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ISSC - Spider or Fly?

Derek Law

Derek then built on his presentation of JANET Acceptable Use to turn to his own paper.

Let me then turn to this issue of local and national caching which might be taken as one description of the JISC's network services policy. I hope to persuade you that the JISC has a valuable role as the spider at the centre of the web rather than being its victim. The objective is clear, to create a central core of material which is centrally defined but meets user needs in all disciplines. The user will then have a limited need to search for materials outside the core. We will spend our resources on developing that core rather than on cataloguing anything that might ever be used on the Internet. In doing this we hope to p=rovide a variant of Gresham's Law. While bad money may drive out good, we hope that quality assured data, available reliably and with excellent nationally prepared documentation will remove the need to use unknown data of unknown validity available intermittently and unreliably.

JISC has two sub-committees concerned with content provision. The first is ISSC (the Information Services Sub- Committee) which has had a working group called ANIR which has been looking at network resources and whose recommendations I will describe later. It also controls FIGIT, the Follett Implementation Group on IT which will be bringing a whole range of network resources to the community over the next year or so.

We are then looking at three major issues over the next year or so and have substantial budgets to deliver product.


JISC has some experience in this area, for example through the ITTI programme. The new chairman is particularly keen to see developments here, whether for completely new groups such as the Colleges or whether of new tools for existing groups. FIGIT will be putting perhaps a million pounds into a training programme over the next year or so and there is clearly scope for fitting new tools into this.

Content Provision

Content provision is perhaps less relevant to your immediate concerns, except to say that we are very keen to spin or cache major resources in the UK. Clearly this cannot be too rigidly planned but we have done well in distributing resources thus far. The guidance of the technical advisory unit based at Kent will in future be important in determining the destination of resources.


Hotspots are a worry. We are funding some experiments in major resource gateways, beginning with SOSIG, the Social Science gateway. There is an implication in supporting such services that we will ensure that the resources they point to will be properly supported and accessible without network degradation;

So, in support of the development of such services we have been developing criteria. These may seem fairly obvious but we think them none the less important. They all reflect the fact that our experience shows that the real costs of resource provision are ownership costs. We must expect that use will be high, typically in the hundreds of thousands of connections each month. We want to distribute the resources around sites and not simply create hotspots in one or two places. The services will have to contract to provide training and support. The documentation we have funded, for example for BIDS, shows what can be achieved. Nor is it good enough to suggest that it can all be left to on-line help. Finally there must be coverage of the whole community. This has two aspects. Firstly, we want to provide resources for the whole HE community. Medieval historians are as important as particle physicists. Equally a resource aimed at some segment of the community such as philosophers must be open and not restricted if it is to have central support.

Finally, then let me turn to the specific activities we have in hand at the moment. We have commissioned a study to look at setting up a UK equivalent of CNIDR, the clearing house for information on network tools. I hope that this will go out to tender before the summer and it will have amongst its aims the creation of a clear focus for those involved in the development or implementation of resource discovery tools in the UK.

The InterNIC Scout service is another US invention which we are considering moving to the UK again as a means of alerting and informing politicians as well as technicians to the developments which are of concern.

A structure is emerging for registering gopher servers and we want again to have a clear UK focus. It is the clear intention of the JISC that the UK should be an information producer as well as a consumer nation and this will require clear structures to be managed.

Standards is a permanent concern of the JISC and Professor Mike Tedd convenes a committee in this area. We want to be players as well as receivers and certainly to try and harmonise UK resource. Everything from URLs to the work of IETF and resolving problems of Netscape licensing are grist to this mill and AGOCG plays a notable part in work in this field.

Lastly, we are attempting if not to catalogue the Internet at least to provide guidance to the major resources, using tools such as SOSIG.

To summarise, the rapid emergence of World Wide Web technology as a captivating easy to use tool has perhaps taken us all by surprise. It is the job of the JISC to put some kind of order into the anarchy which is emerging and I hope that Alistair and I have demonstrated some of the issues which its emergence has highlighted. So can I close by stressing that it is the role of the JISC to act for the community and not against it - always remembering that the community is not just you, but the whole of higher education. I hope that positive recommendations will emerge from this workshop; we have some resources to do sensible things and help resolve or smooth the action issues you identify.

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