Getting the Management Information You

Need - When You Need It

Steve Mason1 and John Kennelly2

1 ProLivestock: Nutrition/Management Specialists,
2508 Charlebois Drive N.W., Calgary AB, T2L 0T6, Canada
2 Department of Agricultural, Food and Nutritional Science,
4-10 Agriculture/Forestry Centre, University of Alberta,
Edmonton, AB, T6G 2P5, Canada

Take Home Message


Results of a 1990 survey of Alberta dairy producers (3) indicated that their preferred sources of written information were the Alberta Dairy Producer newsletter (91.1% of respondents), Canadian dairy publications (55.9%), US dairy publications (26.2%), newspapers (20.0%), and factsheets (19.7%). Respondents to the 1992 survey conducted by the Alberta Dairy Extension Advisory Group (DEAG) spent an average 3.76 hours per week reading dairy/farm papers, magazines, and newsletters, and 4.27 days per year attending educational seminars and workshops (1).

Although these traditional extension methods have been well accepted by dairy producers interested in acquiring knowledge, they are not particularly useful in solving day-to-day management problems on-farm, for two reasons:

In publishing its Alberta Dairy Management (ADM) articles, DEAG has addressed the second limitation by providing producers with an indexed ring-binder and an annual cross-referenced index to all articles. If articles are properly filed, the index will be useful in locating the information required, if it has been included in one of the articles. But obviously, there is a limit to the amount of information covered by ADM articles and, furthermore, the index is of no value in finding information that has been published elsewhere. Within the past few years, a new method of accessing timely information has arisen: the Internet's World Wide Web.

The World Wide Web

At the 1996 Western Canadian Dairy Seminar, Mark Varner presented both an Internet workshop and a demonstration on "Surfing the Net" (5). He explained that the Internet is a global network of smaller interconnected computer networks (4). In July 1996, there were approximately 12.8 million computers connected to the Internet (2).

The World Wide Web (WWW) is one of several applications running on the Internet. While the 'Net' refers to links between computers, the 'Web' is a linkage of information where the links are referred to as hypertext links, hypermedia links, or simply, hyperlinks.

The concept behind hyperlinks is not new (7). It was 1945 when an engineer named Vannevar Bush proposed a type of 'database machine' which would allow readers to follow 'trails' of information. He argued that the explosion of knowledge made it essential for readers to be able to follow alternative paths in their quest for information useful to them. The term 'hypertext' was coined in 1981 by Ted Nelson who proposed a system he called Xanadu which would facilitate the creation of electronic documents containing linked 'nodes'. One of the first practical applications of these concepts was Apple Computer's 'Hypercard', released in 1987, which allowed users to create links between sounds and images as well as text. The combination of hypertext with multimedia was named hypermedia.

Hypermedia links in Hypercard were limited to a single application on a single computer. In the late '80s, Tim Berners-Lee, a physicist and computer scientist working in Switzerland, proposed a hypertext system which would allow links to be made between computers. A 1990 design document described his vision:

"Hypertext is a way to link and access information of various kinds as a web of nodes in which the user can browse at will Potentially, hypertext provides a single user-interface to many large classes of stored information such as reports, notes, databases, computer documentation and online systems help The texts are linked together in a way that one can go from one concept to another to find the information one wants. The network of links is called a web."

Berners-Lee and his colleagues subsequently laid the groundwork for the World Wide Web by defining the initial specifications for http:, hypertext terminal protocol; HTML, hypertext markup language, and support for index searching. In 1993, the WWW became a practical reality, but was very difficult for the masses to access. In the ensuing three years, the development of user-friendly software along with rapid expansion and accessibility of the Internet has made it possible for anyone, including farm managers in rural locations, to access the Web.

Dairy Information on the Web

Dairy-related information is available on many Web sites around the world. But, in most cases, these sites are simply repositories of paper-based information. Although accessibility has been increased, little effort has been expended to build indexes or establish links to help the user find specific information. Imagine being given back issues of Hoard's Dairyman, Country Guide, and the Western Producer for the past three years. How likely are you to find, with a reasonable investment of time, just the information you require to troubleshoot your high somatic cell count problem?

To take advantage of the full potential of the WWW and the medium on which it is viewed (i.e., a colour-capable computer monitor), content needs to be specifically designed for the Web. A physical 8½ x 11 inch piece of paper no longer imposes limits on the length of an article. But the physical format of the computer monitor and the ability to link ideas into a user-defined package of information support the idea of minimizing the scope of individual topics. Mark Varner (6) has proposed the concept of 'knowledge nuggets':

"Basically, everyone defines a knowledge nugget, chunk, or piece as some unit of knowledge that's the base or smallest unit of knowledge they want to work from. In my work, I think of that unit as being the 'answer to a question'. Sometimes that's a paragraph, sometimes several paragraphs, sometimes a fact-sheet."

The WWW also allows for the inclusion of full-colour still graphics, animations, video segments, and sound as well as 'applets' such as interactive worksheets and input forms for on-line ordering and database queries. These capabilities present new opportunities for the effective transfer of knowledge.


With the help of initial funding from DEAG, we are currently developing DairyNet, a dairy infobase application which will be accessible at the University of Alberta's dairy Web site ( Our objective is to build a comprehensive, authoritative, and accurate dairy management information system which will allow users to acquire the knowledge they require with a minimum of time and effort. This is a major undertaking which will progress as follows:


  1. Alberta Dairy Extension Advisory Group. 1992. A Summary of the Dairy Producers' Survey Results.
  2. Kantor, A. and M. Neubarth. 1996. Off the Charts: the Internet 1996. Internet World 7(12):45.
  3. Spicer, H.M., L.A. Goonewardene, A.O. McNeil and W.L. Slack. 1994. Alberta Dairy Farm Survey Response. J. Dairy Sci. 77:3460.
  4. Varner, M. 1996. The Information Superhighway - Getting Your Learners Licence. In:Advances in Dairy Technology. J.J. Kennelly (ed.). volume 8:1.
  5. Varner, M. 1996. Surfing the Net. In: Advances in Dairy Technology. J.J. Kennelly (ed.). volume 8:127.
  6. Varner, M. 1996. Personal communication.
  7. Wiggins, R.W. 1995. Webolution. Internet World 6(4):33.