News updates over the past year

After a long, hot summer (yes, we occasionally get them in the U.K.), it seemed to be an appropriate time to reflect on some of the past year’s stories and check on developments since we first reported on them in the International Reports.

In our International Report from September 2005, we covered Internet governance and the role that the Internet played in terrorism and the London bombings. At first glance, it may look as though not many changes have taken place in the course of this year, but that’s certainly not the case. For starters, Internet governance is still on the agenda, while the U.S. government’s contract with the Internet Corporation For Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is set to expire this month. Although attempts were successfully blocked last year to fold ICANN into a U.N. body that was controlled loosely by the U.S. government, the U.S. government decided to recommend removing itself from its role as overseer after a number of consultants reviewed the situation.

The NTIA (National Telecommunications and Information Administration) fielded comments that the U.S. should let another international body govern the Internet. However, there doesn’t seem to be any pressing desire for a U.N. governing body on any front. The topic will probably continue through 2007, but since most of the Internet growth is now in other countries besides the U.S. and Western Europe, there will still be a demand for international representation in the managing of this world resource.

From London Bombs to Lebanon Blogs

News sources such as Live from an Israeli Bunker and Electronic Lebanon provide personal accounts, in-depth analyses, and breaking news

A year after the London bombings were in the headlines, the bombings in Lebanon dominated the news. Internet technologies are again challenging traditional news media with fast coverage, personal viewpoints, and a broader range of perspectives. The British Broadcasting Co. (BBC) devoted much of its news coverage to the evacuation of British citizens from Beirut by sea during mid-July. But what are we learning from a BBC reporter when he reports on what the evacuees ate for their first lunch aboard a ship? This kind of reporting does not do much to enlighten me on the differing passions and aims of the protagonists. Instead, news sources such as Live from an Israeli Bunker and Electronic Lebanon provide personal accounts, in-depth analyses, and breaking news.

These two news sources come from opposite sides of the conflict. Live from an Israeli Bunker is what we now might call a traditional blog, with posts from one person and an opportunity for comments and replies. Electronic Lebanon, however, is more of an electronic newspaper/magazine that combines editorial pieces, blog entries, news, and analysis. It is a project from the Electronic Intifada (EI), a nonprofit electronic publication devoted to the topic of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. EI was created 5 years ago by two Palestinians, an American, and a Scot, each with their own biases. But if you need a better analysis of the situation (other than comments from President George W. Bush when he was unknowingly recorded at the recent G8 Summit), they make much better reading.

The October 2005 International Report featured Internet company investments in China. On July 23, 2006, the China Internet Network Information Center announced that China’s Internet users now total more than 123 million. This represents a nearly 20-percent growth over the previous year. At this rate, China is expected to exceed the U.S. in the number of Internet users in the next couple of years. With two-thirds of Chinese users using broadband connections and with a greater proportion of the youths using the Internet than in most other countries, it looks as though Google, Yahoo!, eBay, Amazon, and others investing in entertainment, online shopping, or Internet protocol TV in China have chosen wisely.

Internet Growth Continues

Internet access continues to grow rapidly around the world. In theMay 2006 International Report, I discussed a Digital Opportunity Index (DOI), which was produced by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), that was designed to evaluate Internet use and its infrastructure worldwide. The DOI monitors mobile as well as broadband access, prices, access speed, and penetration for subscribers. In July, the ITU released its first World Information Society Report providing DOI values for 180 countries worldwide. The index lists the leading five countries: The Republic of Korea, Japan, Denmark, Iceland, and Hang Kong. The U.K. ranks No. 7 and the U.S. ranks No. 21. The report notes a dramatic improvement in developing countries, particularly in India, where opportunity (digital services available as measured by the DOI) has doubled between 2001 and 2005.

My October 2005 International Report also included an update about a librarian who joined Stephen Gough, a former royal marine, and hisgirlfriend, Mel, on an attempted 847-mile hike in the nude across Britain. The walk ended when Gough and his girlfriend reached John O’Groats at the southern point in Scotland on Feb. 20, 2006. We’re not sure why the librarian dropped out, but perhaps he was “past his due date.” Gough was arrested again (he had been arrested several times forallegedly similar offenses) when he took off all his clothes except his socks on the flight back to Scotland, where he was scheduled to appear at a hearing at the Edinburgh Appeal Court. He ended up with a 4-month prison sentence for breach of the peace and public indecency.

London Web Site Gets Award

The project that was designed to improve the ranking of London’s official Web site in view of other great world cities’ sites was the top item in the November 2005 International Report. In June 2006, the London Portal, Your London, won the Government Computing BT (British Telecommunications) Award for Innovation 2006 in the shared services category for the portal’s Report it feature.

Report it is a centrally hosted facility for London residents to report problems (litter, excessive noise, broken street lamps, blocked drains, and breaches of planning rules) to their respective boroughs. This is an innovative example of how shared services can benefit local authorities and citizens alike. A resident can report a burnt-outvehicle by clicking on a map with the car’s location on the Report it Web site. The site, in turn, will show which local authority is responsible for getting rid of the car. The site also displays a red caricon if this same burnt-out car has already been reported by someone else on the site. A link then takes the user to an online form to log in the details. Report it was used in a pilot program by six Londonboroughs and the Your London portal over a 6-month period and has now been rolled out to other London councils with a 100-percent use of the service.

Other features of the Your London portal have been added or improved, including a live traffic information section that shows hot spotswith construction and congestion on a detailed city street map as well as live screen shots from surveillance cameras on the street. Your London was developed by London Connects, the e-government agency, and Systems Associates, Inc., the software services company. Report it was implemented by software developer Tagish, Ltd. in partnership with London Connects.

In the International Report from November 2005, we reported on how Iraq’s library infrastructure was being rebuilt. The update on the creation of the Iraqi Virtual Science Library (IVSL) was covered in detail in the July/August 2006 issue of Information Today. Another new project has been designed to collect information about Iraqi libraries and librarians and to act as a portal into services such as the IVSL and other sources. The project, called the Iraqi Libraries Network,is a collaborative effort carried out by Iraqi librarians that includes other electronic journal collections such as the International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publications, the Health InterNetwork Access to Research Initiative, and Access to Global Online Research in Agriculture.

Other members of the collaborative include Bielefeld University Library, the University of Applied Sciences Cologne, the Goethe-Institut, and the University and Regional Library of Saxony-Anhalt. The siteis at an early development stage, but it is designed to rehabilitatelibrary services in Iraq.

Open Access Position Statement

The update on open access (OA) in the December 2005 International Report announced that a Joint Information Systems Committee grant wasgiven to three publishers (the Institute of Physics Publishing, the International Union of Crystallography, and BMJ Publishing Group, Ltd.), and the topic has been in the news ever since. The most recent development was an updated position statement issued by Research Councils UK (RCUK) on June 28, 2006, that reaffirms RCUK’s commitment to the guiding principles that publicly funded research must be made available and accessible for public examination as rapidly as practical, that published research outputs should be peer reviewed, that it must be a cost-effective use of public funds, and that outputs must be preserved and remain accessible for future generations.

With such a wide range of views on the topic, RCUK plans to maintain an open review by holding a workshop with learned societies, consulting the publishing community, and launching a project to study the impact of OA on research publishing along with several leading commercial publishers.

The Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers (ALPSP) responded to RCUK’s statement favorably. It welcomed the flexibility across different research councils and subject areas, the willingness to abide by existing publisher agreements, and the intention tokeep the position under review. However, ALPSP expressed concern that the RCUK did not propose additional funding to pay for publication fees in OA journals. For more details on RCUK’s statement and responses, see Robin Peek’s NewsBreak (July 10, 2006) at http://www.infotoday .com/newsbreaks/nb060710-1.shtml.

The December 2005 and January 2006 issues also focused on creating a portal to give access to the digital collections of Europe’s National Libraries and further digitization of their collections. Since then, digital treasures have been added to The European Library from the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, and Slovakia. Now there is searchable access for 19 of the 45 member libraries. By the end of 2007, the remaining members are expected to join the network, and by mid-2007, two-thirds of the combined digital resources of the 45 libraries will be accessible via The European Library.

Jim Ashling runs Ashling Consulting, an independent consultancy for the information industry. His e-mail address is Send your comments about this column to itletters@infotoday .com.

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