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What does it mean for something to be “Online”?

by on August 16, 2012

What does it mean for something to be “online”?  If the item is put online in a site that is regularly crawled by search engines, then it is accessible for most people if the words used in or about the item are accurate and match up with the terms the users would actually use to find that item for a wide range of needs.  So, even if Google crawls your site, how accessible your stuff is depends on how good your metadata is.

There is a term for how your site behaves regarding search results and the efforts to affect how it behaves. It’s called Search Engine Optimization (SEO).  Google has a great guide for how to make your content and your pages effective on their Webmaster Tools:Search Engine Optimization page.

Once Google crawls your site, they often take a copy of everything they can touch.  They do this in case your site goes down and people still need to have access to the material.

There are other people and groups that crawl the internet besides search engines.  Many countries have a strong internet crawling effort geared toward gathering free resources.

If we were going to describe this in terms of traditional publishing, the item is “Super” published.  Not only is it available in many different sites, and there are multiple copies, but it’s actually fairly easy to show that the item you posted was the original.

This super availability scares some people.

It also means, once something has been online it’s difficult to have the cached copy removed from Google, but there is a method.  If you are the site administrator, you can go to Google’s Webmaster Tools and request the page taken down.  If you are not the webmaster, you can make your case at the “Removing Content From Google” page.

On the flip side, it is possible to put an item up on the internet and have it effectively lost, and only accessible to people who already know where to find it.  Search Engines doen’t crawl everything, and in some content management systems used in digital libraries (CONTENTdm for example), the structure of the system makes the system very difficult to crawl.  Even in systems that are easy to crawl, they may still be hard to find.  The lesson here is that just putting something “online” isn’t good enough to get it out to the world.  You have to hook in your items with other resources.  For example, we have a collection of Ships that was underutilized.  We connected the collection to Shipindex.org, and the collection is now one of our most used collections.  Not only that, it’s now well indexed by Search Engines because of the heavy use, and because we provided links to the items externally (bypassing the structure of CONTENTdm that makes crawling difficult).

So, if your items are online but not getting much use, try going through the SEO information from Google, and start connecting your resources to other sites.

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