John C. Butler
Department of Geosciences
University of Houston
Houston, TX 77204
Comments from the Associate Editor
Another Node On the interNet This past January I was asked to contribute a paper to "The Leading Edge", the monthly publication of the Society of Exploration Geophysicists. In the process of responding to this invitation I became acquainted with David Ulrich -- the "webmaster" for SEG. This professional society has a well developed Internet site [http://www.seg.org/index.html] for its members and I thought that the readers of Computers&Geosciences would find David's thoughts about Web publishing worthwhile.
The Internet has about 21 million users. Of those 21 million, there are about 8,000 different clients who use the Society Exploration Geophysicists’ Web site and will expect to see something of substance in the next year.
The peak usage of the SEG Web site comes as the International Exposition and Annual Meeting approaches during the last quarter of every year. You can see the steady increase in accesses beginning in April and then leaving off in mid-summer. At it's peak, there are over 30,000 individual different accesses a month and the most hit pages include the information about the annual meeting and expanded abstracts.
But that doesn't begin to answer the question of what happens the rest of the year and what the real purpose of the SEG Web site should be. The fathers of the SEG Web probably hadn't intended the site's main emphasis to be an advertisement for the annual meeting. Though that's what its become, there is a move to begin providing real information.
The society has legacy data and lots of it, but there is a problem. Most publications have been using Quark to build their pages in the pre-print stage. The SEG is no different with that respect. But where the SEG differs is that none of those publications were saved until a year ago. That means that since the start of the desktop publishing age, about 8 years ago, the SEG has saved less than a year's worth of data. That's tragic since reproducing that data is going to be costly and time-consuming.
Here is how costly: Let's say the SEG has an average of 1600 pages of TLE every year and Geophysics has 2000 pages a year. Combine those publications and you have about 3600 pages of information. Now let's say we're going to convert all of that data to SGML and we want to know how much its going to cost to produce SGML for print files the SEG has saved up in the library. Recent estimates by contractors put the price of converting a print page to SGML between $6 and $10 page. None of the contractors were quizzed on their accuracy in reproducing the paper files to digital and chances are that there are some differences in quality. So let's take the mid-range as the estimated cost of converting the volumes of The Leading and Geophysics to a workable digital form. The math is easy: $1.2 million and its a price that's hard to take, especially when you consider that none of the tens of thousands of pages of reference materials were included in this price. The price is even harder to take knowing that a little insight five or six years ago could have made on decreasing the $1.2 million price tag. The price for converting a digital file to SGML ranges from $0.50 to $1.50 a page. A savings of about $19,000 a year.
There are other ideas on how we can convert the society's print archives including writing software which automates much of the work of doing the conversion by hand. But that will also require money and a brilliant idea or two to decrease the price where the society could actually begin looking at funding a project like this. The bad part is that unless the society converts this data to a digital form, there not only will be less online data available, but the print versions of SEG's publications will be harder to find in the future as well.
At the July Council of Engineering and Scientific Society meeting in Pittsburgh, a librarian from the Carnegie Library said she anticipated getting rid of all scientific journals which were no longer delivered via the Net. I t probably scared most of the executives listening to her half-hour synopsis covering how the Carnegie was going to decrease the shelf space with less journals and make up for the missing paper with more bandwidth to workstations. The movement to online journals is inevitable and should be looked upon as a needed kick in the butt rather than a alert to publications managers to bury their heads.
Unfortunately, the rising tide of technology does not lift all boats equally. Considering most geophysicists hold a Masters Degree or higher, the number of geophysicists who have made their e-mail addresses known to the SEG are less than 40 percent. Tracking who has been using the Internet as a way to get information via the SEG Web site has also shown that the Internet is not the overwhelming leader in providing geophysical news. The numbers show this: about 60 percent of the SEG's membership use the SEG Web site on a monthly basis. Of those 60 percent, most visit the site once a week. The numbers also reflect how the SEG patterns itself geographically. About 60 percent of the society's members live in either the United States or Canada. About 60 percent of the people who use the SEG site are from Canada or the United States. Geographically, the numbers hold true with one exception. It appears there a disproportionate numbers of clients from Asia and the Middle East compared to the number members the SEG has in those areas. Take it as you may, my hypothesis is that clients in countries not normally visited by the SEG are taking advantage of the society's information without paying the $70 a year to get an SEG membership card.
One of the visions of SEG is to have what is considered the electronic member (e-Member). This member would be able to take advantage of the society's growing electronic data and at the same time, pay a reduced fee. The brainchild of SEG president Rutt Bridges, this experimental membership proposal is still under study by the SEG's executive committee and will probably require some internal legislation before it is implemented, but when this program is up and running, it will allow the SEG to track and eventually do a better job of providing relevant regional information online to a larger audience.
Since December 10, 1997
Return to ANON Columns