|Different Standards in Evaluating Web Sites
Now that some of the initial results have been submitted, it is clear to see that panel members have different standards in evaluating the sites. Several are particularly critical when evaluating the criterion of editing (Technical Matters). Others put more emphasis on the aspect of philatelic significance, which in the Literature SREV are titled Originality, Significance, Depth of Research - and in fact several of you questioned "do we judge these sites as we do international philatelic literature"? If so, the scope (importance?) of some of them does not warrant a high award . . . .
Frankly, this diversity was expected, which is why we have such a long period of time before we have to provide our final results, and which is why I asked for the initial report in such a short time period. Remember that this is the first time that anyone has tried to evaluate philatelic Web sites on such a detailed, objective basis. Some of us recall that we went through almost exactly the same problems, and in quite a similar manner, when we first formulated the criteria for judging philatelic literature. One thing which we established in the early days of judging philatelic literature was a set of comparative standards: we reached a point where literature judges could say with confidence that Book A is an example of a gold medal and Catalog B is the equivalent for catalogs, while the C, D and E are the top Journals against which others must be compared. We don't have that yet for Web sites.
How Do Internet Pages Compare With Printed Philatelic Literature?
It would be a mistake to attempt to evaluate Internet literature against exactly the same benchmarks as printed literature. Certainly the relative categories still appear valid, and undoubtedly will continue to be applicable even when we go through further adaptations in years to come, because they are essentially the steps in the communication process. However, at present it is very unlikely that we will see any Web sites that serve as major handbooks, specialized catalogs, or detailed research monographs. There are too many reasons which preclude it-- including the normal desire to put such long-term work in tangible, "permanent" form, and the equally normal hope to earn some money from sales of the books, as well as the simple fact that printed literature is universally accessible while for many the Internet is terra incognita. The medium itself tends to shape the nature of the content: printed books and journals are expected to contain completed studies, fully researched and subjected to peer review, while the content of Web sites is transitory, mutable, always subject to expansion and revision. Thus, while some day we may all benefit from high-speed world-wide Web connectivity and mass storage capacity that will easily hold and readily retrieve the contents of the world''s philatelic publications, we're not there yet and until we are we must evaluate the Web sites against their existing potential.
The raisons d'être of Philatelic Web Sites
There are lots of reasons why philatelic Web sites are brought into existence, and probably any given site is the result of a combination of such reasons. However, for sake of evaluation it seems helpful to make a simplified category of sites based on their primary purpose.
- "My Web Site": Simple sites, with very little structure or content, often done for vanity or as a challenge or as a step on the way to doing a more advanced site. Occasionally include the owner's want list and/or offers to buy or trade. Have been called "Kilroy sites" (after the legendary World War II U.S. soldier and his "Kilroy was here" graffiti). Not at the level of "literature."
- Philatelic Society Sites: Serve as a membership service and as a point of presence for potential new members. Content can range from a single page of text and an e-mail address for further information to a major reference to all the society's benefits and services. For an example of what I consider as close to optimum at the Top 5% level see the American Philatelic Society site at http://www.west.net/~stamps1/aps.html. (Not a participant in this year's (1999) evaluations). (Note: the URL and also the content of the site has changed since 1999: http://www.stamps.org/). There's also a rather good example of what even a local society can do to keep the membership informed; see the site for the Canberra Philatelic Society (potentially a 2-star level), at http://www.canberra.starway.net.au/~philatelic/welcome.html (Note: the URL is not active as of september 2002)
- Commercial: These sites have been established for business reasons. They also display a spectrum of development and significance, from the basic point of presence and the simple sales or auction listings to a rather more extensive, descriptive catalog (Hartmann's Philatelic Bibliophile, http://www.pbbooks.com/) to the full service, catalog-on-line with images, downloadable Prices Realized, etc., as demonstrated by Siegel Auctions (not a 1999 participant): http://SiegelAuctions.com/home.htm. I consider Siegel's at the Top 5% level.
- General Resources: The "general resources" sites reflect the period when everyone had to collect and maintain their own lists of favorite sites, or "bookmarks". Eventually, some collectors set up sites that provided organized lists of bookmarks, or provided other compilations of information useful to the entire philatelic community. Attributes required here are: depth/completeness; accuracy; currency of listings; removal of outdated/dead information. Joe Luft's Resources is at the top end of this category. Other notable examples (all entries in the 1999 evaluations) are: Ask Phil, http://www.askphil.org/; Lee's Illustrated Stamp Listopedia, at http://www.filbert.com/stamplistopedia/; as well as Patricia Stohr's Teaching With Stamps, http://www.richmond.edu/~educate/stohr/stamps/stamps.html (Note: The URL is not active as of september 2002).
- Single Subject Specialties: This may represent the largest category of philatelic sites on the Web, and the largest group in the 1999 evaluations. For the most part, these are the efforts of one or several individual philatelists, although in some cases (such as the Scouts on Stamps International site, located at http://www.sossi.org/) the society membership service site also serves as a major reference point for subject related material. These single subject sites perhaps most closely fit the concept of "research" and "philatelic scope" found in the criteria for printed philatelic literature. However, we should expect to encounter individual questions and answers, and draft "study paper" reports, not consolidated, specialized monographs. One expressed goal in single subject studies is to provide a comprehensive, annotated bibliography of all (major) philatelic references on the subject, with indexes to all subject-related journals, plus listings and links of dealers, societies, major collectors and exhibits, etc. Collectors also appear interested in down-loadable stamp images; catalogs providing high resolution photos are more significant as Web resources than one might initially suppose. Unfortunately, I've yet to find a single-subject specialty site that I feel would serve as a truly strong Top 5% standard. (I do not consider Toke Nørby's home page to be a pure "single-subject specialty site" but rather a unique and commendable presentation of Danish/Nordic postal history resources. (It's at http://www.norbyhus.dk/)
- Exhibitions: Information is essentially ephemeral, with three major phases: pre-exhibition advertising and basic information for exhibitors, dealers, official participants, visitors; immediate period of the exhibition, with much more detailed information on activities, facilities, exhibits, layout; and post-event, with a final report and the listing of awards.
- Official Sites: Postal administrations and other official sites whose concern is primarily to provide public service. These can be evaluated against a more detailed checklist (not provided here).
The above section suggests that the philatelic component of Web sites should be evaluated in accordance with the basic purpose of those sites, and not strictly against concepts of "depth of research" and "originality"hard-copy literature. (This is not an unusual idea, by the way; we have made the point earlier that works by popularizers such as Herman Herst, Jr. rated high in philatelic significance because they were so effective in bringing new people to the hobby.) We also need to take a close look at how we are applying the criterion of Technical Matters (Editing). There are two areas of concern:
- Scope of the criterion: This does not relate to the presence or absence of technology such as use of dancing animations or streaming audio. That is a matter of authorship. It does refer to such matters as poor spelling (see for example the Subway site and Hartmann's Philatelic Bibliophile site), sloppy layout, overly distracting color combinations, dead links, failure to give credit for someone else's material (see the Glossary in the Love Indonesia site), no date stamps on revised material or otherwise inaccurate dating (e.g., the Canberra Society page, which in fact is commendably thorough with its 1999 schedule of events but misleads by heading the page "last modified 1997"). If we are not careful in separating the authorship aspects (how it's created and presented) from the editing (avoidance of/correcting mistakes), we run a strong risk of doubly penalizing a site.
- Severity of downgrading: I've seen a number of scores at 10 or less points, some as low as 6. That seems far too much to deduct. In judging printed literature at the FIP world exhibition level, "11"concerned that they must be functionally illiterate or else were guilty of some major disqualifier that rendered the entire work suspect or unusable. If we develop a check list and take off points for each violation, we can easily downgrade almost any publication, but what we should be doing is to reduce points only in accordance with the overall degree to which the work is negatively affected.
If your evaluations tend to be quite low in this area, please re-evaluate the scores in keeping with the above two paragraphs.
A Final Comment
In preparing for these evaluations, I looked at some 1,800 philatelic sites, some of them at considerable length. Since we started, I've re-looked at all the entries, as well as even more non-participating sites. The sites we are dealing with are among the better philatelic sites. I'm sure Bob de Violini has as much, if not more, experience with the nature of philatelic Web sites, and I'm confident that he shares my concern that we seem to be applying overly harsh guidelines based on our initial results.
In the next several days, as soon as we finish the Team 1 evaluations, I will send out a composite sheet showing the initial results. At that point, I'd like you to look at the sites which were assigned to other teams and in particular, at sites which may be similar in concept to ones for which you were responsible to see how you would agree or disagree with the results already posted. Then, in line with my comments above, consider how best any disparities could be worked out.
And please note, I consider this to be an important, helpful learning experience, which will not only aid us in reaching a satisfactory set of evaluations but will improve our own skills and, even more important, will go far to establishing reliable standards for this new class of philatelic literature.
With best regards,
Charles J. Peterson (†)