The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly in Cyberspace:

Ups and Downs of the Dead Sociologists'Society

 


Larry R. Ridener

Assistant Professor

Department of Sociology

Radford University

Radford, Virginia 24142 USA

 


 

Abstract

This paper discusses both the good and bad features of usingsociological information on the World Wide Web. Data arepresented to show the wide range of users of the DeadSociologists' Society and the diversity of the potential audiencein cyberspace. The use and future potential of technology and thefree flow of information exchange as an educational process isdiscussed. Various problems also related to the use of the WWWare presented from the author's perspective and personalexperience. These problems focus on the use of information inregard to certain legal aspects of copyright issues involved inthe use of digital libraries, academic freedom, freedom ofspeech, and the potential of innovative educational technology.The current four main tenets of the Fair Use Guidelines asderived from the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976 are presented as wellas some hidden issues which may present future problems andissues regarding the educational use of the Web.


 

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly in Cyberspace:

Ups and Downs of the Dead Sociologists'Society

 


The Web is very new, but it is already changing the wayuniversities work, connect, and promote themselves to the public.Indeed, it is changing people and society (Turkle, 1995) becauseof its powerful potential. "Information technologies aremotivating, creative, interactive, provide variety, and promotemeaningful learning" (White, 1996:63). The integration oftechnology and the classroom provides for a constructivistorientation to education which actively involves students andteachers in interaction and reflection both individually and as agroup (Shotsberger, 1996). Another goal of constructivisteducation is to move from instructor dominated methods ofinstruction to student centered methods. The integration oftechnology on a daily basis facilitates active studentinvolvement in the educational process (Alexander, et al., 1996;Martin, 1996; White, 1996) and advances the discipline ofsociology on an international level to a wide variety ofscholars.

Sociologists have used technological innovations in theteaching of a variety of courses (Card and Peterson, 1991;Hartmann, 1991; Hiltz and Meinke, 1989; Persell, 1992;Reed-Sanders and Liebowitz, 1991). Most of these have centeredaround research methods/statistics and data analysis with a fewarticles related to Introductory classes. Theory as a whole hasbeen somewhat neglected in this area of innovations (Segady,1990; Backman, 1992) and can be a difficult area in which tomotivate students. The use of the Dead Sociologists' Society isan attempt to provide new motivation and an interactive classroom(Smith, 1996) to sociology students in that substantive area.

This paper will discuss the advantages and usefulness of theWeb (the Good), some problems related to the use of websites forboth users and designers (the Bad), and some issues (the Ugly)related to both philosophical and practical matters of how theWeb will be used, by whom, and for what purposes.


The Good--The Usefulness of the Web

Data for this paper were provided from several sources. FromDecember 1996 to December 1997, data were collected and providedby the Center for Computing and Information Systems (CCIS) ofBaylor University. From January 1998 to the present, data wereprovided by Academic Computing Services of Radford University.These data come from Radford University Server Statistics and arecompiled from monthly, weekly, and daily reports. Combined datafrom both Baylor University and Radford University are shown inTable 1.

Table 1 shows a general increase inthe use of the website over time as well as some notable eventsrelated to the site. Statistics for December 1996 and November1997 are only partial. The number of hits for November includeonly the first six days, up to November 6, 1997, and those forDecember 1997 are missing completely. In January 1998, the sitewas moved to Radford University and the computer account atBaylor closed and reference markers removed. Although the numberof hits initially declined and some users experienced somedifficulty locating the new site, the number of hits havesteadily increased from January 1998 to May 1998. To aid users infinding the new location, the site was "advertised"with several search engines including Yahoo, Alta Vista, Lycos,etc. However, it should be noted that some search engines are notnecessarily updated in a timely manner. Nevertheless, incomparing usage during the same time period, there was a meanincrease from 1526.2 (Jan-May 97) to 2029.2 (Jan-May 98), or anoverall increase of one-third (32.9%).

The user statistics from Radford University include a categoryentitled the "Top 50 Websites" for daily, weekly, andmonthly reports. Although these statistics are not presented inthis paper, they indicate significant usage of the DSS. SinceJanuary 1998, the site (INDEX.HTML) has consistenly been in theUniversity's Top 50 on all levels. In addition, there has alsoappeared the other main page (DEADSOC.HTML) on a consistentbasis. This page was substantially changed in the Spring 1997 toinclude a large number of links to other websites concerningvarious sociological topics (Ridener, 1997). Previously, itsusage had not been monitored because the index page had beenreferenced in most of the new sociology textbooks. However, thestatistics now indicate a similar amount of usage for both pages.See the bottom of Table 1 for a comparison.

Another part of the usage statistics provided an analysis ofhits by individual userss and is compiled in an access log.Because of space limitations the access logs are maintained onlyfor a short time period and must be copied from the University'ssystem to the author's PC for separate storage. Most, but notall, users can be identified through the IP address of thecomputer which they are logged onto. This generally identifiesthe country, domain, and institution of the user, but not alwaysthe individual user. These statistics were used to identify thevarious colleges, universities, institutions, organizations, etc.which are shown in Table 2. Thisinformation further confirms the data of Table 1 showing theincreased use of the website and also indicates how widespreadthe audience is on the WWW.

Previous research (Ridener, 1997) for a partial time periodidentified 147 US colleges and universities, 15 Canadian collegesand universities, and 49 different countries for users of theDSS. Table 2 shows the users from 166 US colleges anduniversities, 19 from Canada, 34 from the UK, 15 from Australia,9 from Germany, and 33 from various colleges and universitiesaround the world. In addition, there were 27 other educationalinstitutions and organizations from a total of 45 differentcountries. Although the total number of countries during asimilar time frame had declined slightly, the overall use hadbecome more widespread.

The use of the DSS and similar sociological sites is anexcellent way to "advance the discipline" (see ASA FADprogram) by electronic means on the WWW. Truly, the future iselectronic (Jacob, 1996) and must be recognized by the academyand it organizations as such.


The Bad--Potential Problems with the Web

Shotsberger (1996) offered some guidelines for educationalwebsites including navigability or the ease of use, consistencyof HTML formatting, and use of HTML commands. In addition tothese suggestions, both users and designers should also be awareof potential problems. These problems are related to my personalexperiences encountered in the creation and maintenance of theDSS.

One of the first problems I experienced was related to bothsoftware and operating systems. The DSS was originally located onan Apple server; the files for the DSS, however, were created ona PC. When the project began and the original files were loadedonto the server, nothing worked, even though the files showed tobe located on the server and seemed to be properly loaded. Afterresearching the problem with the webmaster, it was discoveredthat the Apple server had transformed all of the HTML referencesto all caps making the pages and all links case sensitive. Thesame problem still exists and it also has been discovered the asimilar process works in reverse, i.e., Pcs convert Mac createdfiles themselves to all caps although the references internal tothe files are not changed. DSS currently resides on a UNIX serverbut the case sensitive problem remains until it is manuallychanged.

A related software problem involves HTML editors. Only a fewyears ago the existence of HTML editors was extremely limited andthe editors that did exist had very limited capabilities as well.Since the expansion of HTML formatting the problem has rapidlyevolved (or perhaps more appropriately, mutated) to the currentstate with a multitude of editors having varying capabilities andquality. I have used numerous types of editors with mixed resultsand only recently found one product that appears to meet myparticular needs. This will vary greatly among and between users.The basic word processors, such as MS Word and WordPerfect, alsohave added HTML packages which will easily convert regular textdocuments into HTML format. This rapid evolution of software hascreated its own peculiar problem.

The "information explosion" has caused in turn a"software explosion" at least in terms of updates. Anyword processor or HTML editor (or any software) will produce anew version of their product in the time period of one year orso. A word of wisdom about software should include a warning notto get too attached to any particular version of a softwareprogram. It will change and be updated at some point in itsuseful life. The "half-life" of new software isprobably less than one year, at which time it will disintegrateand fade into cyber-oblivion. Users of the Web, as well asdesigners of Web pages, should be flexible in the use of wordprocessors, HTML editors, or Web browsers. Select a package thatyou like and one which meets your particular needs but with therealization that it will change.

A brief mention of scanning software is in order. Scannersalso have rapidly become more affordable and widely available.They can be a great production device for both text and graphics.In the case of text, they offer the potential as a greattimesaver but are not a perfect solution. Although thedevelopment of artificial intelligence capabilities is gettingbetter and more sophisticated, there are still problems relatedto recognition which may require extensive editing of any givendocument. These problems, as well as the other technologicaladvances, are rapidly changing.

A final note should be made regarding changing servers. TheDSS has experienced a number of changes in terms of upgradingservers as well as the related problem of changing locations. Anupgrade in the available web server can increase the speed indownloading time for users. The move of the DSS initially slowedthe downloading time until an upgrade was made in the Spring 98semester. The change in location of a website can create anentirely different set of problems for the web designer and theusers of a particular site. Websites can come and go overnight.

The relocation of the DSS was also an indicator of otherunderlying factors related to education and the present economicsituation. Although the US economy and others are described bymost as being in the best shape they have seen in years, despitethe crises in Asia and other parts of the world market, theeffects on education have yet to be made, in my opinion.Education, generally, experiences cutbacks in terms of fundingand services. Part of this discussion will be continued below inregards to issues about the web.


The Ugly--Issues about the Web

This section on "the ugly" presents certain issuesrelated to the Internet and its use. The term "ugly" isprobably a misnomer but it was chosen to describe the presentlyundetermined, yet changing nature of these issues. I should alsopreface this section with a note that the opinions expressedbelow are strictly mine and are open to debate and change just asthe issues themselves are. I also assume that my opinions willchange as well in regards to some issues.

Daniel Bell's (1973) description of a postindustrial societyincluded the two characteristics of "an informationexplosion" and "a global village" among others.These two characteristics have become the key components of theInternet. The free exchange of information especially foreducation purposes is a primary goal of the DSS and this author.Indeed, I am an ardent advocate of free speech and opposed tocensorship on the Web. However, that does not mean that anythinggoes and the use of standards and guidelines is stronglyadvocated as stressed in the other papers of this session.

The DSS has tried to maintain adherence to the currentstandards as put forth in the Fair Use Provision of the CopyrightAct and the Fair Use Guidelines for EducationalMultimedia. The essence of these guidelines is found in thefour factor test and include

The first factor looks at whether a work was created primarilyas a profit venture or was it created for a non-profiteducational purpose. The second factor acknowledges copyrightprotection and should provide complete bibliographic referencesof the original work. The third factor (which can get quitesticky) looks at the amount and substantiality of the copy inrelation to the work as a whole and uses excerpted portions ofmaterials within the guideline limitations. The fourth factorconsiders the extent of harm to the market or potential market ofthe original work caused by the infringement. It should be notedthat these factors have been the main considerations in thedetermination of "fair use" and that the guidelines arejust that--guidelines--and not hard, fast regulations which arestrictly enforced. This paper does not attempt to resolve any ofthese issues, but it is hoped that it will provide stimulationfor further discussion and examination of issues related to theWeb and its use. These factors lend themselves to a sociologicalanalysis in terms of both educational and economic values and theconflict between them.

In looking at the Four Factors alone, there is a possibilitythat most people, including myself, could be mislead by theirassumed simplicity if there is not a closer examination of thedetails set out in the guidelines. This is particularly true ofFactors 2 and 3. If a bibliographic reference is cited and only aportion of the material is used, it would appear to meetthe fair use criteria.

Factor 2 specifically includes Section 6.2--"Creditingthe source must adequately identify the source of the book,giving a full bibliographic description where available(including author, title, publisher, and place and date ofpublication). The copyright ownership information includes thecopyright notice (, year of first publication and name of thecopyright holder)."

Factor 3 specifically includes limitations on time, portion,copying and distribution. Time limitations include a period of upto two years, although there is a provision which can circumventthis limit. Time limits appear to be restrictive, however, theyhave not been emphasized as much as the other components. Portionlimitations apply to motion media, text material (of particularimportance for purposes here), music, lyrics, and music video,illustrations and photographs, and numerical data sets. For textmaterial, the specific requirements state: "Up to 10% or1000 workd, whichever is less, in the aggregate of a copyrightedwork consisting of text material may be reproduced or otherwiseincorporated as part of an educational multimedia project . .."

This part of Factor 3 has become known as the 10% Rule and iswhere I voice strong disagreement using the following logic. Ifan educator is restricted by "Fair Use Guidelines" (andhere I depart from the term "fair use guidelines" andprefer the term "use guidelines") to using only 10% ofa work to instruct students, then it, by definition, deprives thestudent (and the educator) of the other 90%. How can studentsadequately be educated if they are missing 90% of the curriculum?What if Moses had issued only One Commandment because Yawehimposed "Fair Use Guidelines" allowing only 10% of theoriginal work? (By the way, which one would it be?) Therestriction on the remaining 90% of the work is "unfairuse," in my opinion. Even though this provision"protects" the author and the copyright, it deprivesthe educator and the student of the majority of the material.

Factor 4 is designed to specifically protect the market shareof the copyrighted work. It brings into focus the capitalisticnature of the economy but conflicts with the educational valuesby commodifying information and ideas and restricting the freeexchange of those. Here enters the educational and economicconflict mentioned in the sociological analysis earlier. There isand has been an ongoing battle between publishers and libraries.In the vast and ever expanding capitalist system, publishers wantto sell as many of their publication as possible, spread theirmarket and increase their profits; on the other hand, librariesare able to purchase only one or a few copies of any particularpublication and then lend these works to patrons as a servicethereby making the conflict obvious in educational terms. Theexpansion of the Web and the development of digital libraries hasheightened this conflict by literally spreading the availabilityof on-line publications to a global audience at a moment'snotice. This conflict will continue until we become more familiarwith all of its intricacies and determine how they will behandled. The potential for educational development, however, isenormous and must be given high priority.

The question must be raised then--What is the differencebetween physically checking a book out of a library and checkingit out on-line via a computer? My answer is there is essentiallyno difference. The digital library is usually more convenient andhopefully will be the way of the future for all libraries. It notonly provides for a greater audience, which by the way would alsoincrease the market for the publisher by offering widespreadbasically free advertising of the material, it also eliminatesthe potential deterioration and/or destruction of the librarybooks.

This paper has not been intended to solve any of the greatissues concerning the Web and its use. Rather, it is hoped thatthere will be continued open discussion of these and otherissues. For the interested reader a list of on-line resourcesregarding copyrights, fair use, and other issues is available inthe Appendix at the end ofthis paper. The full text of the Fair Use Guidelines forEducational Multimedia can be found on-line in severalplaces including the DSS at:

http://www.runet.edu/~lridener/DSS/fairuse.html

 

The Fair Use Test and other Web Issues can be accessed at:

http://www.bendeict.com/webiss.htm#webiss

 

An explanation about copyright myths is found at:

http://www.templeton.com/brad/copymyths.html

 

A packet used in a recent PBS satellite broadcast, "Am Ia Crook? Copyright Issues on the Internet" is now availablefrom the Radford University McConnell Library Web page at:

http://www.runet.edu/~lib/

 


Conclusion

This paper has presented ideas and experiences about the"good," the "bad," and the "ugly"in cyberspace. The "good" components are the usefulnessof the Web as a tool for the free flow of information as part ofthe educational process, the wealth of information available, andthe diveresity of the audience who are able to instantlycommunicate with each other. The "bad" characteristicsinclude the problems related to the new technology and softwarewhich are both expected and unexpected. The "ugly"aspects of cyberspace are the rapidly changing issues regardingthe Web, the quality of material available, and its access by webdesigners and users.

William Ogburn's (1938) concept of cultural lag is stillhighly relevant to the issues presented above. The materialculture, technology (the Web, software, etc.) is changing at afaster rate than the nonmaterial culture creating the issues ofhow the Web is used. These issues will probably always lag behindthe technology itself, but as we watch the Web, we have alreadyseen that the issues will also change. The "ugly" willdecline over time and become less of a problem as we become morefamiliar with technology and how to handle new problems. The newtechnology will solve some problems while creating new ones atthe same time.

It may take some of Pareto's (1859/1935) "foxes" tocreatively and imaginatively deal with the technology, issues,and conflicts already established by the "lions" andmake the World Wide Web truly "global" in nature(Martin, 1996). We should not forget the past in dealing with thefuture. Perhaps the "ugly duckling" current state willbe transformed into the "graceful swan" as the Internetmatures and develops.

 


References

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Ridener, Larry R. 1997. "Faculty Development Report - TheDead Sociologists' Society." Unpublished manuscript.Department of Sociology, Baylor University, Waco, Texas.

Segady, Thomas W. 1990. "Teaching the Classics." TeachingSociology 18(April):214-217.

Shotsberger, Paul G. 1996. "Instructional Uses of theWorld Wide Web: Exemplars and Precaustions." EducationalTechnology March-April:47-50.

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Turkle, Sherry. 1995. Life on the Screen: Identity inthe Age of the Internet. New York: Simon and Schuster.

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TABLE 1

TABLE 2

APPENDIX