Web Magazine for Information Professionals

Editorial Introduction to Issue 22: Ariadne's Thread

Philip Hunter introduces Ariadne issue 22, looks at Ariadne's web accesses for the past year, and previews the Distributed National Electronic Resource (DNER).

Ariadne continues to develop and make friends in the the world. Shortly, if all goes well, every word published in Ariadne during the past four years will be available in a US education fulltext database, distributed on a world-wide basis. This is a mark of the significance of Ariadne's contribution to the discussions surrounding digital library initiatives, both in the UK and the US.

An Ariadne reader, 'Delivering the Electronic Library' has been put together by Lyndon Pugh, John MacColl and Lorcan Dempsey and published in an edition published principally for distribution to UK institutions of Higher Education. This draws on articles published over nearly three years in issues 1-18. This book contains a good cross-section of the kind of articles published, and reflects something of real life in the UK eLib community during these important early years. John MacColl has contributed a short introduction to the book for this issue of Ariadne.

Ariadne has been offered prestigious advertising for its pages. At the moment we are considering both the practicalities and the legal and institutional implications of this. Partly because of this, we have prepared a general analysis of Ariadne's access statistics over the past year. Some details follow in the next section

Ariadne access statistics

The period for which detailed reports have been prepared runs from October 1998 to October 1999. All the known caveats and problems with the interpretation of access statistics should be taken as read here: however an intelligent reading of the information available makes it clear that Ariadne's user base is continuing to expand. During October 1998 we received just under quarter of a million raw hits from all sources (246, 574 hits, to be precise). In October this year, the raw hit count for all issues of Ariadne had climbed to more than one third of a million per month (354,447). This means that during the entire year, Ariadne took over 3 million hits. The minimum total from 1st October 1998 till 24th November 1999 is 3,386,860 hits.

It is however better to look at accesses in terms of user sessions, for which some kind of definition exists. In October 1998 Ariadne user sessions (defined as hits from the same IP address within a single thirty minute window) were 20,149 for the month, which breaks down to 649 users per day. The number of page views for the month were 78,966, or 2,547 page views per day. The home page, which has always been the principle point of navigation for Ariadne since it maintains a list of all previous issues, took 6,299 hits per day.

If we compare these stats with those for October 1999, we find that Ariadne user sessions were up to 34,119 for the whole month, which means 1,100 user sessions per day. Page views per month were up to 102,593, or 3,310 per day (137 page views per hour). The following chart summarizes the main details:

MonthRaw HitsUser SessionsPage ViewsHome Page hits
October 1998246,57420,14978,9666,299
November 1998221,00820,23366,5955,500
December 1998196,30917,85050,5024,421
January 1999156,31513,61344,9883,560
February 1999198,37018,71462,3374,744
March 1999269,57523,86976,7215,883
April 1999251,99822,85873,4265,592
May 1999236,67221,32870,8805,477
July 1999256,91622,90781,8555,367
August 1999236,47923,27478,2275,284
September 1999288,15326,49892,5356,396
October 1999354,44734,119102,5937,762


Looking at Ariadne user sessions from the geographical point of view, the October 1998 usage plausibly emanating from the United States was 45.6% of the total number (using domains as the discriminating factor. Since some of these are also used elsewhere - .com, for example -, the figure is necessarily imprecise). Unknown or ambiguous addresses (unresolvable domain names, etc) amounted to 18.19%, and everybody else makes up the remaining 36.2%. In October 1999 the US usage was pretty much the same, at 46.75%. Unknown and ambiguous addresses made up 18.35% of the total, and the others were 34.88%.

The access statistics also tell us that the average user session length in October 1998 was 9 minutes 44 seconds, which had risen by October 1999 to 11 minutes 53 seconds (this is nearly four times the average user session length in May 1998, which was 3 minutes and 7 seconds). This means, given the page views per hour mentioned earlier, that generally multiple users are reading Ariadne concurrently.

Finally, if we look back over Ariadne use since its launch, a clear trend is visible. In January 1996 (the month of its launch), it managed to clock up 106 sessions; and one year later the usage had risen to 324 per day. In July 1997 the daily user sessions were 355. By May 1998 the usage had reached 480 per day. Now Ariadne receives 1100 user sessions daily. So Ariadne usage has risen more than ten-fold since its first publication in January 1996, and has doubled between May 1998 and October 1999.

The DNER (the Distributed National Electronic Resource)

In the next issue of Ariadne there will be a major article about the forth-coming DNER service. The DNER will be launched during the next academic year, and, according to the official briefing document, 'will revolutionise the existing resources and services available to people who use information, from learners, teachers and researchers to managers and administrators. The ultimate goal, which will be implemented in stages, is to provide customisable interfaces for individual users, so that they will always have easy and quick access to the resources they need most frequently.' The new strategy is intended to bring together 'existing resources and support services into a coherent model to support education. More than that, it also provides funding and strategic management for the continuing development of collections of content and forms of access to them.'

The perception is that: 'increasing numbers of users, including teachers, students and researchers, are already creating their own learning materials to professional standards. The DNER provides a framework for incorporating these materials into the pool of resources available to education, ensuring that both the standards and accessibility of materials are appropriate to educational needs. Such material will be highly complementary to the datasets already compiled by professional and commercial information providers. The range of content includes VR material, such as virtual fly-throughs; spatial mapping data (where you can take one or more elements from a map and put together a new one, for example, all the trees for a reforestation study or all the roads for route-finding); journal articles and abstracts; electronic books; digital images; bibliographies; teaching resources; self-assessment ware; sound collections; image collections (including manuscripts); and peer-reviewed web resources (ie the RDN). The DNER will enable the delivery of hybrid libraries, which bring together printed and online materials. Although in many cases much of the content is already available, a user working on a particular topic will currently have to do a lot of different searches. The DNER’s customised interfaces will enable information to be presented thematically, according to the individual user’s own requirements.'

The briefing document for the DNER continues with the statement that the Resource is 'designed to enable users to make the most of the lifelong learning society, opening up educational opportunities to a wider range of people than ever before. It will link up with other networks - such as the National Grid for Learning and the New Library Network - to ensure that learners are able to access their own preferred sets of resources from any networked computer, for example in the home, the college, the library or the workplace.'

The article in issue 23 should add a good deal of flesh to the bones of this ambitious proposal, and provide a benchmark description against which its success might be measured. Issue 23 will be available towards the end of March 2000.

In the meantime, enjoy the contents of the current issue. And my apologies to those who might have expected an Ariadne Christmas card. They are sitting beside my machine, but I haven't had time to write any of them this year :-( Many thanks to those who managed to get cards to us.

Philip Hunter
Editor of Ariadne
Email: p.j.hunter@ukoln.ac.uk
Web site: http://www.ukoln.ac.uk/