Buried treasure in your office can make a dazzling Web drive

Agencies, struggling to drag their public information onto the Internet, are learning
there's more to it than just designing pretty home pages.


Every agency collects valuable data that resides on individual desktops or departmental
servers--documents, spreadsheets, contact lists and small-scale databases--that add value
to the government's raw data mother lode.


This scattered information could be an agency's greatest resource for an intranet or
the Internet. But it's tough to assemble all the files and make them available in a timely
fashion.


The solution could be personal Web servers and publishing tools for documents and
databases on desktops and small servers.


Turning a desktop machine into a low-level Internet server is pretty simple. Find out
if it has a dedicated Internet connection and a dedicated Internet Protocol (IP) address.
If the address is assigned dynamically at the time of use, the network manager will have
to provide a permanent address and a full-time connection.


Basic Web server software is quite affordable. Several companies package personal
server applications with their Internet client software suites. NetManage Inc.'s
ChameleonNFS sells for $400 complete with Web server and File Transfer Protocol, Telnet,
e-mail, gopher and Archie applications. Corel Corp.'s Internet Mania CD-ROM comes with
eight useful Internet utilities, including a personal Web server, for $24.95.


Ideally, you should make access to the information easy via full-text search of
specific directories. One of the easiest ways is with the $5,995 ZyIndex for the Internet
from ZyLab International Inc. of Gaithersburg, Md. Intended for Microsoft Windows NT
servers, it also works on an NT workstation set up as a server. It installs in minutes and
gives visitors a Web interface to the ZyIndex and ZyImage search engines.


You can do keyword searches through all documents in a given directory, and the
documents need not be converted to Hypertext Markup Language format for display.


An alternative is the $8,000 NetPublisher from Ameritech Library Services of Evanston,
Ill., for cataloging and publishing documents on the Web.


You can put your databases on the Web with the Inmagic database manager from Inmagic
Inc., Woburn, Mass. Inmagic has found a niche in law libraries and several federal
offices--for example, the Census Bureau, U.S. attorneys' offices and the Energy
Department. I've mostly seen it used for departmental databases running on a single
machine.


The Inmagic DB/Text WebServer, which lists for about $5,000, gives Web visitors a
full-text search interface into any Inmagic database.


In the same category, the $1,495 askSam Web Publisher from AskSam Systems of Perry,
Fla., will translate flat-file askSam databases into HTML on any Windows 95 or NT Web
server equipped for Common Gateway Interface links.


The $495 RBase from Microrim Inc. of Bellevue, Wash., a full relational database
manager for desktop machines, now is shipped with RWeb development tools to move the data
on line and do remote entry.


It can be scary to give the outside world access to one of your machines like this, so
try this on an intranet first. But remember, the real power of the Web is in digging up
information wherever it exists. At relatively minimal cost, this kind of publishing could
help agencies deliver a whole new level of service to citizens.


Shawn P. McCarthy, a GCN reviews editor, is an Internet explorer.



About the Author

Shawn McCarthy, a former writer for GCN, is senior analyst and program manager for government IT opportunities at IDC.

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