D-Lib Magazine
October 1995

Clips and Pointers

HomeNet: What Regular People Do on the Internet. HomeNet is an ongoing study at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) of how ordinary families use the Internet. At the start of the field trial in February 1995, a panel of 50 families comprising 150 individuals received turnkey systems consisting of Macintosh computers, modems, extra phone lines, accounts, and software to support a full Internet connection, including e-mail, newsgroups, the world wide web, MUDs, and other Internet services. This lowering of entry barriers (economic and skill-based) enables access to a sample group more demographically diverse than other Internet studies (57% female, 24% minority, 42% less than 18 years old, 25% families have income less than $35k). Families were recruited through four Pittsburgh area public high schools.

Multiple longitudinal data collection techniques are being used, including detailed server instrumentation, questionnaires, and interviews. (Subjects all signed consent forms, and the study went through CMU internal human-subjects review.)

Some initial results:

"I really want to move to Antarctica--I'd want my cat and Internet access and I'd be happy." --16 year old HomeNet participant, 1995.

About 50-70% of the users access the Internet each week, using both information and communication services. Surprisingly, those with less computer experience (controlling for age) are more likely to use the net. Teenagers are more frequent users. Household income is not a predictor of use, but race and gender are, possibly due to the bias of resources on the net that appeal to males and whites -- one woman complained that there was so much football and so little fashion on the Web.

Individual users located newsgroups and world wide web pages of both general interest (sports, sex, popular culture) and specialized niche interest. People gravitate toward services that address their idiosyncratic interests. With respect to sexually oriented material, less that 50% of the sample have accessed sexually oriented newsgroups. But while these groups attract attention, they do not retain it: Only 40% of this group (20% of the sample) accessed a sexually oriented newsgroup three of more times.

While many participants expected the Internet to be primarily an information source, the heavy use of e-mail, newsgroups, and real-time chat services revealed that communication and expression became increasingly important.

There was competition within families for access to the keyboard. Teenagers have a central role, often pushing the adoption decision and becoming dominant users in the family. They motivated other household members, including both adults and kids, to use the net. It is clear that family computing (supporting education, social interaction, and entertainment) is not the same as home computing (supporting productivity).

Future plans for the project include expansion of the Pittsburgh sample, addition of a larger study population in a small town in Minnesota, and experimentation with services. The HomeNet project at Carnegie Mellon is sponsored by Bellcore, Intel, Bell Atlantic, the US Postal Service, Apple Computer, and US West. Further information about the project can be found on the World Wide Web at: http://homenet.andrew.cmu.edu/progress/. (Contributed by William L. Scherlis, Carnegie Mellon University)

The US Geological Survey in collaboration with the University of Massachusetts/Center for Intelligent Information Retrieval, the Defense Technical Information Center, Ameritech, and the Library of Congress announce an alpha release of freeware intended to handle World Wide Web client searching, using the standard search protocol known in the US as ANSI Z39.50 and internationally as ISO 10163, which supports searching across multiple platforms and systems. This initial freeware implementation is constructed as an add-on to the Netscape WWW browser in Windows (Windows 3.11, Windows95, and Windows NT).

Using Microsoft's OLE (object linking and embedding), this software is invoked within the WWW browser in response to a URL that refers to a supported search protocol (the software registers the protocols "wais", "z3950r", "z3950s", and "search"). Because the software uses the computer to computer Z39.50 protocol to actually conduct the search, the client can be completely customized to the specific needs of the searcher. The software produces a user interface by constructing HTML forms on the local disk drive. Since this is done locally on the client, one could customize the interface for novices or experts, and in whatever language you want. Also, for cases where the human user is not immediately present, the software could gather information on its own and construct a new database--perhaps to create a personalized newspaper. This alpha software supports having multiple configurations, e.g., to specify searching different elements, stemming of search terms, or phonetic spellings. In anticipation of servers now becoming available for geospatial searching, the alpha software helps the user to designate spatial coordinates (decimal latitude/longitude value) as search criteria. A geospatial server conforming to the GEO Profile of Z39.50 is under construction by the Clearinghouse for Networked Information Discovery and Retrieval.

Although this software is not yet a fully developed product, users are invited to check out what's been built so far. The primary developer is Jeff Gelbard (jgelbard@cs.umass.edu), subcontracted through the University of Massachusetts, Center for Intelligent Information Retrieval (CIIR), which has a development contract with the US Defense Technical Information Center (DTIC). The Z39.50 protocol stack code is the property of Ameritech but is being made available in this product for individual use at no charge. (Users who wish to license the Z39.50 protocol stack code from Ameritech for use in a commercial product should contact Eliot Christian, US Geological Survey, 802 National Center, Reston VA 22092, echristi@usgs.gov.) Except for the Z39.50 protocol software, all source code is being placed in the public domain.

The executable software, README.TXT, and source files may be fetched by anonymous FTP to host www.usgs.gov, in the directory pub/gils/cir/dtic_a02. For further information, contact Eliot Christian, echristi@usgs.gov. (Contributed by Eliot Christian, US Geological Survey)

The IEEE Communications Society is sponsoring experiments in electronic publishing. The on-line version of the October issue of IEEE Journal on Selected Areas in Communications (JSAC) is currently available, free of charge at http://www.research.att.com/jsac/. Users, including those who may have registered prior to October 1, 1995, will need to register to view the full text of articles. IEEE JSAC is one of several concurrent experiments in electronic publishing currently undertaken by IEEE; this issue of IEEE JSAC is devoted to "The Global Internet" and is edited by J. Crowcroft, D. Estrin, H. Schulzrinne, and M. Schwartz. For further information on IEEE projects in electronic publishing, please contact september@allegra.att.com, or Jack Brassil, AT&T Bell Laboratories, 600 Mountain Ave. Room 2A-204, Murray Hill, NJ 07974 USA; (908)582-6170, (908)582-5809 fax, jtb@allegra.att.com.

The Open Journal Project: Linking Electronic Journals. A team based at the University of Southampton with support from the Electronic Libraries (eLib) programme, and funding from the Higher Education Funding Bodies in the United Kingdom, is adding hypermedia links to scientific journals available on-line (http://journals.ecs.soton.ac.uk/). Among the innovative features is that hyperlinks do not have to be embedded by the author at the initial instantiation but may be made retrospectively from electronically archived issues in multiple formats or may be initiated by the user.

Intermed is a collaboration among Columbia, Harvard, and Stanford Universities devoted to developing, sharing, and demonstrating software and systems components and datasets with specific applications to medicine (http://www.cpmc.columbia.edu/intermed_proj.html). The joint project has outlined seven general areas of research: (1) Network and Services; (2) Vocabulary; (3) Knowledge and Data: (4) Agents and Components; (5) Development Environments; (6) Testbed Applications; and (7) Collaborative Policies (which includes such topics as intellectual property, confidentiality, and security).

The Johns Hopkins University BioInformatics Web Server (http://www.gdb.org/hopkins.html) offers access to (1) Prot-Web, a collection of six protein databases containing information submitted from domestic US and international sources; (2) electronic publications in biology; (3) five other biological databases, including the Human Genome Project (http://gdbwww.gdb.org/); and (4) Softsearch, which offers searchable access to some 80 international and domestic US sites from which software may be downloaded including the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL).

GenBank is the National Institutes of Health (NIH) genetic sequence database, which contains all known DNA sequences; as of August 1995, there are approximately 354,000,000 bases and 492,000 sequences (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/Genbank/index.html). The project relies on input from the researchers themselves via e-mail or the World Wide Web, permits searching, and actively supports research in the allied information technologies. The on-line NCBI News is used to publicize research activities, database, and software services (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/NCBI/newsltr.html).

The National Center for Genome Resources maintains the Genome Sequence Data Base (GSDB), which was formerly managed by the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) (http://www.ncgr.org/). The not-for-profit bioinformatics company cooperates with GenBank and European and Japanese projects to collect and exchange data and also pursues research in new data collection methods.

The Human Brain Project (http://www_hbp.scripps.edu/Home.html) is a federally-funded interagency project devoted to integrating relevant information (from the molecular to the behavioral) through advanced computing and information technologies to support future scientific investigations and applications. The home page provides active links to the thirteen project sites. Current research programs include imaging; visualization; data capture, storage, and transmission; and database design and construction. Project sponsors include the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, Department of Defense (Office of Naval Research), National Aeronautics and SpaceAdministration, and Department of Energy.

The Medical Informatics Research Group at the Graphics Visualization and Usability Center of the Georgia Institute of Technology (http://www.cc.gatech.edu/gvu/research.html) is one of several research programs at the Center and is devoted to research in graphics, visualization, animation, computer vision, and knowledge based methods for applications to biomedical processes and structures. The Center maintains other research programs in such areas as multimedia, hypertext, user interfaces, animation, and surveys of end-users.

The National Library of Medicine (http://www.nlm.nih.gov/), one of the sponsors of the Human Brain Project, supports several major research initiatives: the Visible Human (reported elsewhere in this issue); development of the Unified Medical Language System (UMLS) (http://www.nlm.nih.gov/lhc.dir/csb.dir/UMLS.html), and a series of projects in scientific visualization and virtual reality, medical expert systems, natural language processing, computer-aided instruction, machine learning, and the biomedical applications of high speed communication technologies (http://www.nlm.nih.gov/lhc.dir/lhncbc.html).

GALEN (Generalised Architecture for Languages, Encyclopaedias and Nomenclatures in Medicine) is a three-year project funded by the European Community to develop distributed, clinical information and patient record systems by focusing on language and terminology (http://www.cs.man.ac.uk/mig/galen/). The project is in its second year.

Copyright © 1995 Corporation for National Research Initiatives

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