E-FILES:Knowledge-basket maps continents of information

One of the earliest examples of a company trading exclusively on the Internet in New Zealand is the Knowledge Basket.


One of the earliest examples of a company trading exclusively on the Internet in New Zealand is the Knowledge Basket.

Starting way back in November 1994, Dave Keet and Linda Winterburn built a Web site that would give users access to several large text databases, including the New Zealand Press Association news feed. This was the first time such serious news information was available online.

Since then, the service has added the Government Print archive of statutes, regulations, bills, Hansard and supplementary order papers. Independent Newspapers provides the full text of its stable of newspapers, along with others such as The Independent, and the Crown Research Institutes provide the New Zealand Science Database.

Information technology in general and the Internet in particular have made this business possible. Keet and Winterburn see exciting opportunities for knowledge management afforded by the technology.

"The intention of the directors of the Knowledge Basket is to open up this new age of information exploration to the searcher, without overwhelming them," says Keet. "Value is added to the information through full text indexing and search facilities. In the same way that a library is organised into collections of information - so the user can find their way easily and quickly to a likely source to provide an answer - the Knowledge Basket will continue to focus on providing information in niche areas, like the law, and attempt to provide a kind of one-stop shop for its users.”

Keet says the site works as a partnership between information suppliers and consumers. The law is a large focus of the Knowledge Basket, and law librarians are among the site's more than 2000 registered users, as are academics, government and corporate policy researchers, and professionals.

It is a very small operation with a very wide range. Keet and Winterburn are the only employees, both being directors, and they enlist the help of friends when needed.

"We avoid employing anyone directly as far as possible," says Keet. " We have a number of colleagues who occasionally help us out in return for being paid, when we need help, and they can spare the time. This is not really employing anyone and is less formal than a contract. At the moment, we have three such relationships happening."

Because of the specialised nature and small scale of the operation, marketing the site is not something that requires the vast resources of a consumer-oriented sales organisation. Keet says the major method of publicity involves direct contact with their key client group.

"We style ourselves New Zealand's research archive," says Keet, "So our customers are research oriented. We publicise on professional listserv's, and by attending - maybe speaking at - the meetings and conference of professional bodies."

The Knowledge Basket resides at the University of Auckland's computing centre. It runs on Sun and IBM hardware, using Solaris and AIX flavours of Unix to host the Apache Web server and Verity information server, specifically designed to support large text databases.

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