A number of recent studies, and three of the articles in this month's issue of D-Lib Magazine, suggest that the amount of open access material on the web of the future may not be as large or as important as we might hope. Much recent attention, for example, has been focused on the "deep web," that portion of Internet-accessible information housed in searchable databases and which cannot be retrieved by conventional web search engines. A recent study1 cited by the authors of this month's article "Searching the Deep Web" estimates that the deep web is 500 times larger than the "surface web," and is growing proportionately faster. While the article describes how the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) searches open access materials found in the deep web, the authors recognize that "many organizations have site-wide or individual subscriptions to online databases that require patrons to provide institutional or individual passwords to gain access." One of DOE's future goals is to provide access to restricted as well as open material.
A recent report from the OCLC Web Characterization Project2 would suggest that the effort to incorporate restricted material into search engines is timely. While OCLC has found that the rate of growth of the public web has slowed, private restricted web sites have grown from 12 to 20 per cent of the total web in just two years. Moreover, this growth has occurred in spite of the rather rudimentary access controls that are in place. As Eamonn Neylon points out in his article in this issue of D-Lib Magazine, rights management systems that are being developed for e-books have the potential to allow rights owners to control usage as well as access. Digital rights management technology may make possible the incremental licensing of content that otherwise might be delivered at no cost today, in the absence of effective rights management systems. Gregory Crane in his opinion piece reflects on the emerging for-profit digital libraries, a topic of Carol Hughes's article in last month's issue of D-Lib Magazine as well. Finally, in his article on "intellectual property conservancies," also in last month's issue, David Bearman noted that businesses and individuals are paying increased attention to the value of their knowledge assets. Given the increased interest in information as an economic asset, the proliferation of restricted web sites, and advances in the mechanisms for implementing rights management schema, it is unreasonable to expect open access material totally to replace restricted access and restricted use material. The information environment of the future will remain a heterogeneous mix of information found in both the surface and the deep web. And it will consist of information found in open access repositories and intellectual property conservancies, behind authentication firewalls, and protected by digital rights management systems. Future digital libraries must facilitate access to both open and restricted materials. Licensing material and authenticating users may be the easy part; providing effective distributed searching across a wide mix of materials will be the real challenge.
Peter B. Hirtle