Web site saves money for NSF

Electronic dissemination over the Web has saved the National Science Foundation about
$750,000 in printing costs for its most frequently requested publication.

NSF’s Grant Proposal Guide has had an 11-to-1 ratio of electronic to paper access
since its publication on the agency’s Web site at http://www.nsf.gov,
said Mary Lou Higgs, deputy director of the agency’s Division of Administrative

In 1996, the agency set a goal of cutting bulk mailing and printing costs by 50 percent
by 2000, Higgs said, and it already has reached that goal. In 1998, costs went down 55
percent, from $1.5 million the previous year, she said.

The agency saved more than $750,000 in one year of electronic publication, but it
continues to make paper documents available to those who need them.

NSF opened its Web site in August 1994 on an external Sun Microsystems Inc. Web server.
The agency’s research directorates use an additional Silicon Graphics Inc. server and
two others running Microsoft Windows NT.

The Sun server hosts about 30,000 files. There are 4,786 current and archived documents
including policies, procedures, reports, award summaries, vacancy announcements and other
static Hypertext Markup Language files, Higgs said.

In March 1997, NSF introduced the Custom News Service, a password-protected service at http://www.nsf.gov/home/cns/start.htm
that customizes individual Web pages for researchers and sends them up-to-date information
about grants. Journalists and others also can set up their own Web pages through CNS to
receive NSF news automatically.

Each subscriber’s profile is matched against the online document system each night
for document updates.

NSF funds research in education, engineering and science.

“We work with a pretty wired” group of researchers, Higgs said. About 63
percent of CNS users have an .edu domain in their e-mail addresses. The subscribers get
information faster than through bulk mailings, and they can specify what they want to
receive, she said.

At first, CNS used the Search’97 Information Server from Verity Inc. of Sunnyvale,
Calif., in conjunction with the online document system, said Jeremy Buckley, a Verity
consultant who helped design the Web site over an 18-month period beginning in 1996, when
he was working for BTG Inc. of Fairfax, Va.

The Verity search engine could show different file types, such as Adobe Portable
Document Format, Higgs said. But NSF later decoupled the Verity product from CNS and
started using Wide Area Information Server freeware because CNS users need categories of
document types and subtypes rather than searches, Buckley said.

CNS now has 14,000 subscribers, and about 150 more sign up each week, Higgs said.

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