Vol 5 . . . No 3 . . . November, 1995

The WWW as Yard Sale?

In what ways is the WWW like a rummage sale? a yard sale? a garage sale? a bazaar?

1. Anybody, ANYBODY! can do it!

Almost anybody can publish a WWW site. It is inexpensive. It is simple. You pay your money. You pump some HTML. You're up and running.

2. Anything, ANYTHING! can be sold, published, advertised and displayed.

This is not a juried art show. The owner of the site decides. Velvet paintings. Jelly glasses. Old research papers from 5th grade that won a "D" and were written in 1976 and researched with dog-eared books published in 1946.

3. You can drive by, DRIVE BY! without stopping.

How many times do you actually stop at a yard sale? Five per cent of the time? Unless you're a collector or yard sale junky, you pass up most opportunities. A single glance tells you this isn't your kind of stuff.

4. There are not many jewels for sale. FEW JEWELS!

If they have anything really valuable to unload, they go for the big bucks and advertise it separately or go through a dealer on consignment. They don't put it own on the front lawn with a big discount. The lawn sale is for the threadbare, the worn, the overused, the out-of-date, the hand-me-down, the barely-working, the in-need-of-repair, the chipped and broken, the sentimental treasure, the tourist trinket, the forgotten bauble, the broken down toy, the cracked rattle, the knickknack, bric-a-brac novelty item, and yesterday's kitsch.

With a few notable exceptions, most people withhold their best information from the WWW. Their sites are "come-ons" to convince visitors to buy the real car, the real CD, the real movie, the real book, the real vacation site or the real magazine.

Exceptions: publicly funded sites such as the Library of Congress, NASA, ERIC and various NSF research reports. Some museums and other institutions are also making portions of their collections available on-line, although few attempt to offer a full collection.

For now, at least, the traditional, hard copy publishers and media moguls still hold quite a strangelhold over much of the best the best writing and thinking being done.

5. There are few antiques, heirlooms or treasures for sale. FEW ANTIQUES!

The WWW is at its best and its worst with breaking news developments and current events and issues. When the earthquake hit Kobe, the WWW was flooded with information. The same with Jerry Garcia's death. But as many have pointed out, information is not necessarily truth. The WWW is a great place for hearsay, rumour, unverified news, unconfirmed reports, gossip, "talk of the town," tittle-tattle, hoaxes, and canards (Roget's Thesaurus). It is a vast electronic grapevine - a sprawling bush telegraph.

One commentator compared network news coverage of Oklahoma City with the Internet and found speculation rampant on the Net. It is the home of conjecture, unverified suppositions, guesses, and suspicion. No news editor will check over most of the material before it "hits the press." Stories need not pass tests of validity and reliability. If you have a theory, post it. "All the rumors that are fit to e-mail or post!"

High quality, reliable historical information and interpretation is especially hard to locate. Perhaps, as suggesed in "When a Book? When the Net?" this void is explained by a lack of funding for the digitization of such work. Hopefully we will see a migration of such research into online sites as the WWW becomes a primary source for information as all kinds.

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