February 2004 // Volume 42 // Number 1 // Feature Articles // 1FEA3

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Pond Management: An Evaluation of Web-Based Information Delivery

This article evaluates the effectiveness of Web site use in improving pond management practices within New York and as a resource for improving pond management information delivery. Using inquiry statistics generated by the Pond Management Web site, we identified and addressed specific seasonal information needs. Based on email survey results, more than half of the Web site users reported making some pond management changes as recommended in the Web site. This Web site clearly provides an improved ability to understand and address user needs in a changing environment.

Clifford Kraft
Assistant Professor
Department of Natural Resources
Cornell University
Ithaca, New York


A continuing demographic transition of the rural and suburban landscape has changed rural land use patterns over the past several decades, leading to the increased construction of ponds on rural properties. Rural property owners often have the resources to construct ponds, and cultural perceptions have made pond ownership a symbol of the ideal rural lifestyle.

Yet many new rural landowners have little familiarity with the reality of pond management and have no effective link to the knowledge base disseminated by county Cooperative Extension educators during the 1950s and 1960s, when county Extension agents were widely recognized as the key source of information for farm pond management. This article describes an effort to incorporate Web-based delivery into 21st century pond management training programs.

Web-based sources of information and communication offer new methods for providing information, soliciting inquiries from pond owners, and linking energetic private landowners with others willing to share their expertise or provide assistance to others. The Internet provides the advantage of being able to address current topical issues with little time lag between problem identification and program delivery. The purpose of the study reported here was to determine the effectiveness of Web-based delivery as an educational tool for improving pond management.


In 1998, the New York Pond Management program was reconstituted to address the needs of a large audience of rural property owners. Many rural landowners have little familiarity with managing natural resources, yet are strongly motivated to do so. This program effort was also guided by county educators, who reported widespread demand for information on this subject.

For example, a survey of rural landowners in south central New York, conducted by a regional Cooperative Extension educator, identified "Managing or building a pond" as the topic of greatest importance. In another survey of New York educators, pond management was identified as one of four top priority natural resources management topics of interest (Schneider & Smallidge, 2000).

During the past decade, traditional sources of written communication have been increasingly replaced by electronic information delivery, due both to fiscal constraints and the need for rapidly updated information. Although Web-based delivery of training materials by Cooperative Extension educators is no longer novel, Web use is still new enough such that many aspects of its relative benefits are being explored (Muske, Goetting, & Vukonich, 2001). In 1999, the Internet was the fourth major communications medium after word-of-mouth, the printed word, and broadcast media (O'Neill, 1999). Web use has clearly increased since that time, as the number of Web sites continues to grow (Internet Software Consortium, 2003).

In order for Cooperative Extension educators to maintain credibility in an information age with numerous competing sources of information, convenient access to information must be available. Written publications are increasingly costly to print and take up valuable storage space (Jones, 1990).

Additionally, electronic publications can alleviate the problem of inadvertently distributing out-of-date information (Shaffer & Hussey, 1992), which can occur as publications remain "on the shelf" despite having been replaced by updated material. Out-of-date information is often contained within written publications due to a lack of resources to prepare and publish revisions, or the "success" of a publication (i.e., in terms of sales) can obscure the need for revision, especially as resources become limiting.

As was anticipated by Tennessen, PonTell, Romine, and Motheral (1997), timely Web information can be regularly updated and delivered to county offices and target audiences via PDF (printable document format) files, readily accessible within most households. Internet information delivery also facilitates electronic publication of documents that cannot be regularly updated or printed due to low demand or financial constraints.

This study was designed to evaluate the effectiveness of Web site use in improving pond management practices within New York state, as well as to generally evaluate Web site use as a means of improving pond management information delivery. The following three research questions were asked.

  1. Can Web-based information effectively deliver information to a statewide audience?
  2. Can a Web site be used to identify pond management priorities where targeted information is needed?
  3. Can Web-based information delivery influence pond management practices?


Web servers routinely log requests for resources, with each request considered a "hit" in the Web jargon. Although Web site developers often assess Web site use by tallying hits, these are an inadequate measure of use.

  • First, search engines regularly download pages from a wide range of Web sites and therefore can represent a large number of hits that are unrelated to intentional Web site use.

  • Second, multiple images on a single Web page can represent independent download events, additionally inflating these events as a measure of Web site use.

  • Finally, user contacts with a Web page do not provide any indication of whether the user actually obtained any information during this interaction.

The Fish Management in New York Ponds Web site (hereafter referred to as the "pond management" Web site) was made available on-line in May 2000 at http://pond.dnr.cornell.edu/. The site provides a form from which users can submit questions and also includes a posting of "Commonly-asked Questions" that incorporates responses to such questions. This feature is intended to both reduce the volume of direct responses required and also provides a convenient listing of responses to conventional questions.

Due to problems with using "hits" as a measure of Web page use, this study took advantage of information provided through the question-and-answer section of the pond management Web site. Interactions with Web site users provided direct evidence of information exchange and provided an opportunity for follow-up evaluation of impact resulting from this interaction.

A quantitative assessment of questions submitted by users provided temporal information regarding Web site use and identified topics of interest to Web site users. An email survey was sent to 271 users who had submitted questions through the Web site prior to January 1, 2003 (a response to each inquiry had been previously sent within 1 month of submittal). If no response to this survey was received, a follow-up survey was emailed 1 month after the initial survey. The survey asked whether users had:

  1. "Used the Fish Management in New York Ponds Web Site to change pond management practices?"

  2. "Change(d) pond management practices" in response to the email answer to their question?"


Eleven questions were submitted through the Web site via email during 2000, 75 questions were submitted in 2001, 189 in 2002, and, as of June 2003, approximately 150 were submitted, indicating a projected total of 300 inquiries during 2003. The seasonal pattern (Fig. 1) of questions submitted to the Web site indicates that users were more interactive during warmer months (i.e., April through October) than during late fall or winter. The seasonal pattern exhibits a discernible peak in June and July that could either reflect a greater number of management issues that need to be resolved at that time of year or the greater availability of free time and attention to outdoor natural resource management issues on rural properties.

Figure 1.
Seasonal Pattern of Inquiries to Pond Management Web Site

The seasonal pattern exhibits a discernible peak in June and July. 

Questions submitted to the pond management Web site encompassed a broad variety of subjects, summarized into four primary areas (Table 1). These major subject areas were identified following the first 18 months of Web site activity and did not subsequently change. However, sub-categories within these areas did change from year to year, depending on unusual conditions (e.g., a long, snowy winter produced numerous questions about fish die-offs in ponds). These subject areas and major sub-categories were used as categories for organizing the "Commonly Asked Questions" pages on the Web site and were also used in organizing program material for ongoing pond management workshops.

Table 1.
Categorized Subjects and Percent Count of Questions Submitted to the Pond Management Web Site







Obtaining Fish




Vegetation Management




Stocking Fish
























Grass Carp








Of the 271 surveys sent to individuals who had submitted inquiries through the pond management Web site, 171 responses were received, corresponding to a response rate of 63%. More than half of the people responding to the survey indicated that they had changed their pond management practices based upon information obtained through the Web site, and one-quarter of the respondents indicated that they had implemented "major changes" (Table 2). The proportions of respondents who had implemented major or moderate changes in pond management practices based on responses to their questions was slightly lower in both the "major" and "moderate" change categories, but these still accounted for almost 50% of total respondents.

Even with the potential bias resulting from the possibility that respondents were more likely to have implemented pond management changes than non-respondents, a substantial proportion of Web site users and those who submitted questions had changed their management practices as a result of Web site use.

Table 2.
Changes in Pond Management Practices Associated with Web Site Use


Response (%)





Have you used the Fish Management in New York Ponds Web Site to change your pond management practices?





Did the email response to your question change your pond management practices?





Almost half of the respondents (46%) indicated that they had used the fish management Web site more than once to obtain information. Eighty-eight percent of the individuals who submitted questions through the Web site lived or owned property within New York state.


This study demonstrates that electronic communication with stakeholders has helped change pond management practices and improves information dissemination related to pond management in New York state. The question-and-answer component of the subject Web site has also helped identify specific information needs, as well as develop an understanding of the ability of broad audiences to apply recommended practices. Web-based information delivery has provided an ability to quickly respond to timely pond management issues related to variable weather conditions, such as summer drought and winter die-offs of fish due to cold and snowy winters.

Although the number of questions submitted through the Web site has increased annually, it is uncertain how long this will continue. Responding to these inquiries (at a rate of one per day) remains feasible due to a repository of pre-established responses to specific questions, and the benefits of user interaction still outweigh the perceived distraction of such efforts.

It is also unclear to what extent posting responses to commonly asked questions has reduced direct inquiries, though the Web site will continue to be modified to improve user awareness of such information. Most users who submit questions own property with ponds in New York, and users from beyond the northeastern U.S. receive a response suggesting that they solicit information from appropriate regional sources.

Although it was initially thought that landowners would be less inclined to use the Internet during mid-summer, when the weather is favorable and people are likely to spend time outdoors, these results suggest an opposite trend. Users seemed to be comfortable consulting the Pond Management Web site searching for relevant information that was readily applicable to their ongoing pond activity. Apparently, the stereotype of an Internet user as someone who spends time on-line when the weather is lousy does not apply to individuals seeking information related to pond management.

It is unclear to what extent the seasonal pattern of Web site use was influenced by Web site promotion, training workshops, or other seasonal events. For example, each spring (usually in April), Web site contact information was provided via an email announcement to New York Cooperative Extension county offices, as well as county Soil and Water Conservation District offices. These announcements were timed with the knowledge that many of these offices conducted spring pond management workshops or sponsored spring sales of fish for stocking in ponds. These offices often subsequently included Web site contact information within their educational materials or newsletters.

It is also possible that the seasonal pattern of Web site use was influenced by pond management workshops through New York that annually enrolled an average of 750 participants. Although these workshops did not exhibit a clear seasonal trend, they tended to occur during late winter and early spring. Interest in pond management could have been stimulated by these workshops due to the fact that the pond Web site was featured in workshop instructional materials.

Overall, it is most likely that the seasonal pattern of interest exhibited in Web site inquiries reflects the seasonal pattern of issues related to managing rural ponds. Inquiries about sources of fish for stocking, maintenance problems, and winter fish die-offs occurred most frequently during spring, within 1 month of ice-out. Summer questions often addressed subjects such as leeches, water quality concerns, and vegetation management. Summer was also a time of the year when questions were most varied and often identified new concerns that were subsequently addressed in Web page revisions throughout the following year. Fall questions often returned to issues of fish management, and that was the time of year when inquiries most frequently addressed issues of new pond construction.

Although this Web site was designed to address questions about fish management in New York ponds, questions were frequently submitted regarding subject areas that this Web site did not comprehensively address, such as vegetation management. Web-based links provided a ready ability to provide access to other sources of information on such subjects.

Conclusions and Future Directions

Overall, the development and maintenance of a pond management Web site and interaction with users throughout New York state has provided an ongoing opportunity to develop and refine pond management materials on relevant subjects. New ideas and insights are continually being identified through Web-based interactions. For example, users have requested an on-line discussion forum for pond management issues that is now under development. New topics, revisions, and new links are regularly added on-line.

While a continual effort is maintained to improve the features of the Web site, this delivery approach is only as good as the information provided. The quality of Web-based information can benefit from the ease with which Web-based information can be updated, as well as the graphic and interactive features not possible in print media. As demonstrated in this effort, Web site development clearly provides an improved ability to understand and address user needs in a changing environment.


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