More About the J&JR Web Page

I get many suggestions to add links to the J&JR Web page, and I appreciate everyone's help. I'd like to explain a bit about my goals for the page and what's going on behind the scenes, and the reasons for some of my editorial decisions.

Some History

When I created the page in November, 1993, there were a good handful of Jewish Web resources, and no one was keeping track of them - to each his own - sad to say, this is a prevalent attitude in our community. I thought it would be valuable to keep track of these resources myself.

I started providing the Web service from University of Illinois (home of UIUC httpd and the Mosaic Web browser). I announced it on UIUC's comprehensive "What's New" Web index in April, 1994. I had no login access at UIUC, and I had to send each update to the page by email - this became unwieldy.

So I went to Shamash in September, 1994, and asked if they'd like my page, and they said yes. By October, 1994 my page had about 50 links. By March, 1995, my page was getting used about 400 times a day, and by June 1997, over 1500 hits a day (during the school year, with a drop in the summer).

About bias

When I took my page to Shamash, I made it clear that I wanted to be independent of their organization, and that I thought that it was imperative that my page be free of bias in order for it to be valuable, and they agreed. Of course, most people aren't aware of this, and they think my page is a Shamash resource.

As a tip of the hat to Shamash for providing me with free Web space, at their request, I have put little Shamash flames on the otherwise unmarked Shamash links on my page. Even this makes me uncomfortable, but as a show of bias, I felt that it was fairly subtle. Other than that, I wish to show absolutely no favor toward them - the "us and them" attitude is exactly what I'm trying to avoid.

About which links I choose to include

My intention has always been that people could come to my page and use it to find all the Jewish stuff on the Internet. A single site like Jerusalem 1, Shamash, ORT, Hebrew U, or Israel-Info has a vast amount of Jewish information. Each of these sites does a better job of pointing to their own information than I can hope to. So it makes more sense for me to point to the main page at Shamash than to list all their fine services.

Of course, sometimes there's a service at a site that I want to highlight, so I added links - especially early on, this was useful to flesh out my page, and it was also useful for the 99% of people who aren't going to search around for Jewish resources as extensively as I do, even though I show them to the entrance gates. Removing links has proven more difficult than adding them, of course.

A problem arises in that people send me links to add, to their own pages, and sometimes I don't feel the links are appropriate. (This is the toughest part about maintaining the page). I have a few basic reasons to feel this way:

The link is uninteresting. An organization or a guy (like me) puts up a home page. It has a picture of him, his family, his dog. A pointer to his favorite spots on the Web, hobbies, interests, his company. Yawn. This stuff is interesting only if we already want to know about you. But if we have no innate reason to want to know about you, then you have to provide more detailed content to make your Web site interesting.

Identify your location. Not just that you're on the west side of campus. What school? What company? City, state (if applicable), and country. Telephone numbers with area codes, city and country codes. You might be thinking of the people in your neighborhood when you write your page, but if I'm linking to you from my page, it's going to be going all over the world.

If you're a shul, don't just put up a site that says "we're here" and then just has an abridged version of the J&JR page. We already know that. We want to see information about your shul, your community, activities, calendars, who to call when we come to visit, and so forth.

Another reason I might not want to add your link to my page is that if the link would be more appropriate in a sub-page that I would point to if it already existed (or exists). For instance, Shamash or Jerusalem 1 each provide Web services for dozens of organizations, if not hundreds. I don't want to point to each one, that job is already well done by the respective info providers. But if there is a guy in North Dakota or Italy or the US Virgin Islands, and he has a small Jewish Web site, I'll list him, because he's not already connected into the fabric of the Jewish net.

The problem here is that as my page has grown popular, people view it as a publicity or advertising tool, which I guess, in a sense, it is. A link on my page is easier to find than one that's not here. And if I tell someone that I don't think their link is appropriate, that creates ill will. On the other hand, if I take all links, then my page gets bloated, and harder to use.

There are some excellent localized indices of Jewish Resources, like the British UJS, Washington, DC, and Philadelphia pages. I found these, and I said, great I can just point to them, they're doing part of my work. Actually, I wish these pages were split into separate "us" and "local resources" pages, but they're on the right track. The Washington page does this right, kol hakavod to Joshua Scharf.

Then there are other geographic areas that have many Jewish resources on the net, but they don't care to coordinate themselves, or they coordinate in a biased way. For indexing purposes, it is more valuable to be able to point to a page that says "these are the resources in Boston" rather than a page that says "we're Kehillat Ahavat Felafel, and here's the president of our sisterhood, our calendar, our basketball league scores, and then after 200 lines of stuff, a listing of other Boston resources," i.e., everyone except them.

Your own page is useful, but having the unbiased index of local resources is of great value to the global community, and that's the whole idea that drives the WWW. I hope to be able to point to local indices all over - finding interesting Jewish links gladdens my heart, but it also pleases me when someone helps me carry the load.

Why I do this

I started because I thought it was needed and it wasn't being done. Since then, several people and organizations have done similar things. For instance, Matthew Album at ORT had the excellent A-Z Index (now superseded by Maven) When I first saw this, I said to myself, hey, Matthew is stealing my thunder. He even derived some of his links from mine. After a short moment of panic, I realized that it is good to have more than one person on the case, and he was gracious enough to approach the problem from a different angle. The whole idea is to make sure that people can find the information, that's the whole point of the WWW, and two links to the same data are far better than none. His index is a different treatment of the same information, that's fine.

I don't mind that people use my information - that's what it's here for. But if you copy it to use in a course or an article, or if you distill it or derive from it, please let me know.

Lastly, I don't make any money doing this. I don't want to - there are easier ways for me to make money. It's not advertising and it's not commercial. I don't "have to" put links in. I do it for the producers, because they are providing value, but I really do it for the consumers. I started doing this as a consumer, to fill a consumer need. I suppose I've become both. And I do it myself (with help from people who send me suggestions). I do this because I think it's a valuable resource - I'm doing my part. I get email saying, keep up the great work for Yiddishkeit and I say to myself, who me? Not that I'm complaining.

Andrew Tannenbaum

Andrew Tannenbaum
trb@shamash.org
Brookline, MA, USA