Exploring the Web


As a senior project, former Maroon-News editor Jeff O'Connell put the college's student newspaper on the World Wide Web. His project attracted the notice of a committee that was developing a Campus-Wide Information System (CWIS) to distribute essential information about Colgate over the Web. O'Connell signed on to the effort and since last summer has designed many of the home pages and other applications that represent Colgate to the world on the Internet.

by Jeff O'Connell '95

The story goes that in the Information Age you either get it or you don't. Colgate is moving to ensure that the next generation of students to graduate from the Chenango Valley get it. And we are having fun while we do it.

A year and a half ago, most of the campus considered the Internet just another word for e-mail. A few people knew their way around the so-called Information Superhighway, but the average person had no idea what any of the Internet words like FTP, Gopher or the Web really mean.

All that seemed to change last summer. Maybe it was the mass media's Internet feeding frenzy that opened our eyes -- for example Time's article on "Cyber-Porn," the release of two 'Net- inspired motion pictures, and the appearance of URLs on television and in print media. Regardless of the reasons, Colgate has caught the Internet bug too, and talk of the Web is buzzing in every hallowed corridor.

Last year we had one Web server on campus run by the computer science department, we had a Gopher-based Campus-Wide Information System (CWIS) that seemed dead in the water, and seeing students use the Internet was as rare as green grass in January. Today we count six Web servers supporting seven academic departments, three administrative offices, four student groups and the university libraries. The real triumph, however, has been the unveiling of @Colgate, the university's official Web site -- <URL:http://www.colgate.edu>.


Look up Internet-related terms in the Web Glossary

Complete with Admission information, Alumni pages and a Virtual Tour, @Colgate is the center of the university's Internet endeavors. Billed as a clearinghouse for information about Colgate, the site serves anyone affiliated with or interested in the university. For example, it allows prospective students to browse through the admission office, current students to find course information, and alumni to keep tabs on happenings at their alma mater.

Research and academic purposes are at the heart of the project. Encouraging departments and individual faculty to get involved with the new Web-based medium is essential to the mission of the site. To date, seven departments have breached the electronic frontier and established home pages. Computer science and mathematics led the way but geology, music and psychology, among others, were fast to follow. Geography and chemistry also have pages in the works.

Departmental pages include listings of course offerings, faculty interests and concentration requirements, primarily brochure-ware. Some departments are stepping beyond this, however. Geology has created a list of course-related sites and has begun an alumni section reflecting the department's continued commitment to its graduates. Their pages now contain links to alumni home pages, and plans for an on-line version of their alumni newsletter are in the works.

Mathematics has moved even further, incorporating its site into the curriculum. Professor Dan Hendrick has authored home pages for a number of his classes, and regularly uses them to post class information, homework assignments and links to the materials necessary for completion of the work. This meshing of technology and traditional curriculum has many advantages for both student and professor and will certainly spill over into other courses and disciplines.

Professor Carol Kinne has brought the department of art and art history on-line with the creation of a digital art gallery. With this new venue, Professor Kinne has been able to host the electronic works of numerous artists, illustrating how the Internet allows us to hurdle the bounds of space and pass not just numbers but culture around the world in the blink of an eye.

The Internet is about knowledge, but the information shared does not have to be academic. @Colgate showcases its share of frills designed to grab the user's interest through a quick laugh. The Countdown to Graduation page, for example, asks students what year they are "expected" to graduate, and then reports down to the second how long they have to wait until the big day arrives. There is also a recording of the Colgate Thirteen performing the Alma Mater, a spinning, 3-D version of the university's seal on the What's New page, and one of the site's most popular pages, the Alumni Guestbook.

The Guestbook started as a simple idea: Let alumni passing through leave a note telling friends and classmates where they are now and how to reach them electronically. Within days of going live, the Guestbook had an unexpected 40 signatures. Today the Guestbook has well over 100 entries and is an essential part of the Alumni pages. It has also grown in scope: Not only may "guests" sign their own name, but they may now search through a database of others who have dropped in. This is especially fun when you search for your class year and find all your classmates who are wired.

Along with the Guestbook, @Colgate's most accessed pages include the searchable e-mail directory, the Admission page and the Virtual Tour. The e-mail directory has proven itself useful to students and faculty at other institutions looking for friends and colleagues. Using it, a remote user may enter a person's first or last name and receive a list of university e-mail addresses matching those strings. The directory has been a relief to the Webmaster who was receiving 25 to 30 address requests every day.

The Admission pages and the Virtual Tour work hand in hand to introduce high school students to the campus. Using vivid photographs, informative text and thoughtful comments from members of the community, the Virtual Tour electronically captures Colgate at its finest. Complemented by questions and answers about the college posted on the Admission pages, the tour makes it hard to imagine a reader not wanting to come to Colgate!

Student life has also made an appearance on @Colgate. Organizers of CUTV 13's Cover Shot television program and the ultimate frisbee team set up pages last spring, while the campus newspaper, The Colgate Maroon-News, has been publishing on-line every week since December 1994. The rising number of personal pages created by individuals truly shows the enthusiasm students have developed for the Web. To support student endeavors, an auxiliary machine was set up next to the university's main server. Dubbed Arachnid, the additional server allows 20 or so students and several faculty to share their ideas and work with a worldwide audience.

While most students create home pages primarily for the learning experience, these pages often display innovative and creative ways of using the Web. On Colgate's student pages, you can find all the latest tricks, techniques and cool stuff the medium has to offer. From counters that track the number of people who visit a page, to a quote server that displays a different saying each time you load it, to flipbook-like animations, Colgate students have played with it all.

Some students have used their Web pages for loftier goals. Publishing a résumé on the Web, one person can effectively reach out to more potential employers than would ever be possible with print media alone -- unless you took out an ad in The New York Times. Students have also introduced Web pages into their course work. Last spring a group of four seniors combined their final paper and presentation for Professor Kim Waldron's GNED 318 Energy and Society into a Web document titled "Our Dam Project: A Look at A Large-Scale Hydroelectric Project." Using the Web, the group was easily able to lay images and text side by side in a format much more informative and interesting than a text-only document. Open access to the paper was an additional, unanticipated benefit of using hypertext. While the paper was not made public, Professor Waldron was able to pass its URL to a couple of her colleagues, and -- in Scotland -- they were able to see the work her group had done.

Innovative projects such as this one are sure to become more common as we familiarize ourselves with the Web. The advantages and capabilities Internet- based documents offer far surpass those of plain text. In a world of sight, sound, motion and scent, words don't always convey enough meaning. Showing students how to express their ideas using multiple media forms will open their eyes to the Information Age and vault Colgate into the heart of the digital revolution.

Numerous projects are currently in the works. The alumni office is continually adding to their pages. Club information and a national calendar of events are their latest projects, and plans for posting reunion information are under way. The Scene has embraced the digital age too. This issue marks its first on the Web! Down the line, the University Bookstore is looking to an on-line version of its gift catalogue, and a couple of alumni have asked about creating pages for their class years.

Colgate's next step is to bring the entire campus up to speed with the capabilities available to us now. This will include wiring the residence halls and remaining administrative offices for Internet access and offering continued instruction in the skills needed for Web exploration. Even though using the Web gets easier every day, people need to be trained in the skills essential to work in a networked environment.

What Colgate has accomplished thus far is only a beginning. There are many avenues to explore and many questions to answer. The Internet needs to be seen as more than a bunch of computers tossing ones and zeros back and forth; it is a dynamic, flexible and multi-dimensional environment that demands our attention. Success in the Information Age will require a new outlook on power, institutions and the distribution of information that is rooted in the ways of the Internet. Colgate is working to ensure that it meets the challenges that lay ahead.


Web Glossary

0. Browser
An application used to access information on the Internet using FTP, Gopher and HTTP.

1. @Colgate
Colgate's primary Web site and Campus-Wide Information System.

2. CWIS (Campus-Wide Information System)

A central, electronic source for information about a campus. A CWIS usually includes an e-mail phone book, departmental and office information, listings of campus services, and calendars of events.

3. E-mail (Electronic mail)
Text messages sent and received by an individual through a personal mail account. Via the Internet, e-mail messages may be instantaneously sent from person to person around the world. An e-mail address consists of a user's name, @ sign, and mail server name,

    i.e. my e-mail address is joconnell@center.colgate.edu.

4. FTP (File Transfer Protocol)
A non-graphical tool used to transmit files over the Internet. FTP is best suited for moving files back and forth between remote computers.

5. Gopher
A precursor to the Web that was developed at the University of Minnesota, Gopher was the first graphically-based Internet protocol.

6. HTML (Hypertext Markup Language)
The standard coding language in which World Wide Web documents are written. HTML consists of tags indicating the relative size and placement of text, graphics and hyperlinks within a Web page.

7. HTTP (Hypertext Transport Protocol) The standard method which describes how information should be passed between server and browser on the World Wide Web.

8. Hypertext
A dynamic presentation of text, images, sounds and multimedia that allows readers to determine the order in which they view information. Unlike a book, movie or other mainstream media, hypertext does not have a predetermined beginning or ending. Using hyperlinks, hypertext allows the reader to jump from page to page and server to server, regardless of physical location.

9. Internet
A global network of computers that allows people to share information with the world community.

10. URL (Uniform Resource Locator)
An address pointing to a file or piece of information on the Internet. A URL includes the Internet protocol used to retrieve the file, the name of the server, and the specific location of a file on the server. For example, the URL of the Alumni Guestbook is http://www.colgate. edu/guestbook/.

11. Web site
A repository of information available to users of the World Wide Web. Web servers are simply computers configured to send information out across the Internet. Virtually any computer may be a Web server -- they range from high-end UNIX boxes to mainstream desktop Macintoshes.

12. World Wide Web (the Web, WWW)
Officially described as a "wide-area hypermedia information retrieval initiative aiming to give universal access to a large universe of documents," the Web is the millions of users and content providers around the globe communicating electronically with images, text and sound.