1. Introduction

The resources discussed in this article rely on the Internet, a system which enables information, application and resource to travel at a global scale. It may be argued that the WWW is the ultimate data repository of our times, allowing us to gain knowledge from a multitude of contexts. On the other hand it may be seen as simply a jumble of quasi-interconnected data. Despite the obvious and vast level of content available, we have yet to see true inter-contextual data integration.

Recent surveys (e.g. MORI 2005, HEIRNET in prep.) suggest that systems such as the 'Google' search engine have quickly established themselves as the starting point for online research. From here a search can be performed returning links ranging from millions, regardless of suitability, to web-pages that have been indexed against a keyword/search term. For the majority of users it seems that this level of data integration is enough – if one can return to Google, then another search can be performed and yet more results can be waded through, leading the user to further web-pages. Is this really the easiest way to find what we want?

For users grounded in research-specific disciplines such as archaeology, the above scenario is all too typical and often extremely frustrating. Although Google is not necessarily the starting point for all academic research, it could still be argued that, aside from speed, there is no real benefit to using the World Wide Web in this manner rather than the traditional library. Indeed, the user still has to open each resource manually, determine if the content is appropriate, find the data they are after and copy it into a suitable format which could ultimately be included within the research at hand.

Using the Internet for research doesn't have to be like this. The concepts of data reuse and integration at web level can ultimately provide us with a solution to the tedium that is currently web-based research. To achieve this, however, there needs to be a stable and reliable toolset underpinning a 'new' approach to online information search, retrieval and reuse. The first part of this article outlines two technologies that can either be combined or used alone, which could perhaps be the key to achieving the desired framework: XML-based web services, Portals (such as the ARENA portal) and Portlet technology. The second part of this article reports on how the Archaeology Data Service has made use of some aspects of these technologies in a recent Joint Informations Systems Committee (JISC) funded project: the Contextual Resource Evaluation Environment (CREE).

The notion of information portals and distributed search technologies discussed throughout this paper is nothing new. Although used largely by library institutions as a means to search bibliographic information contained within a number of remote data sources, the Z39.50 protocol (Miller 1997) has been investigated and realised within various archaeological information systems. The ARENA Archaeological Records of Europe - Networked Access Portal allows the user to perform simultaneous Z39.50 searches across multiple data sources. Time has already moved on since the ARENA portal was designed however, and this article looks to the future to newer technologies and emerging technologies, such as XML-based web services. Z39.50 is a relatively outdated and rather cumbersome technology; it is for this reason that institutions are looking forward to embracing an altogether more efficient and flexible infrastructure for the search, retrieval and ultimately integration of remote datasets.


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