Scholarly Societies 


Editorial, 2009, December 27:
Fifteen Years of the Scholarly Societies Project
The Early Days

Rapid Growth Initial I, Ornaten The First Decade: Retrospect and Prospect, the Editor (that would be me) indicates that the first five years (1994-1999) were marked by rapid growth in the number of entries for societies in the Project, but also considerable concern about the amount of maintenance work required to fix broken URLs.
Historical Enhancements In 1999 I began a sub-project entitled Inventory of the Oldest Scholarly Societies. Much information on that may be found at Ten Years of the Inventory of the Oldest Scholarly Societies.
Geographical Expansion and Unicode Use From 2000 to 2001, I undertook intensive work to increase the proportion of societies from countries other than the ones that then dominated the Internet, namely the English-speaking ones. As a result of enhanced geographical coverage, problems in dealing with foreign diacritics and non-Latin scripts assumed greater prominence than previously. Consequently I developed protocols for dealing with diacritics and non-Latin scripts; in particular I used the Unicode standard for non-Latin scripts.
Maintenance Problems
The Horror Sets In Initial E, Ornatearly on, I became alarmed by the amount of maintenance work that was required because a significant number of society websites changed their URLs in any given year. There have certainly been societies who have avoided that situation by obtaining a domain name; examples include the earliest ones added to the SSP: the IEEE and the ACM. The latter two societies had already acquired their respective domain names by 1994 or 1995 and have never changed the URL for their websites since that time.

Restrictions Set In So I instituted a policy of restricting most new additions to the Project to societies that had acquired their own domain names, thinking that over time this would result in a considerable reduction in maintenance work in "fixing" URLs. This is documented in a series of three editorials in 1997 found in News/Editorial.
Wayward Webmasters It never occurred to me that a significant number of societies who went to the effort of acquiring their own domain names would find it necessary to obtain different domain names with the passing of time. There are, indeed, a few situations when this is necessary, as, for example, when the name of the society changes. In most cases, however, the discarding of one domain name for a new domain name appears completely unnecessary, and essentially defeats the purpose of having a domain name, which is to provide stability by eliminating the need for changing a website's URL.
A New Direction
Desperate Times, Desperate Measures Initial A, Ornates the collection of societies in the Scholarly Societies Project approached 4000 entries, it became clear that the Project would be in danger of collapsing if the collection were to become significantly larger, simply because of the maintenance required.

I therefore decided to concentrate less on increasing the number of entries for societies in the Project, and more on increasing the amount of "stable" data, meaning data that could not be compromised by the deliberate actions of that subset of webmasters who might more appropriately be described as Energy-Sucking Agents of Chaos.

A Safe Haven The bulk of the data being mined is in the form of journal-title abbreviations (for the older scholarly societies) found in the scholarly record, primarily journal articles. Further information may be found in a recent Editorial in the historical section: Editorial, 2009, December 2: Ten Years of the Inventory of the Oldest Scholarly Societies.

Unless malicious individuals somehow gain the ability to alter the text of journal articles that have been written over the last 340 years, that data cannot be altered, unlike the situation with website addresses.

How Great the Change Some idea of the shift in emphasis may be gained by comparing the following statistics over the last five years. The table below reveals that in the past 5 years, only about 300 new entries for societies have been added to the SSP as a whole, and the vast majority of the new entries have been added to the historical area; that is to say, most new entries are for societies founded prior to 1850. Moreover, the number of history pages in the historical area has doubled.

Entire Project
Pre-1850 Section
Early 2004 3838 Societies 267 Societies 198 History Pages
Late 2009 4157 Societies 538 Societies 427 History Pages

What the table does not reveal is the extraordinary increase in the number of journal-title abbreviations added to the historical area, much less the effort that it has cost me. As implied in Ten Years of the Inventory of the Oldest Scholarly Societies, the value of this data is likely to increase with the passage of time, as fewer and fewer scholars possess the skill to interpret the arcane bibliographic inscriptions that form a distinctive feature of the scholarly record from the 17th to 20th centuries.

The Future
New Societies Initial A, Ornates mentioned above, there has been a significant shift away from adding new entries for societies. This means that I am no longer actively pursuing new societies. If, however, people send in requests for new societies to be added, and if they satisfy the Guidelines, I will add them to the Project as my schedule permits.
A Closing Invocation

Hail Bright Spirits! Shine your Light on the Agents of Chaos and Confound them; and Let Domain Names endure from generation to generation, even unto the End of Days.

Grant us Grace, Bright Spirits, and Defend us from the Spectres of Unreason that haunt us; and Preserve the Scholarly Record, our Best Hope in a Dark Time.


Published 2009, December 27
Jim Parrott, Editor
Scholarly Societies Project, and
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