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Information Research FAQ v.4.7 (Part 6/6)

Information Research FAQ: Resources, Tools & Training
Archive-name: internet/info-research-faq/part6
Posting-Frequency: monthly
Last-modified: April 2002
Copyright: (c) 2001 David Novak
Maintainer: David Novak <>

                  Information Research FAQ     (Part 6/6)

            100 pages of search techniques, tactics and theory
          by David Novak of the Spire Project (

    Welcome. This FAQ addresses information literacy; the skills, tools and
    theory of information research. Particular attention is paid to the
    role of the internet as both a reservoir and gateway to information

    The FAQ is written like a book, with a narrative and pictures. You have
    found your way to part five, so do backtrack to the beginning. If you
    are lost, this FAQ always resides as text at and
    and with pictures at

    ***    The Spire Project also includes a 3 hour public seminar titled
    ***    Exceptional Internet Research. This is a fast paced seminar
    ***    supported with a great deal of webbing, reaching to skills and
    ***    research concepts beyond the ground covered on our website and
    ***    this FAQ. has a synopsis.
    ***    I am in Europe, seminaring in Ireland and Europe though I
    ***    will be returning to the US shortly, and South Australia for
    ***    a seminar this October.

    David Novak -
    The Spire Project : and

                          Searching as Industry.
                                 Section 9

    Of interest to you now, the internet offers you a very good look at the
    information industry. Most organizations involved in the information
    industry publish exhaustive product descriptions on the net. Most
    commercial products are delivered electronically.

    Professional Search Resources

    As a profession, researchers have diverse skills and needs. Constantly
    working with information, in a competitive market, professional
    information seekers are often starved for high quality information
    about new research techniques, skills and sources. This can be found
    through discussion groups like BusLib-l, websites on library science
    like, associations like the Association of Independent
    Information Professional (AIIP) and the Society of Competitive
    Professionals (SCIP), events and conferences as listed in the journal
    Online & CDROM Review.

    As a more introductory resources, start with the a selection of books
    and webpages like:
    - The Intelligence Cycle[1], courtesy of the CIA library - a
    single-page summary of the research process.

    - The Information Broker's Handbook by Sue Rugge and Alfred
    Glossbrenner, McGraw-Hill. Third Edition (1997) - a must-read for those
    interested in the business side of information research.

    - Secrets of the Super Searchers by Reva Basch. Unfortunately a 1993
    book, but unique as a look into the field of information brokers.
    Published by Eight Bit Books. (Dewey 025.524 BAS)

    - Online is a good bimonthly magazine for information brokers. (Dewey

    There are a number of interesting periodicals, most owned and marketed
    by Information Today Inc. BUBL lists a number more [2]. Others are
    electronic publications, like LIBRES [3]: Library and Information
    Science Research Electronic Journal, a biannual scholarly journal and
    Information Research [4].

    The commercial databases of interest are LISA (Library and Information
    Science Abstracts), ALISA (Australian LISA), Information Science and
    Library Literature.

    The links for these resources and more are on the Spire Project at


                        - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

    The Professional Search

    Professional research demands a more effective, timely use of resources
    at hand. It is challenging, and it is an occupation.

    Unlike research undertaken for your own needs, professional researchers
    often know little about the topic they are asked to investigate. We may
    not know the phrases which accurately describe a specific concept, we
    sometimes don't recognize gold if its labeled copper, but we have to do
    everything fast - lest the cost escalate above the expectation of the

    Client? Yes, professional research starts with the client.

    Professional research involves far less book and library work, and far
    more interviewing, database access and online article purchasing. When
    money is involved, time becomes very precious. The first luxury lost:
    the luxury to get to know the topic in leisurely detail.

    Instead, professional research starts with a careful description of
    exactly what information is desired (and why). You must quickly build a
    good plan about who you will ask and where you will look. This is,
    after all, your primary skill others have great difficulty in
    duplicating - traversing the information sphere swiftly and skillfully.

    Many researchers today can search databases. Most researchers are
    familiar with library work. Personal research has the added benefit of
    being part of the learning process. So why reach for a professional?

    The first unique skill we must refine is our knowledge of the research
    tools. Computer databases may be easily accessible, but are not easy to
    search. Interviewing is conceptually simple, but is not simple in
    practice. Each aspect of research can and must be refined.

    The second unique skill: interpretation. Working with information
    frequently allows us to better judge the reliability and bias of the
    information we retrieve.

    Most information you find will be tainted. Secondary expertise almost
    always present information in a biased way. You will counter this bias
    both by being aware of the bias and by interviewing someone with a
    different view. An inventor proclaims a devise in near completion - do
    we believe? Obviously it requires further study. This is often lost on
    amateur researchers - by collecting information from a variety of
    different resources, with a range of bias, we can create a superior
    assessment of the value of each item of information. Research based
    solely on government research, no matter how well done, is

    The third unique skill is speed. We must be able to provide research as
    a service, as a business, quickly. This goes beyond research to the
    banal work of copyright and legal protection, selecting effective
    research tools, finding fast expertise to supplement your own.

    The skills of professional research are like the artist. They take a
    lifetime to learn. The work is just business.

                        - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

    The Database Industry

    The commercial information sphere existed in the 1970's and earlier. It
    is far more developed, far better organized, far better funded, almost
    always far more valuable and expensive than every other research

    For the most part, commercial information is arranged reasonably
    uniformly in large databases of full-text or bibliographic information.
    Some databases are small, single source documents, while others are
    vast unfocused collections of, for example, all the news from the last
    15 years.

    Most directories and journals can be made into a database, but
    single-source databases do not enjoy much financial success. The market
    is too limited and the cost of promotion too high (except in a local
    market with newspapers). To overcome this difficulty, single sources
    are grouped together into larger collections of databases on a
    particular topic. These large database groups have become primary tools
    in commercial research.

    Developing these databases requires considerable expertise and expense.
    Sometimes data requires abstracting, interpreting, and as with some
    Lexis-Nexis and WestLaw databases, even expert legal interpretation.
    Sometimes firms develop a portfolio of databases. Sometimes firms build
    just one.

    The marketing and consumer billing of such databases is then provided
    by a relatively small collection of large database retailers. A list
    can be found in our "Commercial Databases" article. As an indication of
    the size of this market, Knight-Ridder sold Dialog & Datastar for a
    figure approaching half a billion dollars.

    This industry consisting of a wide collection of players, each
    improving and developing the information from individual periodicals,
    journals, news items - all very confusing for the end user. This is
    elegantly illustrated by the database descriptions for Lexis-Nexis
    databases (their preferred term is libraries). See as an example of specific
    databases. In particular, see their library on patents.

    Many single-sources appear in different commercial databases. Further,
    different databases sometimes include different information from the
    same single-source. One database may include just abstracts, another
    may include fulltext, chemical indexing and more.

    As a result, most researchers are unfamiliar with what exactly is being

    This state of affairs is not unproductive. Searching a 'Database about
    Patents', is uncomplicated. You receive information on patents. It is
    simple, informative and incomplete. Of course, researchers are busy
    people. Time is critical. Results matter. We are familiar with this
    system from searching the web too. Just what are the differences
    between All-the-Web, Lycos and Altavista? If we fully understood the
    complexities of each available database, yet still have a few databases
    to consider - would our search be better? Often not. This system of
    incomplete information also leads to great customer loyalty to database
    retailers. Comparative information is dropped in favour of simplicity.
    Ultimately, I am hard pressed to compare prices let alone describe the
    differences between information products.

    Prices actually model many a developed industry, remarkably similar to
    the telephone or banking industry. As one friend commented, "bullshit
    baffles the brains". The prices are complex on purpose. It becomes very
    unrewarding to compare prices, and any conclusions are only valid in
    specific circumstances - and will not hold in others. This trend,
    familiar to us as a multitude of banking changes and telephone pricing
    schedules, reinforces our need to stop price hunting and trust our
    favoured information retailers.

    This is not to say we should not compare prices, just that you will
    find comparing prices a most unrewarding experience. It really requires
    you to search and retrieve the same information on different systems -
    and this does not even begin to touch different databases, or database
    groupings, or variables that change over time like download speeds.

    Optimistically, there are actually very few important databases in each
    field. It may be simple to browse each of the databases in your field
    and compare directly. You may never need to know more than a few
    databases intimately.

    Realistically, you will yearn for a simpler solution.

    The commercial information industry has distributed information this
    way for several decades. It is both sophisticated and quite difficult.
    You will need to become experienced with inverted indexes, search
    techniques (Boolean, truncation, proximity, field limits ...) and
    properly phrasing the question in a way that will be answered by a
    database search. I have always found the value of a database search
    directly proportional to the length of the search query.

    If you are incompletely skilled at database research, you will take
    longer, pay more and locate far more information (or unwisely discard
    more) than desired.

    This is very different from searching Altavista and Webcrawler.

    Doing your own research offers an opportunity to more closely influence
    the research process. Sometimes only you understand the topic and
    sometimes you can more quickly discard unimportant details. Certainly
    it is becoming simpler to undertake some work yourself.

    Many of the commercial databases are also available in a CD format.
    Substantial subscription costs limit their availability to large
    research institutions and libraries, but exceptions exist. I believe
    world books in print costs AU$5000+. Provided you can find casual
    access, it will cost you far less. Keep an eye on the age, though.
    Sometimes (and only sometimes) online information is more recent.

    The decision between undertaking research on your own or seeking
    external help is really a decision based on your research expertise,
    your budget, your access to information, your time, and the importance
    of finding all the information available. It also depends on your
    access to some decent research assistance. I will soon be able to help
    with this.

    What I do know is a newcomer to the commercial information sphere will
    seriously underestimate the difficulty involved in searching, and
    underestimate both the cost of research and the cost of research
    assistance. Keep in mind this same system serves the needs of large
    commercial conglomerates, professional legal research, and well
    financed government studies. The commercial information sphere contains
    far more valuable information than you need. Sometimes the internet is
    just an interesting sneeze in comparison.

    ╓ Article: The State of Databases Today:2000 by Martha E Williams,
    tracts the development of this industry with survey results. Found as
    the foreword of the Gale Directory of Databases.

                        - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

    Squeezing the Info-Broker

    I was reading an interesting article by Anthea Statigos in ONLINE [1]
    that stirred me to thinking about the future of Information Brokerage.
    The article in question outlined the shift of information brokers into
    the marketing department, towards new roles in negotiating information
    access licenses, helping people understand and select appropriate
    resources - and oddly, in overseeing the intranet development process
    so as to deliver the information people need.

    The article premise is rather accurate - as far as it goes. But I
    wonder if the true message behind this shift is the decline and death
    of information brokering as a profession? If information brokers (also
    known as information professionals) are moving to new roles, are they
    vacating the old roles, the traditional roles in the research process?

    In my library, I reach for the Information Broker's Handbook [2] for a
    relevant quote:

    "The heart and soul of the information broker's job is information
    retrieval. But many individuals offer information organization services
    as well."

    So, Information Retrieval, and Information Organization. Anyone who has
    seen the simple information retrieval options incorporated in recent
    information packages can be in no mind that the information retailing
    industry is certainly minimizing the need to reach for an intermediary.
    Technology is certainly closing the gap - but this development has
    always been in the cards.

    A central difficulty for information brokers is a simple maxim: provide
    better results than clients doing the search themselves. Often working
    in unfamiliar territory, a researcher may find it very difficult to
    excel. There are two dilemmas here. Firstly, while we may pride
    ourselves in accomplishing unique requests, we have expensive costs
    associated with one-off searches. There is little likelihood someone
    else will ask a similar question. There are simply no possible
    economies of scale.

    Secondly, our search difficulty is not shared by the client. The client
    has difficulty with the technology - certainly. The client does not
    have difficulty with recognizing the wheat from the chaff, the gold
    embedded in the articles and at a basic level, the search words you
    will need to get to the right stuff.

    There is a very good reason why university students are pushed to learn
    basic and sophisticated search technologies.

    There is another take on this story.

    Creating Value in the Network Economy [3] includes a chapter by Philip
    Evans and Thomas Wurster.

    "emerging open standards and the explosion in the number of people and
    organizations connected by networks are freeing information from the
    channels that have been required to exchange it, making those channels
    unnecessary or uneconomical."

    "Newspapers and banking are not special cases. The value chains of
    scores of other industries will become ripe for unbundling. The logic
    is most compelling - and therefore likely to strike soonest - in
    information businesses ... All it will take to deconstruct a business
    is a competitor that focuses on the vulnerable sliver of information in
    its value chain."

    And in the back of my mind comes the thoughts that maybe the
    information retrieval function we have been providing is just one such
    information business. This business, attempting to be the pinnacle of
    the research process, is ripe for unbundling. Not only can our function
    be incorporated directly into the advertising and technology of the
    information resources we use, but our skill can also be coded into
    simpler and simpler guides and resources like my work on the Spire

    Perhaps as an industry we never managed to secure our captive market.

    Initially, this will affect that mainstay of information brokerage:
    commercial database retrieval. And like the newspapers that will begin
    lose the profit center of classified advertising (ripe for unbundling
    and delivered electronically,) additional pressure will be applied to
    the business of providing information research services.

    Eventually, we retreat to other areas as information professionals:
    Information Organization, Research Education and Training.

    Somewhere in amidst this story lies a new role for researchers. The
    need for research certainly exists and is forecast to grow dramatically
    as the information age develops. What is lost, sadly, is an
    understanding of the ease at which this work will be done. This is
    certainly destined to move away from being an industry for
    professionals working at $50/hr to $150/hr + costs! Others can provide
    this work, easier than now. People we will most likely call researchers
    - and not information brokers.

    This is more than a push towards specialization. There is another way
    to see this transformation. The information broker was a retail point
    for wholesalers who are now firmly selling directly to the consumer.
    There is much less of a need for an intermediary between database
    retailers and information consumers - and there is a firm trend in this

    Information brokers defined their role in the information industry as
    masters of the difficult technology of research, capable of finding
    most anything. Come to us when you are lost and we will find the
    answers - for a price. We know the technology, the meta-resources, the
    tricks used to find information. We routinely retrieve a higher quality
    of information, far faster, than you can yourself. The standard model:
    a library run service offering primarily database search & retrieval
    for their patrons.

    This business model is coming to an end.

    Yes, perhaps the information broker is dead. Soon to be replaced with
    low-wage researchers and research assistants, and high-end information
    executives and research trainers. Like it or not, most of us will
    incorporate a little more research into our current work, and reach for
    a little more intelligible research resources. Everything else will be
    accomplished by true specialists.

    [1] Online (a periodical with some coverage of library & information
    research. July/August 1999 p71-73, by Anthea Statigos of Outsell Inc.
    [2] The Information Brokers Handbook p.21, by Sue Rugge and Alfred
    Glossbrenner. Windcrest/McGraw-Hill. 1992.
    [3]Creating Value in the Network Economy, Edited by Don Tapscott.
    Chapter 2: Strategy and the New Economics of Information by Philip
    Evans & Thomas Wurster. p.18 & 25. A Harvard Business Review Book.

                            Information Theory.
                                Section 10

    The Information Service Industry
    Private Detectives, Professional Database Researchers, Library
    Researchers, Legal Researchers, Commercial Database Producers,
    Commercial Database Retailers, Magazines, News Organizations,
    Libraries, this is a big industry. Information Research is just a
    process linking together people seeking information with people who
    provide it.

    It seems in vogue to reconsider all businesses as being in the
    information business. My accountant and your stockbroker both provide
    information services. While I agree these two professions are intensive
    users of information, I purchase their interpretation of information.
    It is not a trivial difference but nonetheless serves to cloud the true
    size of the industry just involved in selling you access to

    From university days, I was aware of the large commercial database
    retail giants (Dialog, Dun&Bradstreet) and the database producers. I
    also met with some of the firms distributing largely to the library
    market (like SilverPlatter). Little further information about these
    businesses leaks beyond the research industry.

    Some of the businesses are aimed primarily towards the library
    community. Database subscriptions are unlikely to interest an
    individual. Few are appropriate to businesses. Let us briefly scan just
    the products and services intended for a consumer.

    Commercial Database Retailers - These organizations devote their effort
    at bringing commercial database information to individuals. Dialog,
    Datastar, Infomart, Lexis-Nexis and others will assist you to access
    information only available through commercial databases. (See our
    article, "Commercial Databases".)

    Current News and Current Awareness - If you want to know of new
    articles and news important to you as it is reported, then there are a
    selection of services available: news by email, news by newsgroup, news
    by periodic automated database search, and other novel approaches.
    Costs for this service have fallen dramatically: effective solutions
    start at about US$10/month and are not strictly dependent on range &
    quality of information. (See our article, "Newswires & News

    Information Brokers - There is a whole industry of specialized
    researchers who will try to locate and compile research to your
    specifications. The backbone of this industry is payment for access to
    commercial databases, but different information brokers will gladly
    enter into any effort required to locate information. Information
    brokers, business librarians, legal researchers and others all use the
    tools described in this website, as a service for their clientele. (See
    our article, "Research as a Discipline".)

    Patent Assistance - Patent searching is one of the more difficult
    branches of serious research. Some of the resources are free on the
    internet, and commercial patent databases are readily available through
    the database retailers. If there is serious money at stake, you must
    consider legal assistance. Certainly use lawyers for patent
    applications (beyond the scope of the Spire Project). But a patent can
    also be a research tool. Patent research can provide you with what is
    often the first appearance of costly commercial research. This is both
    a source of cutting edge solutions and competitive intelligence.

    Media Monitoring - Certain firms solely focus on monitoring TV, radio &
    newspapers. These firms typically run teams who page through newspapers
    looking for matching articles, then post or fax to the client. New
    technologies are also advancing into this field.

    Document Delivery - Most local bookstores will gladly help you locate a
    book from their directories but if you want a book from abroad, or an
    article from a journal or magazine, you will need the assistance of
    another set of information workers. A distinct but similar approach
    assists with the distribution of journal articles. Many of the document
    delivery firms are closely tied to information organizations. Little
    information is available about these organizations.

                        - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

    Trends in the Information Sphere
    For the past few years, individual database owners/maintainers have
    been flirting with the idea of making paid access available through the
    internet, rather than the existing system of allowing database
    retailing firms to promote and market their databases. I have heard
    rumours most database producers earn up to 30% of retail price when
    delivered through database retailers - 70% being retained by the
    database retailer.

    The internet is not a commercially viable alternative...yet, but some
    databases have emerged with alternative funding despite this (Library
    of Congress, ERIC, Medline). Others are creeping in around the edges by
    offering subscribers access at a much reduced flat annual fee (Computer
    Select at one time). I expect most database producers are waiting for a
    meaningful way to charge. Digital money holds the key but despite the
    hype, practical use appears to be a medium to long-term reality.

    A second trend is internet publishing itself. Gradually, the
    information is getting easier to locate. (Don't laugh please - its
    undignified.) We are also getting better at using the internet as a
    tool to disseminate information. We have the very visible, if perhaps
    short-lived, search engines but also other efforts like archives of
    FAQs, archives of guidebooks, applying the Dewey decimal system to the
    internet, specialist directories, subject guides, specialist search
    engines. This will be a lively field for several years to come. As it
    gets easier to locate the good information, perhaps the lines between
    commercial quality and internet quality will begin to merge in places.

    The third trend is the very promising prospect of paying for
    information by the page through the internet - viewing the results in a
    web page immediately. There are some technical hurdles yet, but certain
    elements are already appearing in ventures like DialogWeb. This step
    may prove profitable for ATM vendors and owners of internet cafes, pubs
    and kiosks. It will also herald a dramatic drop in the cost of

                        - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

    Are We Developing an Informative Internet?
    Several serious glitches have delayed the further improvement of the
    internet as an effective information resource. Oh, sure it is the
    world's largest library and thousands of new webpages are published
    every hour. But this trite statement disguises how slow the informative
    value of the internet is developing.

    The internet holds so very much promise. Marketing mantras tell us so,
    but few of us grasp this technology will completely rewrite the rules
    of community, government and the exchange of intellectually valuable

    One of the hurdles is vision. We are not yet delivering the information
    pertaining to community, government and the exchange of intellectually
    valuable (improved) information. We are only proceeding quickly with
    market information and computer-related information. We are still
    toying with further ways the internet can transform other areas of our

    We should have achieved more by now.

    The net is still very disorganized. A number of developments promise to
    eventually make the internet less confusing and better organized. To
    date, we have several cumbersome techniques, a large collection of
    search tools and a great deal of potentially interesting links.

    As mentioned, thinking about who is publishing assists us with our
    search. Applying this to where information is emerging - and we learn
    much of the best information is not reaching the internet. Certainly,
    the commercially generated information is not reaching the internet
    (covered below). The large research studies paid for by public funds
    and slowly aging on the shelves of government and non-government
    organizations are also not coming online. Government, institutional and
    commercial organizations primarily publish brochure-ware - as befitting
    the presentation of market information. (Even offering to publish such
    documents freely does not appreciably affect this trend as the
    restrictions are not financial, but mindset. See our past work.)

    We should recognize few of the more valuable documents emerge online.

    Further Reading: Socially Responsible Publishing on the Internet ('97)
    (Available on request)
    A Census of Regionally Important Documents on the Web ('96)
    (Available on request)

    The internet excites me with the promise of a real community rebirth
    arising from this technology. For the first time in history we should
    be able to discuss in an informed manner any number of issues from
    crime to taxation. Tied into this are issues of government
    transparency, international assistance, anti-corporate market reform
    and community involvement. Unfortunately, my experience with mailing
    lists and more recently with a newsgroup confirm the difficulties in
    developing discussion. Discussion groups function as notice board.
    Unfortunately, the difficulty in developing participation, and in
    moderation, are just a little too cumbersome to be successful. For many
    discussion groups, the chaff overwhelms the wheat, and the information
    content is far from considerable.

    The financial rewards are also minimal for establishing and maintaining
    discussion groups. Dramatic improvement to the informative value of the
    internet is unlikely to emerge here.

    Further Reading: How to build a discussion on the Internet (by David
    Novak - available on request.

    We have alluded to the importance of editorial and organization on the
    internet. There are several severe limitations to this - first and
    foremost the difficulty in gathering financial rewards for meaningful
    work improving and organizing information.

    I am being circumspect here. There is money available - just not where
    it is needed. The most important resources in professional research are
    the contents of the commercial information sphere. This sphere existed
    decades before the internet, is far better funded, and is far larger.
    To compare commercial and internet information is almost heresy. A
    bridge between these two, internet and commercial, emerges slowly.

    Digital money should grease the exchange of information by dropping the
    cost of exchange considerably. Today, credit cards provide this
    service. This works, at times, but digital money would allow for small
    amounts of money to change hands. This appears to be a critical
    threshold for bringing much of the commercial information to the net.

    About 5 years ago I was introduced to the Thesius Model - an economic
    model to pay the intellectual investment in publishing and organizing
    interactive multimedia. Years earlier there was Xanadu. While I have
    serious reservations about both, they do illustrate the intellectual
    foundations for effective use of a tool for exchanging small amounts of
    money. It opens the doors to direct delivery of copyright work - which
    in turn opens an effective economic model for publishing improved
    information on the internet.

    Without digital money, proprietary information can only be exchanged
    digitally by gift (that is free - the initial driving force of the
    internet information sphere, or by credit-card purchase of access to
    passwords to external networks - the current method of accessing
    database retailers.

    This has the unfortunate effect of limiting the interest both of
    internet users in the commercial information sphere and the commercial
    information retailers in the internet. Oh, there is movement in both
    directions, but not at the scale experienced in other industries.

    Further Reading: The UWA Theseus Project
    The Xanadu project ( or concise summary -

                        - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

    A Look at Information Congestion
    Finding information on the internet is a skill. Finding information on
    the commercial information sphere is also a skill. There is a great
    degree of overlap. The awareness of the general public as measured by
    use of commercial resources is very limited. This is further seen from
    the simple use of search engines & the abundance of simple web search.

    To hammer this point in, let's take a momentary look at search engines.
    Most searches end in 1000's of results: here are the first 10. Do you
    really think the first 10 or 20 or 100 sites listed are particularly
    better than the next? No - you have a random selection of resources. A
    selection generated by computer based on the most simple of criterion.
    (We should also mention how some search engines sell placement in
    search results).

    Remarkably, the search engine is the much-vaulted entryway to the world
    of information!?! Clearly search engines will not dramatically improve
    the informative value of the net - not by themselves.

    Multiplication of Information
    One complication of poor information organization is an inflation of
    information overlapping nuggets. Information on the internet is so
    difficult to locate we have almost a continual need for more
    publishing. Information must exist in numerous locations to reach an
    intended audience. Promotion of the simplest nature - recognition for
    the best for a given topic - becomes exceedingly difficult. Only when
    20 sites publish or report a given fact does it become accessible.

    Curiously, this is the state of affairs in the wider community.
    Promotion is an expensive specialty. Numerous copies, distributors and
    references are required to generate any kind of significant awareness.
    Why should the internet be different?

    Actually, why should the internet be the same? Definitive like the US
    Census Bureau have no need to duplicate this information; to have
    alternative presentation sites. Yet such sites appear the exception.
    Consider a search for the best resources for patent research, we are
    greeted with 954 websites (Altavista search for "patent research"
    Jan-19-2001). Presumably, most of these sites discuss patent research -
    Right? There is no technical or theoretical need for such confusion. I
    wonder if such duplication may be more of an affliction than natural

    It is relatively difficult to earn money from publishing improved
    information, or organizing information already on the internet. Given
    the intense interest in this technology, a collection of models have
    emerged. A brief tour of these models will highlight the financial
    limitations to improving the internet as an informative resource.

    - - - Working for fame (but not payment)
    This model works well in open source software programming, and some of
    this ethic certainly extends to publishing information.
    Simple altruism/complete lack of justification
    School students and internet novices in particular may not need to
    justify anything. Unfortunately, such work is usually neither
    consistent nor persistent.
    - - - Commercial promotion
    Promotional funds can be used to publish information. Most promotion is
    short-sighted, limited to presenting market information (like product
    information), but in time government and associations will fund
    publishing in-house information for purely promotional reasons.
    - - - Invested commercial businesses
    There are certain commercial opportunities to earn money through banner
    advertising and sponsorship.

    Direct payment for improved information (perhaps with digital money),
    direct payment to authors (Theseus model, royalty systems), and direct
    state sponsorship need not be necessary to fundamentally improve the
    internet as an information resource. Academic peer-reviewed journals do
    not pay for articles. Commercial periodicals are supported by
    advertising, and the token subscription costs of magazines usually just
    covers distribution costs. Fame motivates many efforts, not just
    online, and we do not feel the need to habitually justify everything we

    In no small way, as more people become adept at publishing quickly,
    important information will move on the net faster. Similarly,
    information will also gradually become better organized. Economic
    models will not improve the informative value of the internet like
    direct payment. Most current limitations have economic solutions.
    Unfortunately, my reasoned opinion is no economic system will arrive in
    time to make a difference.

    We know something of how information gets published, and how many
    important documents do not reach the internet. We have described how
    information is organized on the internet and how limited editorial
    vetting and organization have given rise to certain traits which give
    rise to the traits like superficial indexing, information duplication,
    and a need for research skills.

    Financial rewards and financial tools are unlikely to solve these
    difficulties. We can only hope for a gradual growing out of our current
    difficulties. We will have more of the same for several years to come.
    It is simply the nature of the internet (as currently constructed).

    For you, a greater understanding of the internet will assist you to
    judge the worth, likely source and likely venues of the information you
    seek. The same is true in the larger world... database, book & article.
    Each has different traits and qualities, reinforced over time. Your
    understanding of these traits and qualities in part defines your skill
    as a researcher.

    As to the future of the internet, on the positive side, there are
    certain qualities to internet communication that make it uniquely
    valuable. Internet communication is inexpensive, relatively rapid, and
    increasingly accessible. On the negative side, the internet is badly
    vetted, potentially very time consuming, and up against very well
    entrenched systems that have been running for either decades or
    millenniums (considering databases or books). Elements like a promised
    but functionally absent digital money, and the lack of a meaningful way
    to recoup the costs of vetting online information, make matters worse.
    Despite this, despite ALL the teething and fundamental difficulties,
    the internet is sufficiently superior to ensure considerable continued
    effort to improve the informative value of the net.

                        - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

    The Multiplication of Information Effect.
    Just as the internet permits a multitude of voices and perspectives, so
    it permits - and promotes - a multitude of the same information. Yes.
    For a several reasons we shall explore first, the internet multiplies
    the amount of information there is on a topic. This insight can be used
    to improve searching for information, as I will show at the end of this

    The internet is a system of communication. Like all other systems
    (books, articles) the internet systems affect the way we communicate in
    different ways. The absolute number of books depends on what is thought
    can be commercially viable. We could say books permit, and promote a
    limited number of books on the same topic.

    The internet does the opposite.

    The sheer ease of publishing information on the net is one factor in
    information overkill. The net is an easy place to publish information,
    requiring only individual effort. There is no budgetary concerns, nor
    does attracting an audience initially enter into the publishing
    process, as they would with articles or books.

    The ageless state of the internet also rapidly builds information. Old
    information is not removed from the web automatically as in mailing
    lists. Old books go out of print and past magazine articles are
    shelved, indexed and categorized so we must intentionally include them
    in our search. The web is not built this way, and information well past
    its natural expiry date remains.

    A dramatic change is also occurring as our society becomes digital. In
    the pre-internet economy experts and specialists in every field are
    distributed to meet needs. In the networked world, expertise is not
    only shared more rapidly, but is required in less places - whether we
    speak geographically or intellectually. Said another way, in
    cyberspace, competition for expertise is most fierce. To be an expert,
    you need to be more expert than others within reach - and since
    gradually more and more experts are within reach - digitally - we form
    a glut of experts.

    Oh, this is not a doomsday message - merely a middle ground on the way
    to increased specialization and focus. Historically we can easily see
    Newton was a Scientist but Einstein was a nuclear theorist. Today we
    have quantum theorists. The future is full of very long job titles.

    A by-product of this movement is a current glut of experts - perhaps a
    permanent glut of experts. With more people connected and satisfied
    with distant communication, a vet who writes about immunizing your dog
    becomes one of many you can reach for, in several countries. Previously
    we may have been limited to those in your state - but no longer! Now we
    can pick up immunization recommendations from any number of experts
    previously separated by distance or with minimal overlapping media

    We can see this clearly on the web. I wrote an article on country
    profiles and yes, as expected, the UK, US, Canada & Australia all write
    and publish traveler advice notices on the web. Are they different?
    Occasionally. Is this a case of multiplication of information? Yes. We
    have reached beyond the applauded internet trait of permitting a
    multitude of communication and reached a state where similar
    information is interpreted by different organizations, and distributed

    This is not unique to the internet. News stories also contain
    considerable overlap from one newspaper to another. A search for dog
    immunization on one of the large news databases will result in numerous
    articles all presenting essentially similar information. Business
    periodicals also have considerable overlap, and while each may attempt
    to differentiate their articles from others, there are severe limits -
    and besides, most likely articles do not have an overlapping clientele.

    But on the internet, there is overlapping readers. An article written
    for the web is an article written for everyone. Anyone can read it.
    Thanks to the popularity of search engines, it can be available to
    anyone. At least in theory.

    This leads us to internet promotion. Information on the web is
    sometimes so difficult to locate we have an almost continual need for
    more publishing. Real traffic is difficult to promote normally, so
    websites devoted primarily to delivering information have a real
    difficulty reaching their audience. This translates either to the need
    for expensive commercial promotion, which often can not be justified,
    or into reaching only those who search carefully for your information.
    The latter means multiplication of the same information.

    In writing this article, I see the effects mentioned will lead to
    changes in the future. As I write "attracting an audience initially
    enter into the publishing process", I think to myself this will
    obviously change. Attracting an audience will emerge in time as the
    primary step in publishing. There are many places to take this
    discussion, but my job is a researcher, or rather an internet-focused
    search theorist. (Long job titles will be in vogue). Let us focus on
    how these changes effect this internet as an information resource.

    1) Any effort to organize the internet is diluted because of these
    2) Any effort by the researcher to find different perspectives will be
    confounded by the number of people with the same perspective publishing
    in the same medium.
    3) Certain fields are more heavily hit than others. Internet advice on
    what search engines to use is ubiquitous. Java Programming hints are
    numerous. More specialized topics (like internet-focused search theory)
    are less affected.
    4) Viral marketing - a catchword for sure, hopes to achieve promotion
    by seeding many sites with information. Perhaps an innovative way
    around accepting the multiplication of sites delivering the same or
    similar information.

    In phrasing the question you wish to answer, before the search,
    experienced researchers will focus on what information is likely to be
    available in numerous overlapping versions. These questions can be
    answered with the search tools that cover information in a more random
    manner: Search Engines do this very well. Tightly focused questions,
    less likely to be distributed so completely, should be approached with
    different tools: mailing lists and nexus points, long complex search
    queries and index points.

    In conclusion, the internet will become far more cluttered than we had
    expected. I had previously predicted that search engines would grow to
    meet the needs, but this is not to be. Search engines will continue to
    serve up answers available from multiple places in the world. There is
    market enough in this, and minimal need to tackle anything more.

                    Getting the Best from the Internet.
                                Section 11

    A search for information on the internet is not essentially different
    from the standard information search process. You still need to start
    by outlining carefully just what you are hoping to locate. You also
    need to be aware of the peculiarities of the internet as a researchable
    resource (or rather a collection of resources). If you expect instant
    delivery of exactly what you require, free, then you need a reality
    check (and I am sure you will get one real soon). Sadly, the printed
    media tends to overlook this.

    As with all resources, the more familiar you are with a given resource,
    the more efficiently you will work. Get to know the internet for a time
    first. Understand how it works. Then re-adjust your expectations and
    file it as just another collection of resources, perhaps preferable in
    certain circumstances.

    A Structured Approach to Searching
    Much of this book has been devoted to describing what we could call a
    structural approach to finding information. We build a question, select
    a format and then search in an essentially static manner. There are
    only a few resources of interest for each format.

    On the internet, we again do the same. If you want to search online
    periodicals (a specific format for information with specific qualities
    that might be appropriate) there are just a few sites to review. The
    search is simple and straightforward. Search then read then reassess if
    it helped answer your question.

    The structured approach has been a simpler way to introduce a far more
    important application. Searchers know where answers are already -
    without ever having read the answer before - without having studied the
    topic. This is, after all, one of the few reasons to even consider
    paying for professional search assistance.

    How does a searcher know where answers lie?

    By building up a clear understanding of what information is out there,
    where it resides, and how to get to it, a searcher learns to anticipate
    the location of answers. Anticipation is everything.

                        - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

    Know Where to Look
    Let's look at information itself. Information passes from producer, to
    organizer, to consumer. It travels many paths in this journey.
    Superficially, we can observe internet communication travels via email,
    newsgroups, and webpages (and others). Let's call these tools.

    Looking deeper, we observe information emerges from just a few
    generalized sources: knowledgeable individuals, informed government
    employees, grant funded educational projects, commercial organizations
    and a few others. Each source produces a particular type of
    information, distributes (publishes & promotes) in particular channels,
    and hopes to pay for (or justify) their effort in a particular way.

    Efficient internet research is infused with an understanding of who
    publishes, where and why.

    Before information reaches the consumer, it passes through a vetting
    which organizes and filters both the quality and the presentation style
    of the information. Let us call these systems. The FAQ is a pivotal
    piece of a system that may start with a post to a mailing list or
    newsgroup, involves the vetting of the FAQ maintainer, then proceeds to
    an FAQ archive then to the end consumer. The webpage is published by
    someone who has justified their time and expense, is indexed by a
    search engine or definitive-topic-website or webring or what have you,
    and then is found and read by the end consumer. The internet has many
    such systems.

    Each system again defines many of the traits of the resulting
    information. FAQs are semi-authoritative, collaborative pieces, often
    dense and factual. Private mailing lists are sometimes more
    informative, discussive, as well as serving as a notice board.
    Newsgroups involve far less natural vetting and quality control, but
    excel in distributing popular volume resources like graphics. Search
    engines don't vett, but can be searched.

    Each system reinforces the uniqueness it brings to the whole internet.
    When I blindly declare "Information Clumps" at the start of this FAQ, I
    am really describing a trend whereby certain information accumulates in
    a particular location, others out of self-interest add to the pile, and
    further information reinforces both the logic and uniqueness of that
    pile of information.

    It is just a short jump from this to understanding how FAQ archives
    grow but maintain a good quality, how the grand internet search engines
    began to lose value about 15 months ago then recently began regaining a
    position of strength, and how ftp archives still exist for many
    computer topics.

    The internal logic to the organization of information is based on
    simple principles. It defines the environment within which we strive to
    improve the internet as an effective information resource. We take this
    understanding and build sophisticated expectations about what kind of
    information rests at which format.

    Further Reading: Searching the Web: Strategy

                        - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

    Multiple Windows
    Make your browser work for you. All browsers allow you to open multiple
    windows panes. Open a few and send them off in different directions
    fetching information. You do not have to wait for each page to return
    to you before you read. With a little practice, you can juggle four
    window panes, collecting information from different tools, following
    different trains of thoughts, reading your way through four websites as
    they are downloaded.

    The technique is a little like reading four books at once. It certainly
    keeps your mind nimble. Worked successfully, multiple windows will
    double the speed of searching and free you from the speed of your
    internet connection.

    Three technical tips are involved. Firstly, a second window pane is
    opened by selecting File : New : New Window. The shortcut key for this
    Control+N. Secondly, in Microsoft Explorer, depressing your shift key
    as you click a link will open the distant file in a new window. In
    Netscape, depress the control button as you click a link. Thirdly, if
    you are running windows, the Alt + Tab button jumps between window

    Taken together you can read down a page, find something interesting,
    shift+click a link, continue reading the original page, then flip over
    to reading the second page in a new window.

    Keep in mind, juggling windows is difficult and requires practice. If
    you do this in public, be prepared to lose novice surfers who are not
    ready to use more than one window.

                        - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

    Launch Pages
    Bookmarks are a fine tool for beginners to build. It is not, however,
    the best organization of tools for a searcher. One of the roles of the
    Spire Project has been the construction of a far more effective tool,
    based on having the more common search tools and supporting information
    close together, on your own computer.

    Beyond being a plug for you to look at our free shareware ( and
    single-page shortcut Spire Project Light"
    (, there is a serious issue here.

    If you are familiar with the use of search engines - and you have fast
    access to the search box for the search engines - you no longer need
    the Urls for specific resources. With a name, you can always quickly
    locate a page. Besides, Urls change. Far better to just keep a list of
    resources by name.

    At the start of this FAQ, we mentioned a searcher knows where to find
    "Knowing of specific resources is helpful. Knowing the tools to help
    you find resources, the meta-resources, is vital."
    Fast access to information resources is valuable. Fast access to the
    tools to find information is critical. Build your launch pages with
    these tools in mind.

                             Searching is Art.
                                Section 12
    Pharaoh: There is mutiny afoot. I must kill these insolent heretics.
    Shakh: Good Idea. So who is involved?
    Pharaoh: I don't know. You must find this out.
    Shakh: Find out what?
    Pharaoh: Who my enemies are, of course.
    Shakh: Enemies?
    Pharaoh: People who want me dead.
    Shakh: But not those who want a better ruler...
    Pharaoh: No not them.
    Shakh: What about the ones that want a better ruler, and would not mind
    you dead.
    Pharaoh: That sounds like everyone.
    Shakh: And those that want you dead but would never do anything about
    Pharaoh: Well, so long as they don't help anyone else.
    Shakh: Then you just want the ones who will try to kill you.
    Pharaoh: Yes,
    Shakh: Good. Now we know exactly what we are searching for. We are
    seeking those who will try to kill you. I shall straight away

                        - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

    Napoleon was an expert tactician, except at Waterloo. The recreation of
    past battles is not a favorite pastime of mine but is an exciting topic
    all the same. The battle terrain was set. The troops have known
    abilities and limitations. The movement and direction of the army units
    is your responsibility. Do you have the strategy involved?

    Early in his career in an important fight against the Prussians,
    Napoleon employed a dramatic tactic where he initially held an
    important hill in the center of the battlefield, then surrendered the
    hill to the Prussians. The Prussians, confident at this stage, marched
    the majority of their army around the hill to right, between the hill
    and a lake, to push the fight on to Napoleon. Napoleon, however, retook
    the hill with a costly attack up the hill by some of his best units.
    Success left him in control of the high ground, much of the Prussian
    army below, moving between the hill and the lake. Unable to dislodge
    Napoleon from the hill a second time, and unable to withdraw the army
    from their exposed position, Napoleon pushed on to defeat the Prussians
    most decisively.

    The armies were almost evenly matched prior to this conflict and
    success seemed unlikely. An average general would have fought in a
    bland way, retreating or perhaps fighting to a stalemate. Napoleon
    inflicted a decisive defeat. Such generalship goes beyond technical
    skill to encompass a vision, a strategy, an art.

                        - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

    If I have not been careful, I will have presented searching as shopping
    in a supermarket. The goods are in a large store but there is a decent
    enough structure to find it. Third aisle for baby food. Go there and
    look around.

    Of course, we have discussed two further types of search improvements.

    There is the skills around properly asking questions. You want a
    question which accurately describes what you are looking for but you
    also want the question to be framed in a way which the resources can

    There is also the awareness of where information SHOULD be. If you know
    what kinds of information exist and you ruminate long enough on the
    likely motivations of publishing, we can make some fairly detailed
    judgements on the whereabouts of the answers you are looking for.

    There is further skill in dealing with the technical difficulty of
    information overload. You have limited time and limited resources.
    Finding information is often a hit or miss affair, so there is an art
    to selecting the right words to search, the right Boolean prefixes to
    attach to search terms, the right search tactics to employ to get the
    most out of each situation.

    For much of this, you need only experience. If you know in advance a
    skilled searcher can handle the task of sifting reams of data for
    useful information, then you can focus on how its done, practice, and
    learn. The search technology itself is simple.

    The trouble lies in retrieving from databases with far too much
    information for simple word selection. It also flares when you are
    dealing with databases charging up from $2 a minute and an additional
    cost per item retrieved. You decide very quickly to get good at
    searching once you receive a bill for $200 of irrelevant information.

    The simplest solution to this difficulty is to practice. You will find
    all research libraries provide access to slightly older articles
    through CD-ROM databases. Search these to hone your skills.

    I saw a small book on search techniques from an early course in my
    state library - but it is very basic. Most librarians build experience
    in using search systems either internally, or through a series of
    courses given by travelling database officers like the periodic
    training by Dialog-Insearch. These are expensive, but include some free
    time searching the expensive databases (no, they don't let you take
    information back with you).

    Now, there must be something else I can share with you on this topic.
    First, learn something about how the databases are built in the first
    place. It helps if you know what an inverted text database looks like.

    Second, something personal about technique... I always find the uglier
    the search query, the better the result. Honestly. A search combining
    numerous elements improves your chances of getting it right.

    Third, I always try to change my search techniques to match the medium.
    I am likely to be more careful of broad searches of expensive database,
    where as free databases often lead me to gather 50 articles, then
    weeding them out by hand. (most CD-ROMs allow you to select only the
    ones you want). Always bring a 3.5'' floppy with you when visiting a
    library on the of-chance you want to download and look at results
    another time.

    Fourth, I almost always find the initial challenge is in locating those
    specific terms that appear in 80% of the documents that interest you.
    When searching the internet for information about government use of the
    web, the specific terms required were government and publishing (not
    even government publish was close) All other search terms gave far to
    much garbage. Yes, of course, being an expert in a particular field is
    an edge in already knowing these special terms.

    There are two escape hatches here. If you can find one or two articles
    that interest you, often you can browse these articles for those
    special words. Sometimes even, the descriptors of an interesting
    article will give you a specific subject heading. I've heard this
    technique called the "Pearl Development Technique" but I just think of
    it as a good idea. The second escape hatch is the use of free databases
    to prepare you for going online. If you have ready access to a CD-ROM
    database, search this first - get the right search words on the free
    databases, then go online.

    Oh, of course, there is also the issue of just asking someone involved
    for the proper words. I like to ask my clients if they know what words
    are likely to be used. It's not a mark of an amateur to be asked, by
    the way.

    A couple of side issues

    1) Keep an eye on the type of document you are searching. If you want
    full text - don't go looking in bibliography databases. More to the
    point, don't start word searching databases with really big files
    without using the proximity indicators and descriptive fields. I hated
    paying for that 20-page document which included all the words I was
    interested in - but on different pages.

    2) Also, keep an eye on the quality of the documents you are
    retrieving. I know a search of newspapers sounds impressive, but they
    are rarely capable of explaining anything in depth and are notorious at
    being advertorials. I try to keep newsprint for locating experts - not
    for information. I have also been trapped by obscure magazines with
    appealing articles, only to learn the magazine is one of a large number
    of very basic business magazines which use fillers or just doesn't like
    to pay for good journalism. A single article of 5 pages from Scientific
    American blows 20 small fillers out of the water. In fact the length of
    an article is a hint of depth.

    Oh, if you are looking for some really good books on this issue, try
    the manuals Dialog sends you to start, look for text databases in you
    library, then proceed to one of the search books recommended at the end
    of our 'research as a discipline' article.

    Basic Techniques to research change slowly, though the technology is
    improving and specific information resources are in rapid flux. It
    makes for interesting times.

    So many resources. So many techniques. Its strange to have written down
    so very much that is dull and tiring yet get it right. You simply must
    muddle through all those links to get a decent result.

    Yet the end result is to portray searching as an intensely dull
    experience. We have very few choices. The information exists in certain
    clearly marked places. We merely need collect it.

    If we are not careful we will present you the idea that searching is
    more like shopping in a supermarket. The goods are in a large store but
    there is a decent enough structure to find it. Third aisle for baby
    food. Go there and look around.

    Actually, this is the general approach to searching. There is no art,
    no talent, just skill and knowledge of the technology. Want a webpage
    on dogs - go to Yahoo and type in dogs. Want a telephone number - take
    out the white pages and remember the alphabet. Want a book and you are
    near the library, walk in and ask a librarian. Alternatively, walk in
    and type a few words in the library book database.

    But there is more - so very much more. And all of this makes for
    exceptional searching.

    Let's look at an example. We want information on how to improve the
    schooling of your exceptionally gifted child. A simple request. What do
    we do?

    The art is a kind of magic, of choosing just the right words at the
    right times, and in phrasing your request for information in a way that
    tightly describes your interest without removing information that
    should interest you. The art of searching relies heavily on an
    understanding of what is possible within a given system. Much of this,
    you guessed it, involves creative visualizing.

                              The Last Word.

    Searching is an attitude. It is a way of looking at the world, and at
    information, quite distinct from the norm. Statistics are mentioned on
    TV and you subconsciously weigh the value. You listen to experts and
    wonder who pays them, and so where the potential purpose bias could
    come from. Searching is an attitude with little tolerance for spin,
    puffery or questionable interpretation of statistics.

    Searching can be a very negative attitude - and this is our last
    lesson. Search with a critical mind, but also know at some point you
    must say enough. Enough searching, it is time to make a decision. This
    line is not defeat, but acceptance that decisions are made on
    incomplete information. Make your decision when you are ready.

                        - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
    Shakh stood before the entrance to the tomb. It was not quite complete.
    The glyphs were etched for only the first thirty feet of the
    passageway, and workers were still preparing the burial chamber. The
    thick dusty air made it hard to breath, but at times it was better than
    staying outside where the temperature continued to climb.

    Shakh admired the art on the wall. Meaning within meaning. The divine
    representations stood offering the pharaoh recognition. In exchange the
    pharaoh offered a just reign. The scene worked well. Such work was one
    of the few ways the pharaoh could communicate with the gods.

    Yet there were other layers to the picture. The gods were depicted as
    pleased with the work of the pharaoh. Their recognition was a reward
    for the years of ruling Egypt.

    There, further in the picture, was reference to the accomplishments of
    the pharaoh. Much of the writing was dictated by tradition, and the
    individual scribes were all instructed in the tale, so meaning was
    particularly important in what was different from other tombs. It was
    the small differences that made this work unique, that elevated the
    work from that suitable for any important person to that fit for a
    king. Birth in a village close to the Nile. References to the pharaoh's
    re-conquest of Nubia. The special position of Horus, the falcon god.

    Then there was the technology. Sparkling stars on blue covered the
    ceiling. This was a new development, unseen before in crypt or
    building. It had a pleasant effect, expanding the space within the
    tomb, making it look larger than it really was.

    And then there was the artistry to the carving. These were fine
    scribes, clean and precise. The work satisfied him well.

    Walking out of the half-completed tomb, Shakh sighed, wiped the
    gathering sweat from his brow, then gave a small thought to the poor
    sap he used to work for. The old pharaoh had never learned information
    was power, thought Shakh, sighing regally.

    Acknowledgements: I would like to thank my wife Fiona, whom I love and
    cherish dearly. The Spire Project is a great effort several years in
    the making. I trust you enjoyed the results.
    David Novak - - and
    Copyright (c) 1998-2001 by David Novak, all rights reserved. This FAQ
    may be posted to any USENET newsgroup, on-line service, website, or BBS
    as long as it is posted unaltered in its entirety including this
    copyright statement. This FAQ may not be included in commercial
    collections or compilations without express permission from the author.
    Please post permission requests to

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