Zen & The Art of Web Site Maintenance
It has been about one year that this web site (Zona Latina) first began. In this page, we will discuss this experience of ours in running a web site for Latin American media. We will concentrate on the aspects of building and maintaining links to media web sites. We shouild point out that Zona Latina provides much more than that.
We are somewhat ambivalent about discussing this subject. On one hand, we recognize that the topic would interest principally other webmasters, especially those who maintain media-related web sites. This reeks of self-indulgence and self-absorption. We feel that our audience base is broader than that. On the other hand, we maintain an extensive and up-to-date list of links to Latin American media-related web sites. Our experience in locating and maintaining these links is therefore both interesting and informative about the state of the Internet in Latin America.
This page was written in August 1997, and reflects our point of view at this particular moment in time. Given the rapid rate of growth of the Internet, our opinions now are different from six months ago, and probably will be different six months from now.
In this page, we have also taken some possibly controversial stances. At this moment in time, we feel that we need to go beyond providing yet another set of several thousand of links that nobody can possibly have the time to browse completely. We have gone past that stage. What we need now are analyses, classifications, interpretations, opinions, strategies, predictions and forecasts.
In order to discuss how we build and maintain a set of WWW links to Latin American media, we need to develop a conceptual model. We shall adopt a Top-Down approach, in which we place media web sites in a hierarchical structure of five levels:-
- University of Texas, Advertising World: This is a large multi-purpose database from the Department of Advertising, University of Texas, covering all aspects of advertising, including media.
- Gateways to television networks and stations from all over the world: Tuned-In Television and Radio and Ultimate TV.
- Gateways to radio networks and stations from all over the world: BRS Radio Directory and ILGRadio's International Broadcasting Web Directory
- Gateways to newspapers and magazines from all over the world: American Journalism Review and Editor & Publisher
Being media specialists generally means that quality and quantity of media information are better than Level 1 universal resource centers. The linguistic barriers still exist, and there is a great deal of unevenness. For some minor languages, there may be no information or else the classifications can be quite wrong.
- LANIC (Latin American Network Information Center): The World Wide Web Virtual Library for Latin American Studies, managed by the Institute of Latin American Studies (ILAS) at University of Texas at Austin.
- El Mundo Latino: The media section on this site is very good.
In the case of Brazil, a consolidation process has now taken place among various directory/search engine services, leading to just a handful of major players. They are sufficiently well known that most new Brazilian web sites would submit their URLs to these services. The media links on these sites are quite extensive and also classified in a consistent manner.
In the case of countries where the Internet is relatively new or has low penetration, it is also easy for the few directories/engines to compile nearly complete lists of the few media-related web sites. For example, http://www.cr/ virtually lists everything in Costa Rica even though the classification scheme requires some guesswork.
The most difficult cases are those developed countries in which there are no dominant directory/search engine services. Mexico is one example. There is no obvious single site to go to for information on Mexican media.
BUILDING & MAINTENANCE
Suppose that you have been assigned the task of building and maintaining a Latin American media gateway (such as Zona Latina). How do you go about doing this? There is no one simple way of going about this. Our structural model consists of many levels, and they can be tackled simultaneously.
The objective is to identify the individual media entities (Level 5 in our model). At the outset, we have to actively seek them out. If we are starting off with absolutely nothing, we might first proceed to look at other media gateways and directories.
It would be wisest to start with the largest ones (e.g. El Mundo Latino). Of course, at that point, you may experience an existential crisis. When someone else is already doing a fantastic job, why should you duplicate their efforts? Will you be able to provide maintenance at that same level of quality? What good will it serve, for you and everybody else? What, if anything, can you offer in addition? Should you be doing something more meaningful instead?
In the case of Zona Latina, at the time of inception, we felt that there was no media gateway that met our needs in conducting our regular business. These same needs existed for our business customers as well. We launched the site to meet these needs. In addition, we regarded our site as being more than a collection of media links, as our two sponsors (Audits & Surveys Worldwide and IBOPE) are in the unique position of providing media research results across Latin America. Zona Latina is also an experiment to build a web site with a point of view as well a personality.
Suppose that you have resolved that you have good reasons to go ahead. Here is how you might build up your web site.
- You will search through the global directories and search engines using a set of keywords ("Latin America", "media", "magazines", "newspapers", "television", "radio", "Argentina", "Bolivia", etc). If the service permits, you should restrict your search to Spanish/Portuguese-language sites. Then you will have to compare the obtained listings against your current collection and make any additions (after verification!). Unfortunately, you will find very few new links this way and the classification is not always logical.
- You will search through the national directories and search engines. Here the keywords are fewer because there is no need to specify the country. The keywords have to be in the national language ("diario", "revista", etc.). There is a great deal of unevenness in the quality and quantity across countries.
In some countries, the national sites are excellent. For example, we would be happy to provide a link to Guia da Imprensa Brasileira na Net for all print media in Brazil and not have to maintain anything at all because we do not consider ourselves to be in the race for having the most number of links. Unfortunately, the situation is not universal and, for example, we cannot do that for Colombia and Mexico as yet.
There is also a lack of standardization in the classificatory/descriptive schemes across countries (for example, we require the frequency/city for radio stations, the genre for magazines, the city for newspapers, the affiliation/city for television stations; the genre for cable/satellite channels; etc).
- When you verify a link, you ought to think a little about what the URL implies. Sometimes, the top-level domain name may look like a site for a city or province (for example, http://www.santafe.com.ar/), which means that you should check that site for other media links.
Whilst all this sounds easy, you should be aware that a prodigious memory capacity is needed for efficient processing. When you come across a link, can you tell immediately whether or not this is one of the several thousand links that you have already collected? If so, in what context? Furthermore, this process goes on continuously every day of the year, which requires a certain personality and temperament to do.
WHERE IS THE ZEN?
We regard Zona Latina as an organic, evolving experience. This was never just a matter of building and maintaining a list of links. On one hand, we were very interested in the experience of running a web site, which has evolved based upon internal and external feedback. On the other hand, we were always looking at the Internet environment for Latin American media, interpreting and diagnosing the trends.
Philosophically, we find the Internet phenomenon to be an interesting realization of the principles of some models in physics. In particular, we are thinking of fields such as distributed and de-centralized computing systems, artificial life, chaos theory and fractal science. Here, we have a collection of media web sites acting as independent agents with little or no direct interaction with each other. But where one might expect total chaos, a semblance of order has been observed to emerge. This state of affairs had not been imposed by some central authority, but emerged spontaneously due to the needs of the end users. Random web surfing may be fun, but when you need precise information in a timely manner, there has to be some organized approach. Furthermore, the order is emerging at all levels --- locally, nationally, regionally and globally, with significant interactions occurring among the various levels..
COMPARISONS WITH OTHER REGIONS OF THE WORLD
Zona Latina has two sister sites, one covering Asian media (Zona Asiana) and the other covering European media (Zona Europa). By comparison, the job of building and maintaining Zona Latina is substantially easier, with the problem mainly being a linguistic one.
Given these linguistic barriers, we believe that it would be extremely difficult for anyone to compile a set of media links of even quality from all over the world. The best that one can hope for is to specialize in a few major countries and languages, and provide some links to local web sites elsewhere. We have observed these trends in some of the generalized directories and search engines.
(posted by Roland Soong on August 3rd, 1997)
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