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Indexing on the Web · KeyWords, Bulletin of the American Society of Indexers · Vol. 9, No. 6, pp. 165-167 · Nov-Dec 2001

Dear Editor:

I read with interest Professor Marcia Lei Zeng’s list of problems with Web site indexing in the March/April, 2001 issue of Key Words ("Making Indexes for Web sites — A Taste of the Challenge"). I’m glad to see new ground being broken. However, I feel that Dr. Zeng missed the possibilities of Web indexing for looking too much at its problems.

For example, as Dr. Zeng says, creating an indented index with HTML is indeed a pain. But is this really a problem? I can’t understand the fascination that some indexers have with recreating linear, static, alphabetical indexes on the Web! I’m reminded of my library administrator who, when online catalogs first came into being, was thrilled with a vendor who promised an online catalog that looked and behaved just like a card catalog. We librarians wanted, and fortunately got, something much better!

The Web offers many new possibilities in indexing, not just the three options that Zeng cites in her second paragraph. For example, if you look at "Books" and then "Comprehensive author/title/date list" on www.brucemaps.com (one of my Web sites), you’ll see that there is a fourth method of indexing the Web which avoids the problem with indentation in indexes–that is the use of tables. My author/title/date list was created in a table, the borders of which are hidden from viewers.

Brucemaps Screen Shot

The BruceMaps home page.

Brucemaps Screenshot


Brucemaps Screenshot

The BruceMap Comprehensive author/title/date index ofBruce books, by author. This list was created in a table, the borders of which are hidden from viewers.

Tables, along with frames, CSS and XML offer us a new way of indexing. We can now create dynamic indexes with multiple points of access to a Web site. In fact, even with just tables and frames, we can now make Mr. Ranganathan’s dream of faceted indexing a reality.

Facets are aspects of a topic; but more precisely, facets are subheadings of a topic viewed in three-dimensional space. If one imagines a die from a pair of dice, a facet is any face on the die with a number between one and six. Hans Wellisch, in his dictionary (available from ASI), says that under the topic of Literature, one facet is language, e.g., English literature, French literature, Russian literature, etc. A second facet of Literature is form, e.g., Short story, Novel, Poetry, etc. These days, a third facet of Literature might include race or ethnic heritage of the author; a fourth facet might be gender, and so on….

Another example of faceted classification on the Web can be seen at www.brucelegs.com. At this popular site for Bruce Springsteen fans, Rich Breton has created a guide to information about Springsteen concert bootlegs, i.e., "Brucelegs." The box called CD "Bruceleg’s" Links on Breton’s site is a table of facets that leads readers to several different indexes of information about Springsteen concert CDs. Fans who trade CD copies of these concerts have four different points of access to Brucelegs:  "Discography" (by title of the album), "Timeline" (by type of show, e.g., benefit concert, album tour concert, etc., and then by date of the show), "Suppliers" (by sellers of the albums), and "Poll Results" (by rank in annual fan polls). Breton’s table also lists four other Bruceleg-related categories, such as artwork for the albums.

Brucelegs Screenshot

Breton’s Brucelegs table-of-facets box table of indexes.

When you click on a link inside a box in Breton’s table, a frame on the left side brings up an alphabetical or a chronological index.

Click on a hyperlink within the frame, and on the right side of the page will pop up the data for a particular Bruceleg. This data is also in tabular form and includes information such as the supplier of the album, the set list of songs, sound quality rating score, and time-length of that album.

Brucelegs screenshot

From the Bruce Springsteen CD "Brucelegs" Discography index (left-side frame), having selected "4th of July in Barcelona."

I hope that those who teach the indexing of Web sites will explore all of the possibilities. Cyberspace is a dynamic medium that uses virtual three-dimensional space. As Rich Breton’s site shows, Web site indexes can be, and in my opinion, should be, much more powerful than mere two-dimensional lists of subjects, hypertext links, or results from a search engine.

Nancy Humphreys

Emeryville, CA

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