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Prototype system puts technical reports on-line

From Computing Research News
March 1, 1993

By Kurt Maly, James French, Edward Fox and Alan Selman

S hortly before CRA's Snowbird Conference '92 last July, a simple request for information on electronic publication of technical reports generated an enormous amount of network traffic. We found there were at least 30 different efforts to disseminate information electronically and at least as many departments that were interested in doing it.

As more high quality reports are produced at research organizations, and as department operating budgets decrease, it is becoming more difficult for departments to keep faculty informed about research at other universities. Charging for reports merely would escalate costs across the research community. Thus, a system that would enable researchers to use their workstations to access technical reports available within their own department and elsewhere has obvious appeal. In the larger sphere of activity, a number of organizations, such as textbook publishers and computer societies, are studying new technologies for electronic publishing and multimedia access to information and the copyright-protection issues that arise from these technologies.

Given the large interest, a workshop was held at Snowbird with the primary charge of developing a recommendation as to what the research community, as a group, should do. We quickly realized that having 30 or so different systems may not be any better than having no solution at all. In short, we decided on a solution using existing technology so all computer science departments connected to the Internet could participate. Although the system uses existing technology; research groups and interested organizations still will have to develop more sophisticated solutions to the long-term problem. We now have a prototype system available that will be beta tested with about 10 to 15 universities.

The system consists of a central index kept on a server (and on a backup machine for fault tolerance) that can be accessed by participating departments. The server stores relevant information on technical reports in an easily accessible format. Each participating site contributing technical reports to the system will store its own technical reports locally in PostScript, dvi, G4 or ASCII form and will receive a copy of the software that will handle interactions between the site and the central index facility. Faculty need not be involved in maintaining the index. The system is designed to be easy to use and maintain.

Users anywhere on the Internet can access the index facility through a standard interactive interface with Boolean queries about the university, author, date, key word and CR categories. For each match, the interface displays a record containing the title, authors, university, technical report number, key words and if desired, the abstract. The local interface will display or store for local printing a selected report after applying the appropriate filter.

To participate, a contributing site needs to install software we will distribute and require all researchers to submit to the department their approved technical reports and other relevant information as a PostScript, dvi, G4 or ASCII file.

The department may choose to use its own local mechanism for storing these technical report files and may only provide a local index acceptable to the master index server. Or the department may use software we provide to generate this local index and maintain local technical reports.

To participate, a researcher who wants to search for and access a technical report needs to have access to the Internet and a wide area information server client (XWAIS, SWAIS, or PCWAIS).

Obviously, we will not capture all technical reports, and some many However, most documents easily can be converted into PostScript, and documents. Even if we capture only 60% of the available reports, we will be better off than we are now. One year after start-up, we would expect about 100 sites to participate and to have up to 5,000 technical reports available to users.

If you are interested in participating in the beta test or wish to be kept informed of developments, please send E-mail to maly@cs.odu.edu, fox@cs.vt.edu, selman@cs.buffalo.edu or french@virginia.edu.

Kurt Maly is chair of the Computer Science Department at Old Dominion University, James French is a research assistant professor at the Computer Science Department at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. Edward A. Fox is associate professor of computer science and associate director for research for the Computing Center at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. Alan Selman is a professor and chair of the Computer Science Department at the State University of New York, Buffalo.

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