Data is one thing, interpreting it is another. The recorded hits for the Fife Ness paper may be impressive, but did each user read it? Probably not. We can be certain of that because many users never went further than the table of contents. It is a feature of electronic publication that every time a page is accessed it is recorded and Internet Archaeology compile an impressive set of records relating to the precise use that is made of their papers. Thus it is possible to see which sections of the report are more popular. Not surprisingly, more people access the initial pages of any section and then the readership tails off for the further pages. By the beginning of October there had been 189 hits for the description at the start of the structural section, but only 53 hits for the end of the section, and while there were 148 hits for the initial part of the lithics discussion, hits for the lithics material had tailed off to 43 by the end of the section.

People were making use of all the different aspects of the paper, however, and that is something that would be hard to prove with a paper publication. We can see that, in the first month, there were 38 hits to get additional information from CANMORE on the site at Morton and 33 for the site at An Corran. We can also see that there were ten queries to the catalogue regarding information on the microliths and four regarding platform cores. People were certainly interested in the paper, but it is impossible to know why: were they just idly browsing; curious medievalists wondering whether to go for an electronic excavation report for their own site; or were they avid mesolithic specialists devouring every word? We just do not know.

Of course the same caveats must apply to a paper publication. You can send out all of your off-prints, but you can never be sure whether people will read and inwardly digest them, or use them to level up the corner of their keyboard. Nevertheless, I would still argue that the electronic publication has reached a far wider audience than a similar paper publication. This is supported by the experience of others eg Hodder (1999).


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Last updated: Mon Sept 6 1999