By Edina A.T. Strum
Arizona Daily Wildcat November 19, 1996
A UA group is creating a database of governments that have active World Wide Web sites in an effort to measure the Web's degree of openness and rate of expansion.
The Cyberspace Policy Research Group, based in the University of Arizona's School of Public Administration and Policy, was created last year when Chris Demchak, assistant professor of public policy and administration, began "pulling up all the Web sites in the United States and Europe" and monitored their growth.
In October, the National Science Foundation awarded Demchak a $100,000 grant over the next two years to continue the project, which employs two students and eventually may employ more.
Gretchen Logan, public administration and policy graduate student, and Demchak are compiling data by scanning the Web every two months for new sites or new links to existing sites. Once they have a substantial database, content analysis of those Web sites will begin.
"The project will, in time, uncover the factors which contribute to the extent of a nation's presence on the Web," Logan said. "For a public agency, the more documents that a citizen can access via the Internet ... the more efficient for government and citizens."
The work is meant to be a research contribution to the wider academic community, Demchak said.
Researchers will be able to scan the CyPRG Web site to learn which government sites have information related to their studies, she said. For example, if information on oil reserves in Alaska is needed, the researcher can access the CyPRG database and discover whether the U.S. government or Alaska have Web sites that contain that information, and whether it can be accessed by the public.
Demchak's initial hypothesis is that the Web will force governments to become more open as people view the Web as a two-way communication tool. Not only should the government supply information, it should also provide links to related sites and electronic mail capabilities to the agency for further information and assistance, she said.
Government and business originally viewed the Web as a one-way distribution of information, she said. However, those original ideas were challenged as more capable computer users were accessing information that wasn't meant for the general public. Once security became a concern on the Web, fire walls were written into the computer programs to limit public access, Demchak said.
Security concerns are the basis of her second hypothesis - governments that began using the Web earlier were, and will continue to be, more open and later users will be more guarded.
The project is still in the early stages, but the initial cataloging of governments is already posted on the CyPRG's Web site, and the content analysis should follow during the next year, Demchak said.
CyPRG's Web site is http://www.u.arizona.edu/~demchak/CyPRG/webhome.html