October 2000 // Volume 38 // Number 5 // Ideas at Work // 5IAW2

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User Analysis and Future Directions of the Web-Based Aquaculture Network Information Center

Trends revealing increasing Internet access in the U.S. provide an excellent opportunity for educators to deliver educational programs over the Internet. The Aquaculture Network Information Center (AquaNIC) Web site was established in 1994 to serve as the gateway to the world's electronic resources for aquaculture. From September 1999 through August 2000, 705 unique visitors per day viewed approximately 5,000 pages per day. The top five domain types were commercial (56%), network (30%), education (10%), government (1.6%), and organizations (1.2%). The five most commonly accessed directories were jobs (39%), publications (28%), multimedia (22%), beginners (6%), and Internet sites (4%). We propose increased collaboration between Extension and Sea Grant aquaculture educators to deliver on-line educational programs responsive to the needs of the global aquaculture community.

D. LaDon Swann
Associate Director
Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium
Department of Fisheries and Allied Aquacultures
Auburn University
Dauphin Island, Alabama
Internet address: swanndl@auburn.edu

Mark Einstein
Web Systems Administrator
Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant College Program
Department of Animal Sciences
Purdue University
West Lafayette, Indiana


The term "information superhighway" was coined for the Internet in 1978 by Albert Gore (Gordon & McKenzie, 1994). The "superhighway" is now a mainstream form of mass communication of interest to adult educators. The Internet is used by 210 million people from 150 countries (Nua Ltd., 1999), with 113 million Americans having Internet access in 1999 (Nielsen/NetRatings, 1999). The number of Americans with Internet access is expected to increase to 148 million by 2001 (Mandel, 1999).

A second area of interest to the adult educator is the increase in the number of adults participating in education programs. For example, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reported 59 million Americans took part in adult education programs in 1991, 76 million in 1995, and an estimated 100 million by 2004 (NCES, 1998, & Weber, 1999).

These two trends provide an excellent opportunity for educators and specialists to collaborate to address the needs of our adult audience through program delivery over the Internet.

Aquaculture is one example of where the Internet is used to serve our customers. Aquaculture is one of the fastest growing forms of animal agriculture. Production increased from 308 million pounds in 1992 to 768 million pounds in 1997, while farm-gate value increased from $261 million to $978 million during the same period (National Marine Fisheries Service, 1999 and National Agriculture Statistics Service, 1998).

However, little coordination of the delivery of Internet-based aquaculture information by the Cooperative Extension Service or Sea Grant existed prior to 1994. Practicing or prospective aquaculturists relied on direct contact with either state Extension or Sea Grant educators as their primary source of university aquaculture research and Extension information. As national interest in aquaculture information grew, aquaculture educators were faced with the challenge of increasing educational programs for a growing audience without a concomitant increase in program funding.

In addition, there was no single source for locating aquaculture information by the world aquaculture community. As Internet access and use extended beyond educational institutions and governmental agencies, a clear need was identified to use the Internet to reach a broader audience. It was clear that, in the age of an Internet "information overload," a centralized gateway to the world's electronic resources for aquaculture would be beneficial to the Extension community.


The Aquaculture Network Information Center (AquaNIC) <http://aquanic.org/> was established at Purdue University in 1994 through funds from the Cooperative State Research Education and Extension Service and the Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant Program. AquaNIC hardware is housed in the Department of Animal Sciences at Purdue University and is coordinated by the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium, the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, and the Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant College Program.

AquaNIC also is a member of the Agriculture Network Information Center (AgNIC) <http://agnic.org/>, where it maintains the aquaculture subject matter section. AgNIC is a voluntary alliance of the National Agricultural Library (NAL), Land-Grant Universities, and other agricultural organizations, in cooperation with citizen groups and government agencies. Collaborating members of the AquaNIC/AgNIC alliance consist of Cooperative Extension and Sea Grant Specialists representing each region of the U.S. These specialists coordinate content delivery and also serve as a steering committee to provide oversight and direction for AquaNIC.

The mission of AquaNIC is to be the gateway to the world's electronic resources in aquaculture. AquaNIC houses or provides links to more than 8,000 of state, national, and international aquaculture publications and newsletters. (Due to the large number of publications available in Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF) format, AquaNIC uses commercial search engine software capable of a full text search of PDF files.)

AquaNIC also has many other features to assist existing and prospective auquaculturists:

  • A media section contains photographs, Microsoft PowerPoint® slide sets, digital video, aquaculture software, and on-line instructional modules.
  • Several contact directories are maintained, including an international database of people involved in aquaculture and a database of more than 800 aquaculture Web sites.
  • A news section provides users access to a calendar of events, classified advertisements, and weekly news flashes.
  • Job service directories include a job and resume database.
  • A beginner's section contains general information and threaded discussion groups for a variety of commonly cultured aquaculture species and the production systems in which they are grown.
  • An assortment of key links beneficial to outreach educators is consolidated into an educator page and includes a list of frequently asked questions and Java-driven aquaculture chat rooms for educator-specialized discussion sessions.


AquaNIC was the first U.S. aquaculture Web site and is globally one of the most widely accessed and cited aquaculture Web sites. (AquaNIC staff monitors monthly user statistics using WebTrends®, a commercially available Web traffic analysis software package. WebTrends® collects general information, resources accessed, demographic information, and activity statistics. Data reported in this article is from September 1999 through August 2000.)

More than 1,000 individual, educational, commercial, and governmental, Web sites link to AquaNIC as a source of on-line aquaculture information. More than 8,000 files are currently maintained on AquaNIC, with more than three million files downloaded in 1999-2000 from more than 90 countries.

AquaNIC had approximately 5,000 pages per day viewed by 1,500 daily visitor sessions, with 705 (47%) unique visitors per day. Visitors using AquaNIC two or more times per month comprised 17% of the total unique visitors. Average session length was approximately 8.5 minutes. Visitor sessions from the U.S. comprised 63% of the total, 16% were international, and the remaining 21% were of unknown origin.

Data on organization types reveals an increased U.S. population with Internet access. When AquaNIC was established in 1994, more than 75% of visitors access the site through an educational (.edu) domain, with less than 10% using a commercial (.com) domain. In 2000, the top five domain types used were commercial (.com, 56%), network (.net, 30%), education (.edu, 10%), government (.gov, 1.6%), and organizations (.org, 1.2%).

AquaNIC has 11 public root directories: beginner's section, discussion groups, publications, Internet sites, jobs, resumes, newsletters, contacts directory, multimedia, news flashes, and educator information. Of these, the five most commonly accessed directories were jobs (39%), publications (28%), multimedia (22%), beginners (6%), and Internet sites (4%).

Future Directions

Based on the user information collected for AquaNIC, there is data supporting the use of the Web by educators to provide educational and industry support information to a global audience for a specific agriculture subject area such as aquaculture. We suggest that if the past was a time of providing electronic versions of hard-copy information on the Internet, then the future will be a time of putting information to work through the development of on-line educational programs responsive to the needs of the global aquaculture community.

While Web sites providing solely electronic copies of Extension publications have been and still are useful, future Web sites should take a more holistic approach to supporting the aquaculture industry needs. For example, the Internet is already being used to provide in-service training within Extension. An observational study by Lippert, Plank, Camberato, & Chastain (1998) provides evidence that Extension agents in South Carolina and Georgia were receptive to using the Web as a means of training a group of professionals who had traditionally depended on more personal face-to-face interactions.

The future success of AquaNIC may depend on continuing improvements in delivery of existing information services provided and an increased emphasis on on-line instruction for adult learners. To achieve the goal of increased educational programming on the Internet, there must be increased collaboration across state, regional, and national boundaries using the collective, worldwide expertise of aquaculture specialists.

Non-formal courses, specialized training, and workshops targeting existing and prospective aquaculturists and other educators are the new initiatives AquaNIC proposes to address the needs of aquaculture stakeholders. These Internet teaching resources must be designed, developed, and implemented to allow maximum interaction between the "teacher" and the "student." Teaching resources will include combinations of media such as streaming audio and video, chat rooms, discussion groups, one- and two-way video, virtual reality, electronic mail, and other means of interaction to address industry needs (Hudspeth, 1992).

Through collaboration between educators and the use of interactive media outreach, educators specializing in aquaculture will be able to convert the Web from a source of information to a source of instruction.


WebTrends® and Microsoft PowerPoint® are registered trademarks of their respective corporations. The authors also acknowledge Angie Archer and Angela Newcome for technical assistance provided to AquaNIC. AquaNIC also thanks the USDA North Central Regional Aquaculture Center and the National Sea Grant College for their financial support of AquaNIC.


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