
  • ISDS International Serial Data System (UNESCO-UNlSIST)
  • CORE Common Register of Development Activities (IOB)
  • WDRS World Data Referral Service (UNISIST)
  • ISIS Integrated Statistical information System (CES)
  • WISI World Information System on Informatics (UNESCO / IBI)
  • UNISIST World Science Information System (UNESCO).
.

SCOPE

FUNCTIONS

.

SECTORAL SYSTEMS

.

MULTIDISCIPLINARY SYSTEMS

.

MANAGEMENT
CO-ORDINATION SYSTEMS

.

STORAGE

.

AGRIS
ASFIS X
INIS
ISONET

.

DEVSIS X (I)
IRS
DARE

.

ISDS*

.

RETRIEVAL

.

ARKISYST * CARIS * (I)

ISIS (ILO)

.

DEVSIS * (II)
MEDI*
POPINS *

.

CORE
WDRS *

.

ANALYSIS AND SELECT IVE DISSEM INATION

.

AOE
CARIS (II)
INPADOC
SDI
WHIS
WWW

.

SPINES * DRS

.

ISIS *
(CES)
WISI *

.

CONCEPTUAL FUNCTIONS

.

CIS
IIS

.

CLADES
IDCHEC

.

UNISIST

.

Table extracted from: Data tor Development Newsletter, Oct. 1977. (special issue .Information systems and international organizations). Data and Development, 343, bd Romain Rolland, 13009 Marseille, France.


The consequence of this new environment will be a great increse in the number of terminals, the variety of users, thevariety of services offered, and the degree of inter-linkage between services and between types of user.

Faced with this situation, it is vital that some thought be given to the meaning of "conference information". There is a danger that limiting attention to the current meaning of the term may be as mistaken as the classic policy errors of thinking "railways" instead of "transportation", "typewriters" instead of "information processing", or "books" instead of"documents" (as including film, microfiche, and magnetic tape), or "information storage".

Conventionally a permanent "organization" gives rise to some kind of "meeting" of people whose activities together are embodied in a publication generally called the "proceedings". The emerging reality associated with each of these terms can however be considered as follows :

1. Oraganization: It is generally assumed that an organization :

a) is permanent, when in fact there are an increasing number of ad hoc committees and organizations formed for projects of limited duration b)is formally structured, when in fact there is an increasing tendency to form loose networks of individuals or institutes with a rotating centre of authority or none at all c) is legally registered, when many active bodies do not exist as legal entities. d) has elected or appointed officers, when special functions may be loosely associated with a number of people e) has activities, when some bodies may be completely dorment between key events (e.g. national elections)

2.-Meeting: It is generally assumed that a meeting :

a) is of short duration, when some meetings now continue for months or years b) occurs at a particular location, when meetings now travel from city to city, or are held on cruise ships. Some are non-territorial in that they are held by telephone (the "conference" call), by radio, or by television. In the future many will be held via computer (The computer"conference") c) is an isolated event, when meetings are increasingly woven into a web of other meetings/exhibitions/fairs/touristic events, etc. These may be at the same location or elsewhere (although linked by time constraints). d) involves a physical assembly of people,when (as noted in a previous point) it is no longer necessary to bring people together for a meeting to take place and this may not even to desirable.(*) e) is held in terms of an agenda (usually decided in advance), when there is an increasing tendency to define and redefine the points under discussion as part of the interaction process ; and when, from the participants point of view, many of the most valuable exchanges of the meeting take place outside the framework of the agenda-governed formal processes. f ) has well -defined roles for speakers and audience, when in fact the role of speaker is increasingly played down in favour of interaction between participants unmoderated by any formal structure. Such interactions may be depersonalized to the point of being "confrontations" between data sets or personalized in the manner of the encounter session or "be-in". g ) can only permit one "speaker" at time before a passive audience, when computer conferencing in fact allows all participants to interact simultaneously with one or more other participants.(For a review of "computer conferencing", see: Transnational Associations, 29, 1977, 10, special issue.) There is therefore not a linear sequence of contributions but a network of comments largely independent of time.

3.-Proceedings: It is generally assumed that conference proceedings :

a) consist of paper documents, when increasingly proceedings may be only available as tape or videotape recordings, or on microfilm on fiche. b) are prepared by capturing and processing data in parallel with or subsequent to the meeting process, when such meeting techniques as computer conferencing occur via a continually updated set of exchanges typed directly in a machine-recorded form, possibly with automatic indexing and SDI to other potentially interested participants.(S.Korris and C.Moroan. Human responses to sulphur pollutants; proceedings of a computer-base conference. Brookhaven National Laboratory, 1974) c) are valuable even if they take months or years to publish and distribute, when in many cases the proceedings are only of value, if at all during or shorthly after the meeting because of the volatility of the matter under discussion.

The interaction of these increasingly broadly defined concepts creates special problem of data capture, if the conference information is to of any use. Clearly if, in a particular case, the participants' concept of the organization/meeting/proceedings complex da-emphasizes the characteristics which give it permanence, tangibility and stability, then obtaining conference information in the conventional manner becomes as difficult and futile as attempting to register (future)"conference calls"and record their content for posterity an activity which would be viewed by the participants with a fair degree of amusement, if not hostility.

A response tothis assessment is to narrow the definition of the organization /meeting /proceedings complex to exclude any which are not sufficiently permanent and stable. But if the information technology increasingly encourages and supports events which do not have this permanence, many significant events will go unrecorded. But perhaps more important,the new environment will demand new services to facilitate the activities of those who participate in such "non-stable" events thus further narrowing the relevance of a conference information service narrowly defined. In fact a more broadly defined service could subsequently incorporate most of the conference information facilities, thus rendering a narrowly defined service obsolete or of minor significance.

The question therefore raised is what might be the nature of the services required, by what range of users, and how does this mesh with the special concern for conference information ? For only by deciding what kind of service makes a critical number of users feel "at home" in the new environment, is it possible to see how the provision of such services can be associated with the desirability of improved quality and coverage of conference information.

It is important to recognize that a conference of any kindis not an isolated event (convenient for information processing) but an integral part of the process whereby individuals, groups, institutions, concepts, problems and values are in continuing interaction. Conferences are merely concentrations of this process, but it is the process which gives them their significance and provides the continuity between them. In a special sense, conference information services are "parasites" on the process. Improving their function does not necessarily facilitate the process. It may merely increase the amount of miscommunication. But the more that is done to facilitate the self-defined task of the interactants in the process (rather than simply profit by it), the the desired conferenceinformation mill volunteer . (For further discussion of these points, see: Anthony Judge. International organizations : diversity, borderline cases, functional substitutes and possible alternatives. In: Paul Taylor and A J R Groom (Eds) International Organisation ; a conceptual approach. Frances Pinter, 377, also pp. 381-483.)

Interactants and their interactions

The term interactants includes both "users" who use conference information services for their own purposes and those mho initiate or actively participate in conferences. The range of interactants has been somewhat arbitraily split into four main groups: conference initiators, participants, conference services, and information services (whether pre-or post-conference). It is important to note that a conference satisfactory to organisers and participants can be held without the benefit of the third or fourth groups, since their services can be provided by the initiators or their network of contacts. And even a large conference can be held without the benefit of the fourth group. Appropriate interactions with in and between all the groups is naturally desirable in the interests of all parties.

1.Conference initiators: These include groups, individuals, organizations, agencies, foundations. They could make use of it :

  • to exchange messages to see whether there is collective agreement as to the utility of a meeting.
  • to locate possible sponsors of a meeting for which funds are available.
  • to determine when and where to schedule a meeting, in terms of the constraints of potential collaborators and their need to participate in related (conflicting) meetings.
  • to announce a meeting to: potential collaborating bodies or sponsors, potential participants and the media.
  • to call for papers or initiate pre-conference collaborative projects
  • to locate travel and other conference facilities (as past of the process of choosing/negotiating a date and location)
  • to seek financial support for the meeting
  • to maintain contact with (potential) participants prior to, and following, the meeting particularly in terms of last minute information, such as rescheduling of the meeting or of special sessions.
  • to set up special warning messages ("Please do not send messages. Meeting closed", etc)
  • to disseminate key resolutions and declarations to those who might usefully have been there, the media, etc.
  • to locate and negotiate with proceedings publishers
  • to inform of existence of the proceedings.

2.Conference participants: These include individuals, groups, organizations or agencies and their representatives, national ministries, the media, etc. They could use it :

  • to locate meetings/organizations/events of interest
  • to request meeting organizers for information
  • to register for a meeting
  • to arrange travel and hotel accommodation for a meeting
  • to schedule travel between meetings over a period of time in a particular region
  • to contact co-participants to coordinate travel or schedule participation on a panel and sort out details about papers, facilities, etc.
  • to indicate interest in the results of the meeting even if participation is not possible
  • to be directed to another computer service where further information can be found, possibly on an SDI-subscriber basis.

3.Conference facilities (external/professional/commercial services) : These include travel agents, hotels, airlines, conference centres, tourist offices, exhibition halls, interpreters/translators, secretariat services, conferences organizers, etc. They could make use of it :

  • to announce their facilities to prospective customers and receive messages from them
  • to negotiate with prospective customers and make detailed arrangements
  • to contact possible participants to encourage them to come to the meeting (using the facilities in question).

A network ofwhat might be called "interface agents" could make use of it as a commercial service.

  • to receive messages for the computer system in conventional form (letters, forms, telex, telephone) and process them into the computer.
  • to convert computer-based messages into a suitable conventional form and disseminate them locally to those without direct access to the computer.
  • to convert external data files into compatible format with the computer system or to act as an interface between two or more unintegrated computer-based systems
  • to conduct searches on request, possibly on an SOI subscriber basis
  • to arrange for messages entered in one language to be translated into other appropriate languages before being conveyed on to their destinations.

4a Pre-conference information (external /professional/commercial services): These include conference information services, organisation directory publishers and the media. They could make use of it:

  • to question organizations likely to be holding meetings (e.g. the next in a series)
  • to extract and amend meeting announcements (particularly by "less capable inputters"), including control of indexing,
  • to maintain appropriately searchable files and indexes in appropriate languages
  • to permit production of hardcopy directories as required
  • to ensure appropriate interaction between different conference information services with special interests and expertise.

The media could use it to negotiate and arrange press coverage, possibly by ensuring releases to a network of bodies with their own dissemination possibilities. Large (inter) governmental agencies could use it to maintain their own internal meeting calendars (some of the information being for restricted circulation only), and for informing the relevant government agencies of any rescheduling. (Use of the same environment by several intergovernmental agencies with overlapping membership would offer the added advantage that the scheduling of conflicting meetings would be immediately apparent). 4 b.

4b Post-conference information (external/professional/commercial services) : These include proceedings information and acquisition services, direct purchasers, proceedings publishers, standard numbering agencies (ISBN, ISSN), and researchers. They could make use of it :

  • to locate publishers of proceedings and register orders
  • to extract, reprocess and disseminate, in an appropriate form through other systems (possibly on an SDI subscribers basis), information concerning the proceedings.
  • to announce publication of the proceedings and locate purchasers
  • to ensure allocation of appropriate ISBN/ISSN numbers.

Researchers, including market analysts, could use it to track meetings and their constituencies„

5.Organization creation: In addition to the above uses directly linked to conferences, the facility could also be used by organizations in process of creation :

  • to locate and contact individuals, groups and institutions wishing to form a proposed organization (possibly prior to or following a conference on particular topic)
  • to locate and contact sponsoring bodies and fund sources (which nay wish to support the organization or its programmes (possibly including the convening of meeting-type events)
  • to announce the formation of an organization (possibly on an SDI-subscriber basis) and to exchange message with individuals or institutions wishing to join or be placed on mailing lists.

Once created the organization may prefer not to remain listed within the system, or possibly only on off-line files.

Finally it is useful to distinguish between users in terms of the permanence of their status as users :

  • question/answer users who are not permanently registered in any way
  • users (subscribers) to SDI off-line services which interact with the system via interface agents
  • users (subscribers) to SDI on-line services for the months or/years period between the announcement of the meeting and dissemination of the proceedings
  • users (subscribers) to semi-permanent SDI on-line services which maintain contact between meetings in a series or different meetings organized on the same subject by different organizations.

Geographical and topic coverage

Just as it was argued above that it is short-sighted to place artificial constraints in the system on the range of interactants (users) and their interactions (uses),so it is dangerous to predefine the topics/subjects about which information should be conveyed or the geographical regions which should be considered. Past experience with classification systems determinedcurrent political, financial or intellectual priorities shows that they age rapidly. Amendments constitute traumatic discontinuities (if only at the procedural and computer levels) which, aside from doing violence to the original conception, take time and provoke unnecessary discord. Recent experience with topics such as "development" and "environment" demonstrate that in practice they require descriptors extending into many unlikely areas {e.g. religion, linguistics, philosophy, etc). A system which only permits treatment of science and technology information would only highlight the need for systems on excluded topics, with all the problems of overlap, compatability, duplicate inputs, and competition for resources„

In addition, for the user, the obligation to ensure that his topic is "recognized" by the system as being "acceptable" science or technology is very discouraging particularly in the case of new disciplines which the classification authorities have not yet encountered. (The telephone system is a success because it can be used by a scientistor apoet to exchange scientific information with colleagues, to reserve hotel accommodation for a meeting, to lobby colleagues to depose the president of the sponsoring academy or to arrange for flowers to be given to the wife of the Minister of Science at the opening reception. The alternative would be to have a series of parallel telephone systems for different subject matters and a tribunal to decide which should be used in borderline cases). Similar arguments can be put forward for non-limitation of geographical coverage.

Having made these points, clearly current priorities and budgetary constraints must be used to open up those features of the system for which there is an immediate demand. This should however be done without designing artificial constraints into it. There must be an appropriate balance between the desire of users to communicate via new terms (according to the fashion of the month or year) and the need to embed and interrelate such terms and synonyms in some common treasaurus to facilitate searches. But in a real-time system, the flexibility and responsiveness required by the former should not be sacrificed to the latter.

Classes of message and information

In the light of the previous section it is now possible to outline the classes of message and information within which conference information may be usefully embedded.

To simplify the presentation, this has been done on two tables which could in fact have been combined. In Table 2, the focus is on organizations, individuals, meetings/events, facilities/services and fund sources. As has been noted above, information on each can be usefully stored, whether: on-line (on a temporary or semi-permanent basis) or off-line (on a temporary or semi-permanent basis). The cost of inputting and storage can be met, case by case, in whole or in part, by the source (e.g. the organization, individual, or facility so described), by an institution interested in maintaing and processing such files as a service, or by some third party desiring access to such a service. When the source makes the information available, it could impose access codes. This may be considered unsatisfactory, but it does ensure that, for those who have light of access, there is continuity between information currently only available through different systems. (It is particularly important to cover the case of largeintergovernmental agencies with hundreds of internal meetings linked in a variety of ways)

Table 1. INFORMATION FILES.
.

Organizations

GA PA NA

.

: Individuals

OA PA MA

.

Meetings / Events

OA PA NA

.

:Facilities / Services

OA PA MA

.

FundSources

OA PA NA:

.

Types of Payment

.

Storage of information

.
. .. . . . .

On-Line Semi-permanent

.
. . . . .

5P

.
. . . . . .

PP

.
. . . . . .

TP

.

Temporary

.
. . . . .

SP

.
. . . . . .

PP

.

Off-line (*)

.
. . . . .

TP

.

Semi-permanent

.
. . . . .

SP

.
. . . . . .

PP

.
. . . . . .

TP

.

Temporary (or on separate system; or access via an 'interface agent')

.
. . . . .

SP

.
. . . . . .

PP

.
. . . . . .

TP

.

Classification place Topic Data

.
. . . . . .
Restrictions on access to information. Payment (in part) for input/storage.
OA: Open access
PA: Passcode access only
NA: Access by named persons/institutions only.
SP = Source pays to be on file
PP = Processor pays
TP = Third party pays additional cost.
.
.

MESSAGES

.

Table

.

Semi-Permanent

Unrelated to particular events

.

Temporary

Related to particular events

.

One-Time

Directed at particular targets;

.

Types of

.
.

(unless they involve months or years of preparation)

.

(retained until all those likely to be interested will have received)

.

not retained after received.

.

payment

.

Storage of messages

On-Line Semi-permanent

.

Identi- Specified fied recei- profile ver (s)

3D RD 3D RD

.

Identi- Specified fied recei- profile ver (s)

SD RD SD RD

.

Identi- Specified fied recei- profile ver (s )

SD RD SD RD

.

SP RS

.
. . . .

RP TS

.
. . . .

SR TR

.

Temporary on-line

.
. . . .

Off-Line Semi-permanent

.
. . .

SP RS

.
. . . .

RP TS

.
. . . .

SR TR

.

Temporary

.
. . .

-------

.

Classification

.
. . . .

Place

.
. . . .

Topic

.
. . . .

Data

.
. . .

I

.
SD = Sender-defined receiver or receiver profile RD = Receiver-defined sender or sender profile SP = Sender/inputter pays costs of sending/storage RP = Reciver pays costs of sending/storage SR = Sender/inputter pays receiver to receive RS = Receiver pays sender/inputter to send/stose TS = Third party pays sender/inputter to send/store TR = Third party pays receiver to receive.

. In Table 3, the focus is on the kinds of messages which those listed in the information files may wish to exchange. "Message" here includes the retriaval or receipt of information in one of the files mentioned in Table 2. This is because messages may be retained in the system for some time and therefore may not be usefully distinguished from information files. This is especially the case with semi-permanent messages (e.g. from a facility/service advertising itself), but less so with temporary or "one-time" messages. (At the computer level, the distinction, if any, between message and information may be made entirely differently from that used here for explanatory purposes). Messages may be conveived as occurring in two modes :

(a) Messages mode
  • sender specifies a named receiver
  • sender specifies a group of receivers (by an interest, profils)
(b) Retrieval mode
  • receiver specifies named sender
  • receiver specifies group of senders (by an interest profils)

However in the case of the temporary, or semi-permanent messages, either (a) a receiver profile is entered or (b) the messages remain ' dormant' on the file until a search is initiated by the receiver which is fulfilled by a sender profile. In each case this triggers the despatch of the message. Provision can also be made for a potential receiver to specify :

  • named senders from which no message is wanted
  • types of sender (defined by profile) from which no message is wanted.

This is important to cut down unwanted communications. (The other method is of course to offer the sender the opportunity to credit the receiver's account if the message is accepted: why should users refuse a $ 100 credit for receiving a "crank. " message about the end of the world ?)

The cost of a message can be met, case by case, in whole or in part, by

(a) the sender
  • paying the messaging cost
  • making a supplementary payment to the receiver for receiving the message (e.g. in the case of unsolicited advertising messages)
(b) the: receiver
  • paying the messaging cost
  • making a supplementary payment to the sender to cover the value of the information (a.g. for answering a questionnaire)
(c) a third party
  • paying the sender to send
  • paying the receiver to receive.

Note that further flexibility in required to cover the case where the initial costs of inputting the information are not borne by those associated with the information but by a third party which thus becames a surrogate sender to be compensated for this service. This is, for example, the situation for those processing meeting announcement information.

Access control policy

1. Output control: As noted earlier the system is conceived as a means of benefitting as many users as require access to information stored therein. Such users are a guarantee of its economic viability.

The first problem is the method of recognizing a user to handle the debiting or crediting (if he has a favourable profile) of his account for messages received. This has now been satisfactorily solved in many on-line systems, together with that of supplying special passcodes where a particular user has right of access to special classes of information.

The related problem of debiting or crediting the supplier of the information is more complex because, in contrast to the majority of on-line systems, there are in this case many possible suppliers rather than a single one. (This appears to resemble the accounting aspects of the problem encountered in computerized bond trading).

There is a special output control problem in the case of users wishing to extract portions of the information files for reprocessing into other forms (e.g. the production of a calendar of future meetings). Clearly special attention must be given to the compensation of those who built up the information. Attention must also be given to the question of copyright or else any user could "strip" the data base. This is discussed in a later section.

2. Input control: This question is complicated by the need to ensure the quality and validity of information, to minimize misrepresentation, to minimize unwanted communication, and to ensure that input rules are respected in those cases where computer control is not possible (e.g. if the user inserts a description in the wrong language, or puts the right language description in the wrong field)

Most of the problems can be solved by limiting possible damage as follows .

a. Level 1 : Primary user can :

  • insert or modify his own profile, or that on any other information file (e.g. organization, meeting/event? facility/ service) for which he has access authority or is named as contact. This also applies to any negative profile he may want to set up for unman tod contacts (In the case of large agencies with many users of different authority, some users may have positive and negative profiles imposed on them to present them from having any communication outside their jurisdiction.) (Respect of formatting rules can be ensured at input.) Control: All profile modifications should however be computer scanned to pick out improbableextremes (e.g. a meeting scheduled for the year 2010).
    Profiles should also carry a code to indicate on whose authority they were prepared. Where appropriate, markers could be inserted to show that there is an alternative view available on the validity of the profile. This should ensure that misrepresentation is minimized. Wherever possible however the policy should be to allow misrepresentation to flag itself by its content rather than require that it be removed from the system.
  • initiate any searches consistent with his access code.
    • Control: Such searches and any rssultant messages would not be executed unless his account was in order.
  • send or store messages.
    • Control: Such messages should include a valid identifier of their source. A suitable system of cost barriers and negative profiles must be in operation to reduce unwanted communication.

b. Level 2: Secondary users are those who have access to primary users, either in a particular locality or in a particular sector (e.g. a conference centre, a tourist office, etc). They may therefore wish to input information profiles on meeting/events, organizations, or facilities. Input at this level may be done by any primary (Level 1 ) user.

    • Control: Such additions and amendments to the information files should be coded as "advisory". In this way they are in the system as quickly as possible but have to be confirmed at a higher level or by the primary user (if he already participates in the system). Any information of this type would be automatically drawn to the attention of a higher level user.

c. Leve1 3: Secondary users on a regular basis may acquire status as Level 3 users. At this level users are concerned with the quality and accuracy of information on file (e.g. meeting/event dates, addresses, etc). They compare "advisory" inputs from various sources and other information from those who should know (e.g. the director of the organization responsible for a meeting). They may query those responsible (particularly if they are already active participants in the system) to clarify any ambiguity. On this basis they modify the information file, including appropriate codes indicating the authority/date of the best source and a code identifying themselves. Where ambiguity persists, two or more versions may be maintained on file (e.g. dates of a meeting).

d. Level 4: Users at this level are primarily concerned with problems of

  • language
  • classification and terminology
  • standardization

in the light of the evolving pattern of usage. They may intervene to modify any tables (e.g. accepted terms or synonyms) maintained within the system to facilitate usage.

e. Level 5: Users at this level are concerned with the operation of the system from a computer perspective. They do not intervene to modify data but some of the maintenance work they do on the system may have that effect.

f. Level 6: Users at this level are concerned with development of the computer software facilities to ensure progressive improvement of user access and interaction.

g. Level 7: Users at this level intervene to control the allocation of users to different levels.

Relationships between input/ output centres

Some users (identified as Level 2 and 3 above) have, and will have, the collection and dissemination of particular kinds of information as a programme objective. In other words such users do not just make use of the system to inform or be informed. They allocate resources to improving the pool of information and ensuring that it is made as widely available as the economic constraints permit. A good example is provided by those concerned with information on future conferences.

At the present time such bodies independently collect, process, index and print overlapping portions of the same pool of information. This is then distributed, freely or at a price, to a constituency within which these bodies compete, to some extent, for greater distribution of their respective products. Some of these bodies consider that their programme should generate revenue, whether or not the bodies themselves are non-profit-making. In the proposed environment, the relationship between these bodies becomes much more intimate. Instead of obtaining and checking each others printed products at regular intervals, in order to update their own files, each would contribute to a common pool (It is of course possible to envisage a situation in which each maintained separate files and users would choose between them.). Clearly this process would have to be established most carefully to avoid the possibility of one or more such bodies obtaining any unfair advantage.

Fortunately in a computer environment a multitude of bookkeeping operations can be automated. One possibility is therefore that each date element in an information file, on meetings for example, would bear a code identifying the body which had inserted it. Now a principal characteristic of such information is the changes made to it as the date/location of the meeting is finally fixed. For example, different portions of the meeting entry might end up being contributed by 3 bodies

  • 1 Date Body A
  • 2 Place Body B
  • 3 Organization Body E
  • 4 Theme Body A
  • 5 Organizer Body C

So at this stage, if any of four bodias were to usethat information to produce independent meeting directories, then some corresponding accounting units mould have to transferred in a suitable bookkeeping system for the following :

.

Royalty payment by :

.
. .

A

.

B

.

C

.

D

.

E

.

Royalty

payment to

.

A

.

D

.

1,4

.

1,4

.

1,4

.

-

.

to: B

.

2

.

0

.

2

.

2

.

-

.

C

.

5

.

5

.

0

.

5

.

-

.

0

.

-

.

-

.

-

.

D

.

-

.

E

.

3

.

3

.

3

.

3

.

0

.

In the above example, Body D contributed nothing to establishing the entry so that its account would be debited in favour of all the others. On the other hand, Body E makes' no use of that entry for its own purposes. In fact Body E might have been a primary user (Level 1).

Clearly there are many possibilities for handling this kind of system to compensate each according to his contribution if in fact such compensation is required. Many primary users might be quite satisfied to be credited in a manner which reduces royalty payments which they have to make for extracting information. The relationship between users at Level 2 or 3 is more delicate.

The question would quickly arise as to how to prevent the appearance of abuse under such situations as :

  • replacement of a valid date by the same date or a less valid date in order to obtain "copyright" advantage
  • sincere replacement of the valid place by an invalid place as a result of erroneous information from a misinformed source (possibly even with responsibility for the meeting)
  • altering valid text information to bring it into some standard and presentable format without contributing any new information (Namely editorial and translation work ; this could also apply to any indexing)
  • taking advantage of work rythms, postal delays, etc. to insert or change information when another body could only do it a day later.

Each would at some time have the advantage in the last case. The first can bo reduced by maintaining a record, periodically listed, of who "bumped" whose data clement by what, possibly with an agreed (if not automatic, in the case of a date, for example) penalty in units of account. The second is more difficult since it is a question of interpretation. Possibly a source code could be used as a guide (e.g. 1 newspaper, 5 = own periodical, 9 = personal letter). In the case of conflicting items with the same authority code, both could be kept. The third could be treated as on independent operation (and subcontracted) so that such changes did not alter the royalty question.

An even more delicate question would be whether a new well-funded body could regularly (or once only) "drain off" major portions of the file for reproduction for its own market. Possibly the royalty payment system could be weighted in terms of the number of elements taken in any one period by such "wild-cat" users. On the other hand care must be taken not to build up an information cartel.

Organization and control

The question of the ownership and control of the system as a whole can be left in abeyance. In this section the focus is placed on the ownership and control of a particular portion of the information files of special interest to a particular group of bodies. There should be no difficulty in "nesting" a special processing concern into a large data processing framework. The bondaries would be defined by the allocation of access codes but this would not affect the organization of the software.

The exampleused here is the conference information files. Given that the day-to-day accounting operations can be settled along the lines suggested in the previous section, the question is how major issues between the key users can be decided. Basic questions might be "who owns the data" ? "How should votes be apportioned ?" It would seem that the conference information subgroup could organize itself along the lines of a cooperative. Votes could be apportioned on the basis of some formula which would take into account, for each interested body:

  • number of data elements for which it was responsible at any one time, namely its specific contribution to the information pool. (Some distinction could possibly be made between data elements, linked to their accounting value, s.g. date s 2 units, place = 1 unit, organization 4 units, etc.)
  • number of data clement Originally contributed to the pool when it was set up.
  • number of data elements it used or extracted for hardcopy distribution (i.e. bulk extraction)
  • number of data elements it retrieved (i.e. single retrievels)
  • number of amendments made to existing data elements (i.e. data quality improvement, translation of text elements).

The formula could be structured so that initially advantage is given to those bodies who set up the data pool. But at any subsequent time, votes would be based on some weighted average of the above values (calculated by computer, fortunately) to take into account fluctuations over a period of months. In this way, an exceptional contribution by one body at a particular time would only significantly affect its voting rights if such performance was maintained for a time bearing some relation to the ongoing contributions of this "founder-members".

If, for example, a founder-member Ceased contributing to the pool, gradually its voting power would drop. However it might wish to retain copyright on old data elements if these become the abject of retrospective searches and directories. It would be appropriate to have special committees of :

  • single-retrieval users
  • bulk-retrieval users/directors producers
  • contributors (e.g. Level 2 and 3)
  • editors and indexers.
    In addition committees
  • for settling accounts
  • for "abuse appeals"
  • for relations with other parts of the system

would be appropriate. None of these committees need meet face-toface, if the computer conferencing aspect is developed, since most of their work involves consideration of documented cases and exchanges of messages.

Nature of pilot project

It seems fairly clear, in the light of similar data processing exercises, that such a system is feasible at least from the point of view of software and hardware. The more important issue is whether it is worth doing at this time, and whether doing it would not create more problems for the founder-members than they would care to handle. This raises the question as to whether a pilot project could clarify whether the project was feasible for given the limited scope of any such experiment it might operate below the critical number of users necessary to make it viable, both economically and in terms of information flow (An hotel reservation system cannot be satisfactorily proven with three users ). The other danger is that such a pilot project might be too simple in conception, so that although the participants could engage in some "data swopping", the significance of the participation of other categories of users, and the facilities that they require, would not be recognized. It is too easy to meet immediate priorities, ignoring future requirements, and thus building obsolescence and irrelevance into the system.

From the above it can be concluded that it is not necessary to prove the technical feasibility. The administrative/accounting/ working/control relationships can perhaps be best sorted out in discussion. Insights emerging from such discussions should be reflected in a detailed specification of the software required if not already available.

Some of the problems can be brought out in simulations of the operation of such a system as a special exercise on an existing computer conferencing system since such software already has most of the features required, including the possibility of relatively sophisticated messaging, editing, retrieval, questionnaire dissemination, etc.

Perhaps the key question is how such a project would affect the operations and finances of the founder-members. Clearly experimenting with such a system, in parallel with existing operations, with each data element costing considerably more than normal, could be very discouraging. On the other hand many of the potential foundermembers are already using, or are about to use, in-house computer equipment. The question is then whether the pilot project could have "fail-safe" elements built into it. In other words, even if they decided (after the experiment) not to collaborate, such bodies could then anyway build on their experience and software and proceed to compete in a more sophisticated manner,

Some cost considerations

It is not yet clear how costs would work in a EURONET, environment. A summary of some cost elements is given (as Appendix 1) for the USA.

These include (per participant) :

  • rental of terminal equipment: $ 75-150 per month
  • communication with data network: telephone rates
  • use of data network: $ 3.50 12.00 per hour
  • computer use: $ 4.00 per hour
  • computer storage: $ 0.45 per 1000 characters
  • administrative overheads: $ 25.00 per month.

An additional charge may be made for rental of the computer conferencing software, (e.g. $ 5.00 per hour).

In an analysis of computer conferencing among geoscientists (Royalty payment by :), in 575 hours of operation, involving 5,459 messages, communicated in a total of 4,596 sessions (at a terminal), the total cost was $ 9,474 namely $ 1,74 per message or $ 16.45 per hour. These costs exclude terminal rental, telephone charges, and storage costs. Indeed depending on how the system is organized different cost elements may be present or absent, (see Appendix 1) Another source (see Appendix 1) gives the cost of operating a USA-wide system at

$ 3.00 per hour per person with 300 participants $ 5.00 per hour per person with 1000 participants.

As stated in an early section, it is not however necessary for the system to be operating 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Whilst a data swopping system could well be cheaper (e.g. using a telex link), it is not clear that this would be significantly better than the postal service or of any special advantage to the potential founder-members.

Conclusion and Next Steps

It would appear from the above that a conference information system could be usefully explored further, provided that steps are taken to ensure its appropriate relationship to a larger framework. This seems to be vital as a means of guaranteeing the minimum threshold of participants and interactions necessary to the survival of the initiative as an ongoing enterprise. (It is essential to beware of the constant danger illustrated by thinking "horse-less carriages" and "wire-less", instead of transportation and communication). It is for this reason that attention has been drawn to the implications of computer conferencing as part of the process of electronic information exchange. In this connection it is useful to bear in mind the current operational trials of such a system amongst a variety of resoarch communities whose members are dispersed around the USA. These trials are being funded by the Division of Science Information (Access Improvement Program) of the U3 National Science Foundation (see Appendix 2). A conference information system bears a strong resemblance to the NSF concept of a "small research community" with its various problems of information storage, retrieval exchange, evaluation, and amendment, as well as the editing of a product for distribution in hardcopy form. Such a system appears however to be only viable within a larger framework. The degree of useful relationship to that framework remains to be explored. The next steps that could be undertaken are:

1. A survey of potential participants, both in terms of immediate interest as well as expected interest in 3 to 5 years time. Such a survey should also determine the nature of any data processing such participants are undertaking or need to undertake; and the kind of equipment or service they use or expect to use. It may be that some of the free-standing in-house smaller computers could be linked into a data network if appropriate modem's could be provided.

2. An inquiry to determine whether any of the planned host computers for EURONET would be interested in handling the information/ message files described here. It is important to determine what constraints there are.

3. Establish contact with the NSF Division of Science Information to determine whether it could clarify some of the problems likely to arise.

4. A meeting of specialists on computer conferencing could be held prior to and/or following a more detailed specification of the kind of software environment that is required. As in all domains, there are a number of schools of thought. It would be important to ensure that each was appropriately represented.

5. Determine exactly what software is available, or becoming available, which could facilitate this process. The previous step should help in this respect. It may well be that with minimal modification some existing software could be adapted to the proposed application on an appropriate EURONET host computer.

6. Clarify the possible role of "interface agents", particularly in any transition phase, as a means of giving indirect access to those who could otherwise not have it. Such agents may also be important if software or hardware constraints limit the number of participants having direct access.

7. Attention should be given to the possible implications of computer conferencing in terms of the different European legislations (see Appendix 3)

8. A meeting of potential founder members should be held to determine what formula could be used, if any, to govern the copyright/ royalty problems essential to the economic justification of their participation. A study could be made, before or in the light of such a meeting, to review and/or test a range of formulas (possibly by simulation of such a system over a number of years).

9. Videotape presentations of computer conferencing are available and could be used to convey an understanding of what can be achieved in that environment. Presentations of American origin might well be adapted to take into account linguistic and other problems likely to be encountered in Europe.

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