Designing and Building the CS Departmental Server.
When a person, say in California, wants to know more about our
department, the choices that this person have are to call up our department,
to send in a postcard requesting for a brochure, or to fly in for a
campus visit. For the first option, the telephone conversation will
probably last for not more than half an hour and the person will not get a
complete picture of our department, not to mention the fact that some
ideas are hard to convey through words. The second option will require
the person to wait for at least two weeks for something that may or may not
answer the questions that the person may have. The last option will require
the person to invest a substantial amount of time and money.
It is with these issues in mind that Professor
initiated a project to build a departmental information server
accessible from the internet that will contain general information of
the department, as well as on-line technical papers.
The departmental server should satisfy the following requirements:
- Easily accessible. The user should not be required to have
exotic equipment or software in order to access the server.
- Flexible. It should be able represent at least text and
graphics, and allow the user to initiate searches on certain indexes,
such as research paper topics.
- User Friendly. The interface should be easy to use and
- Complete. It should contain enough information to answer
any question a person may have on the department.
- Well organized. It should be clear to the user where
to look for a specific information.
The process of designing and implementing the departmental server can
be divided into three subparts.
a. Choosing the Information System.
Deciding which information system to use was easy. Gopher and WAIS, the
two most widespread systems used today, are both text-based systems.
Moreover, Gopher does not have text formatting capabilities. WAIS,
on the other hand, does not have links to follow from one document to
another related document.
The World Wide Web (WWW) provides all the features of
Gopher and WAIS and more. The WWW is a distributed hypermedia system.
This means that WWW browsers can display text files as well as images,
sounds and animations. This fulfills requirement 2 from above.
Although the WWW software was not as deeply deployed as WAIS and Gopher
software, it is gaining in popularity, with the number of users
doubling every 4 months. In fact, in June 1993 WWW's own http
protocol moves ahead of the WAIS in the NSF Backbone packet count
to look at the statistics.) The WWW software is becoming a standard package
on filesystems. Our very own computer science department provides
WWW clients on its filesystems.
In addition, there are WWW clients on a wide variety of platforms,
including the Macintosh, Microsoft Windows, and X capable UNIX
workstations, all commonly available hardware in a university and other
environments. A user with a text-only terminal can also access a WWW
server, although only the text will be visible. This satisfies
WWW clients such as the popular NCSA xmosaic has a graphical interface
that is simple and easy to use, and the only interaction required by
the user is to 'point and click and to type in search keywords. No
training is required to use this client. This satisfies requirement
b. Designing the Structure.
The organization of the information was designed with one intention
in mind: to be clear and concise. Users should be able to find what
they are looking for at one glance. We studied the organization
of materials from other schools (
improved on what we thought was lacking from their designs.
This is the organizational plan that we came up with:
* Undergraduate brochure
* Undergraduate course
* Graduate brochure
News & Events
Faculty and Research projects
* By group:
* Computer Networks
* Distributed Systems
* High Performance Computing
* Human Computer Interaction and Graphics
* Numerical Analysis
* Programming Languages
* Software Engineering
* Theoretical Computer Science
* Listing of all professors
* Listing of all papers
* Keyword search of Maryland papers
* Global search (across many CS departments)
Student ACM Page
Computer Science Research pointers
The faculty pages and the research paper pages are interlinked, so
you can go to any faculty page from a research paper page that the faculty
authored, or alternatively go to any research paper pages written
by a faculty from that faculty's page. Most other schools offer only
a linear one way search.
The main problem we feel that exists across servers of other
schools is that their information appears to be organized in a haphazard
way. There is no clear structure, which may be due to in part by an
incomplete collection of information. We wish to avoid this in our server
by defining a clear hierarchical structure with a broad but related range of
Some schools (click here to look at
Yale University) use a lot of graphics in their server. While
this makes the pages more visually appealing, we feel that they
do not improve the clarity in the organization of the materials. In fact,
too many pictures embedded in the text actually make the system
more confusing, especially when the pictures bear little or no relation
to the text. We agree that pictures should be used only where appropriate
in our server. That should include menu buttons, headers, and in the
picture sections of our campus and DC area. It should not appear
embedded in the text.
We also decided to use a list format rather than a paragraph format for
the main menu (Click
to look at CMU) as our structure. Once again, this decision is made for
the sake of clarity. While a paragraph format may have the advantage of
being more descriptive, we think that we can circumvent this problem by
providing descriptive texts in the pages linked from the main menu.
c. Implementation and Current Progress.
The server now runs by using the FTP protocol. After all the HTML pages
are completed, a WWW server will be used.
The server as of now is unfinished, and the development will go on until
early next semester. Also, you can look at the
experimental home page
by Professor Pugh.
It is my hope that our departmental WWW server will meet Professor
Shneiderman's expectation of being the best there is. If you
have any suggestions on how to improve the WWW server, please send me
Distribution of Work and Credits
Professor Pugh and Jack Hsu came up with the design.
Jack Hsu implemented everything and wrote this report.
Many thanks to Professor Ben Shneiderman for his guidance and
helpful suggestions, and for providing the challenge and inspiration
of "being the leader in the field". That shall always be the goal I
strive for in my future endeavors.