Sunday, June 27, 2004

The "Subversive Proposal" for Scholarly Publishing Celebrates 10th Anniversary

Stevan Harnad is the primary exponent of "self-archiving" in scholarly publishing. The proposal is simple: any author of a scholarly paper should be able to keep his or her own copy of it, and post it online, on his or her Web site (or the university's).

That earth-shattering proposal is now 10 years old. The Association of Research Libraries, under Ann Okerson's lead, published a small volume about the notion in the mid-90s. I stumbled across my own contribution to the discussion, including some fun legacy Gopher discussion with Paul Ginsparg. Funny -- and sad -- to realize that a decade later, you still can't reliably detect the date/time a Web page last changed:

XV. Brief Discussions -- Format, Economics, Submissions

Several messages pick up various topical threads that arose earlier in the discussion.


Date: Sun, 21 Aug 94 10:59:24 -0600
From: Paul Ginsparg 505-667-7353

> Date: Sat, 13 Aug 94 18:25:38 EDT
> From: "Stevan Harnad"

> The generality and adaptiveness of the www superset is impressive!
> But ftp/gopher also has a PROVIDER-side argument: In text-only,
> non-tech (non-Tex) disciplines the probability of a successful
> subversion knocking down the paper house of cards is MUCH higher
> if authors need merely store their ascii texts rather than convert
> them or learn html (trivial as it is). -- S.H.

i wasn't clear enough, and this is an important point: of course, OF
COURSE, www can be used to transmit plain text (this is a trivial
corollary of my statement that it is a superset of gopher). after all, i'm using it to transmit .tex, .dvi, .ps, etc. -- it can transmit anything, bytes are bytes. more specifically, if an http server sees a file with e.g. a .txt (or other unrecognized extension), it tells the client that plain text is on the way and the client presents it unformatted (i'm surprised you haven't encountered this before). that is why gopher is
dying out worldwide (indeed it is only naive confusion and misinformation on the above issues responsible for keeping it afloat even this long). everything gopher does, www does just as well or better (including
automatic indexing of pre-existing directories). anyway, just a matter of time -- makes little difference to worry about it on way or another.

> Once the subversion has had its effect, we can convert them to the
> virtues of hypertext, etc. (But your point on the generality of www
> is taken!).

and now the point of the hypertext project becomes clear -- we do transmit
all this non-html via www, but these have all been network dead-ends. so
rather than wait forever for some group of ncsa undergrads or whomever to
reproduce a satisfactory typesetting environment within these primitive html browsers, we've taken the shortcut of adding html capabilities to our
preferred medium and its browsers. (in particular that means i've been able to reprocess all pre-existing tex source in the new mode, and internal linkages are produced automatically, with no modification of the underlying .tex )

Paul Ginsparg


Date: Tue, 23 Aug 1994 08:27:14 EDT
Subject: Re: ftp vs. gopher vs. www
From: Rich Wiggins
To: Multiple recipients of list VPIEJ-L

> that is why gopher is dying out worldwide (indeed it is only naive confusion
> and misinformation on the above issues responsible for keeping it afloat
> even this long). everything gopher does, www does just as well or better
> (including automatic indexing of pre-existing directories).

This claim is not quite true. The Web does not embrace the Gopher+
extensions, which have never been popular among HTTP/HTML aficionados, and
are not implemented in Mosaic and its descendants.

Gopher+ provides a mechanism for alternate typing of documents. The theory
is that information providers might offer documents in a variety of ways and intelligent clients might help users select among them. Web folks feel
that multiple document types are handled just fine "their way" and that
alternate views can be coded as part of the HTML.

But Gopher+ also provides a mechanism for named attributes of documents --
the sort of stuff like the date of the last update, author's e-mail
address, etc. This is the sort of "meta-information" that is talked about
interminably in IETF and Web discussion groups. Gopher+ included a
mechanism for adding such attributes as of early 1993. Even in the Gopher
community, though, it seems it isn't widely exploited. There are
conventions for some meta-information in HTML, and no doubt discussions
will lead to real standards.

The "yes there is Gopher+ but it is useless" discussion has been carried
out elsewhere, and probably wouldn't be helpful here. Most new
announcements of online services seem to be coming from the Web side. In
general, I view Gopher as part of a progression from FTP to hierarchical
menus with nice titles to Web-style hypermedia. Mosaic paved the way for
the Web; now we need is bandwidth to deliver all those inline logos.

Rich Wiggins, CWIS Coordinator, Michigan State University


Date: Tue, 23 Aug 94 13:45:43 -0600
From: Paul Ginsparg 505-667-7353

> I agree the gopher/www quibbling is trivial

as was pointed out in message you just forwarded -- that whole discussion
has been carried out through a multi-hundred message thread on
comp.infosystems.gopher and comp.infosystems.www (probably still

(although again misses that "in-line" logos are not necessary to www
servers, they are a choice -- and i was careful to make them purely
elective for everything i did, which included checking that everything
worked fine from a vt100 using lynx, so that my less well-off colleagues
are not left behind).

but it all remains irrelevant to the issue of costs of journals that we
try to focus on -- whatever the final delivery protocol (and it may in
five years be something other than what we have now, though most likely some generalization that encompasses it). but as you frequently point out,
i'm here "preaching to the converted."

Paul Ginsparg

1 comment:

Edward Vielmetti said...

Rich, can you reformat that message text? It comes out with extra-long lines that wrap badly.

Nothing like pulling something out of the Gopher Era to show how the net used to be a smaller place.