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Internet Scout Project Looks Toward the Future
by
Posted On October 25, 1999
One of the most important, prestigious, and useful resources for identifying, reviewing, and accessing new and newly discovered Internet based resources, the Internet Scout Project (http://scout.cs.wisc.edu) recently distributed a letter discussing possible future funding problems. Its current funding, a research grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF, http://www.nsf.gov), ends in the spring of 2000. Because the project has been deemed a success, NSF "research" funding is no longer available for much of the project's daily work.

On October 6, the Scout Report asked readers for feedback on the value of the project, suggestions about possible funding sources, and ideas for the future. Over 2000 responses have arrived at the project's Madison, Wisconsin, headquarters in the past few weeks.

The Scout Report, the most well-known production of the Internet Scout Project, is a collection of several weekly and biweekly electronically distributed newsletters containing "... new and newly discovered Internet resources of interest to researchers and educators." All of this material is free. Currently, the newsletters have about 45,000 e-mail subscribers. Many more people see the work as users extract information from and pass on the newsletter via various methods.

In addition, the project's Web site carries all back listings from the Scout Reports in two forms—an archive of back issues and a merged and updated database called Scout Report Signpost (http://www.signpost.org/signpost). The Signpost database makes all the items noted in the Scout Report (about 7,750 and growing) fully searchable and browsable via Library of Congress classification and subject headings.

Susan Calcari, the project's founder and current director, says her main goal is to keep the Scout Report "free to the end user." Calcari is currently seeking funding from a variety of sources including commercial partnerships as well as private foundation grants. She reports that several offers for partnerships have already been received. Additionally, new ideas for the Scout Project to pursue in the future have also been submitted.

The 3-year grant from the NSF runs out by May 1, 2000. It totaled an estimated $3.18 million ($1.06 million annually). However, this amount includes all the research activities, many of which the NSF may continue to fund. Calcari estimates that their shortfall for the Scout Report would run around $400,000 annually.

The Internet Scout Project began with a 1992 proposal to assist in keeping gopher sites organized. In May 1994, the first Internet Scout Report newsletter was published. The project's original mission was to filter out the best available Internet sites and tools for the higher education community and deliver this information via an e-mail newsletter. Today, over half the readers of the e-mail newsletter come from outside the higher education community.

The Internet Scout Project's main research component is now the Isaac Network (http://scout.cs.wisc.edu/research/index.html), which develops systems to "... link geographically distributed collections of metadata into a virtual collection searchable as a unified whole." This research activity remains eligible for NSF funding.

Below is a copy of the full message distributed to Scout Report readers from Susan Calcari and her staff. 
  

Dear Scout Report Readers,

A promise we've always made to our readers is that the Scout Report distribution lists would not be used for anything except the distribution of the reports to our subscribers. However, occasionally over the last 5+ years we have overridden that promise in order to send you an important announcement or to make a special request such as the survey we sent you in 1996.

This is such a special request. It concerns the future publication of the four scout reports currently published by the Internet Scout Project: the general Scout Report, published every Friday, and the three subject-specific Scout reports, published biweekly: The Scout Report for Science & Engineering, the Scout Report for Social Sciences, and the Scout Report for Business & Economics. 

The reports have always been "free to the end user" because the National Science Foundation has funded their production and distribution under a series of grants from the division of Advanced Networking Infrastructure and Research (ANIR). However, that funding will end after the current funding cycle runs its course in the Spring of 2000 and will not be renewed because the reports have proven their effectiveness so well that they can no longer be considered "research." Therefore, we are working hard to secure new funding so that we can continue to produce and distribute the reports for your use.

We are concentrating our efforts on both government and philanthropic sources. We are confident we will find the right funding source, but your brief input on any or all of the three points below will make our job easier and help us to meet our goal faster.

We are asking for your help, as our valued readers, in three ways:

1. Please let us know how you use the reports and why you find them useful. Tell us why you think the reports should continue to be funded. While we can list many reasons why the reports should continue, we are sure that you know even better than we do, and we'd like to hear it "in your own words." This is critical information for us and for our potential funding sources.

2. We would like to hear any ideas you may have regarding potential sources that may be open to proposals for funding of publications such as the scout reports. We have several proposals already submitted or in production, but any further ideas you have would be very helpful. 

3. Tell us what you think we should be doing in the future. What would you find most helpful in the way of improvements to or expansion of the scout reports? What kinds of "resource discovery" services would make a real difference to you?

Our sincere thanks go out to all of you who have offered encouragement and feedback over the years. It is our plan that the Scout Reports will continue to be funded and will be published for your benefit well into the future. 

Warmest Regards,

Susan Calcari and the Internet Scout Project Staff
 


Gary Price is an information industry analyst, and editor, ResourceShelf and DocuTicker.

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