With the benefit of hindsight, we were actually producing a completely new product that would be used in quite a different way to a conventional paper publication, but we did not realise this at first. It would certainly have been better to have started from scratch with the report writing, and in this respect the Fife Ness report is not ideal. If I were to publish another excavation report on the Internet I would try to write the hypertext report quite independently from the paper version.

Writing for the Internet, it is in many ways easiest to start with the conclusions. The detail then comes out as the different elements that have gone to make up those conclusions are expanded in their own sections and subsections. In this way the reader is led deeper and deeper into a maze of information. The writer provides the information, and has a duty to make it as easy to understand as possible, though it no longer has to be curtailed in the way that it once did on paper. The data storage possibilities of the Internet are apparently limitless and the endless heart-searching that once took place over the appropriate use of microfiche is over. The communication of data has come into its own (Gaffney and Exon 1999). The readers, however, design the path that they will weave through this information. The readers make up the maze, as they follow leads into areas that interest them. No two readers will read the report in the same way, and they are unlikely even to read it the same way themselves if they go back to it more than once.

The maze effect of hypertext publication has been further explored by Holtorf (1999) and a good example of it in practice lies in Warren (1997). It is worth pointing out, however, that no reader will thank the writer for providing superfluous information nor for text that is hard to understand. Electronic publication may make it possible to publish larger quantities of data, but it is still important to edit work carefully. In this context, the recent discussion over the merits and disadvantages of the maze-like hypertext approach that has been taking place in the columns of the Intarch-Interest discussion group is interesting. Not everyone is comfortable with the circular approach, and some still favour a book-like linear approach to reading. One of the main problems cited is the possibility that information may be missed as the reader moves around a paper, and some people find it hard to assimilate information as they jump around. This must, of course, be borne in mind by prospective authors, and it is worth remembering that the construction of a good table of contents is vital to guide your reader around your paper and make sure that all relevant sections have been visited.

During the writing we did come under criticism, from time to time, for the work that we were undertaking and the apparent cost of the publication. As I do not generally deal with the financial side of the production of excavation reports I cannot comment on the comparative cost of the Internet paper compared with a paper publication, but perhaps this is a comparison that we should not even be making. It is like saying that because cars cost more than bicycles, we should only use bicycles.

An Internet publication and a paper publication serve related needs, but they do not serve the same need. Both provide information for an interested audience. But whereas a paper publication is more static, aimed at a particular group, the Internet publication is wider and it can contain very different types of information (Hodder 1999). In addition to the written text and illustrations of a paper publication, the Internet report may contain sets of primary data for the reader to consult and draw their own (perhaps differing) conclusions. Gaffney and Exon (1999) have highlighted the way in which the use of Web publishing facilitates a shift to an emphasis on data as well as description and synthesis in a way that has not previously been possible. As we have seen, Internet papers can also link in to other elements of related information elsewhere on the Web. This expands the readers experience, and information pool, in a way that was much more cumbersome on paper (who has not spent time in a library looking for books that are out, or missing?).

As this paper was being written, an interesting briefing appeared in the journal Nature: 'The Writing is on the web for science journals in print' (Butler 1999). In the world of scientific publishing electronic journals are now well established, and some libraries are starting to phase out paper altogether, Butler concludes that: 'A journal without a web version is now rare, and probably endangered' (ibid). How many archaeological journals and libraries have started to think seriously about this issue? There are many elements that need to be addressed, such as refereeing, and even open on-line refereeing, as well as an examination of copyright and the possibility of the parallel electronic and paper publication of an article (something that was even an issue with an earlier version of this paper). Some scientific journals now post manuscripts on the web as they come in, as an electronic peer-review and communication process. I particularly like the idea of a software robot which can carry out many of the processes of editing and publication. The scientific world is clearly far down the road of electronic publication, and I hope that archaeologists will not be long to follow.

There is no doubt that the Internet publication reaches a much wider audience than its paper equivalent, with no barriers of geographical location, but it can also provide the audience with different levels of information to suit their own particular needs. At its most detailed level, raw data about site stratigraphy, finds, and so on can be integrated within a report for specialist readers to manipulate as they wish. Less keen (or less crazy) readers can read the results of the analysis provided by the team of specialists. And those who are interested in the site but not in its particulars can stick with the summary information that sets it into a general context. This is an over-simplification, but I hope that it gets across the general idea. The paper publication, on the other hand, is constrained by factors of space and size and can usually only approach one level of information successfully. For this reason most journals have to decide on a target audience, and conflicts do arise as to whether the material within any one paper publication should be more, or less, detailed.

Thus the possibilities of Internet publication benefit not only the archaeological community who want to make use of increasing amounts of comparative information, but also the general public who wish to know more about a subject that interests them and touches their own background. Hodder (1999) has followed this argument through in an interesting discussion of the ways in which Web publishing erodes the boundaries between specialists and the public. Despite the proliferation of sub-ologies in the profession of archaeology, we have seen our relationship with the general public grow over the last few years and anything that makes us closer, while at the same time assisting our own work, must surely be a good thing.

Back to the future

So, we have dipped our toes into Internet publication, and we now have to make the decision of where to go to from here. The Internet offers the possibility of a completely new style of publication. It is a publication with apparently endless flexibility, but it is one that may be harder and take longer to compile (I have deliberately not used to word 'write' here). We have to become more open and set out our innermost data for scrutiny by all and sundry, and we shall have to come down off the fence and say what we think it all means. We have to address our academic peers and turn our attention at the same time to our non-specialist neighbours. As readers and users of information we have to get used to new ways of assimilating data. Personally, I hope that we will take up the challenge and make the most of these exciting new possibilities.


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Last updated: Mon Sept 6 1999