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Geo direct to the World Wide Web

Andrew Bond and Quentin Leiper describe the evolution and design of the British Geotechnical Society's new website at www.geo.org.uk

Last year the British Geotechnical Society Committee decided it was time to produce a new edition of the BGS Directory. Members and corporate subscribers were canvassed for their view on whether paper, CD, or electronic format would be the most appropriate medium. Previously, the cost of producing the directory had been met largely by subscription for corporate entries and it was important that this source of support and finance was retained.

The committee also considered how best the directory could reach a wider client base for the geotechnical industry (our customer! ) and yet be more easily updated. With the increasing use of e-mail and the internet, it was decided to commission a website to host an electronic version of the directory.

The website would provide the BGS with: A presence on the World Wide Web, ensuring international as well as UK exposure Communication and interaction with members and non-members alike

An excellent way of reaching young engineers, enthusing them about geotechnical engineering, and persuading them to join the Society

An easy medium for delivering timely and up to date information about BGS meetings and other activities

Better communication within the committee, saving time, administration, and cost

Highly visible ways of contacting the chairman, other committee members, and the BGS secretariat via e-mail.

By building a website, the BGS would be able to take full advantage of new technologies to keep its members informed about and involved in the Society's activities. At the same time, the BGS would be serving the users and customers of geotechnical engineering by providing a comprehensive directory of the UK's technical expertise in this subject.

Setting up the website In June last year the BGS committee commissioned Geocentrix to design, implement, and maintain its website. An embryo site was published in July. Since then, the site's content has greatly expanded and now includes the online version of the BGS Directory.

The site required a domain name that would be unaffected by the merger of the BGS and the ICE's Ground Board, which comes into effect in June. The name of the merged organisation - The British Geotechnical Association - made bga. org. uk the natural choice, but since the British Geriatrics Association had beaten us to it, we chose geo. org. uk.

To reinforce the choice of domain name, the site was designed so that both the society's name and its web address are clearly visible on each page (Figure 1). Contact details for the BGS administrator and webmaster are also readily available. The nameplate and logo at the top of each page (both of which are BGS-specific) will be updated when the BGS/Ground Board merger goes through.

Site structure

The website is designed around six 'centres', all of which can be entered with a single click of the mouse via the menu bar at the top of each page : events directory hall of fame talk back prizes rookie how to join committee

Sub-sections of the site are indicated by a series of buttons which drop-down below the BGS nameplate, on the right hand side of the page.

Events

The events centre provides visitors with up to date listings of forthcoming BGS meetings; records of past meetings (including transcripts where available); and details of the Rankine, Touring, and Geotechnique Lectures. Details include who is talking, where and when the meeting is being held, and what hospitality will be provided.

There is a link to the meeting's convenor.

Where available, copies of official meeting reports will be stored in a permanent archive (Figure 2). Work is under way to add reports of meetings that took place before the website was established. Records of past Rankine, Touring, and Geotechnique Lectures are incomplete at present, but will be expanded as time and resources allow.

Improvements to this part of the site will include the addition of biographical details of each speaker, plus photographs and diagrams relevant to each meeting.

Directory

A major feature of the website is the first online edition of the BGS Directory, last published in 1997 in paper form - the 5th Edition. Once complete, it will list every person who satisifies the entry criteria and many of the organisations involved in the geotechnical industry in the UK. At that point we intend to produce a CD-ROM version for distribution to potential clients of geotechnical services.

The 5th Edition of the BGS Directory lists 750 individuals and more than 100 contractors, consultants and sole traders involved in the geotechnical industry in the UK. Our aim is to exceed those figures with the online directory.

The online Directory displays the educational and professional qualifications, career details, and a brief summary of experience for each individual in its database. This information can be viewed in two formats: as a business card and as a curriculum vitae (Figure 3). The online Directory also stores personal details for each individual, but this information is for BGS use only and is kept private.

For corporate members, the online Directory displays the address of the company's head office and (on request) any subsidiary offices; a list of areas worked; the name of (and, if relevant, a link to) the company's parent organisation, if any; a list of specialists employed and links to their individual records within the Directory; and a brief description of the services the company offers plus a classified listing of those services. This information is also available in both short and long formats (Figure 4).

To have a record in the online Directory, you need to be a member of the BGS, the Engineering Group of the Geological Society or a regional Geotechnical Society and meet one of the following requirements:

1 (a) Be a chartered engineer through corporate membership of the Institution of Civil Engineers, the Institution of Structural Engineers, or the Institution of Mining & Metallurgy; or a chartered geologist; or a corporate member of an equivalent overseas institution and (b) have a minimum of five years' experience as a practising geotechnical specialist 2 (a) Have a professional qualification as above and (b) have a further degree (a masters or doctorate) in a relevant subject area (for example: soil mechanics, geotechnical engineering, foundation engineering, or engineering geology); and (c) have a minimum of three years' experience as a practising geotechnical specialist.

3. Have a minimum of 20 years' experience as a practising geotechnical specialist.

If you had a previous entry in the BGS Directory (5th Edition), you already meet the requirements above. If not, your record will be vetted by the BGS Committee to ensure you meet the requirements.

If you are a member of the BGS, you can enter your details in the online Directory by following the instructions given in Box 1. You will need your BGS membership number from your annual subscription notice or the mailing label of your copy of Ground Engineering - so recover that wrapper from the waste paper bin now!

There is no charge to BGS members for displaying their details in the online Directory, but members who are more than three months late paying their annual subscription will have their records hidden and eventually removed.

If you are not a member of the BGS, there is an annual charge of £25 to display a record in the online Directory. Payment should be sent to the BGS administrator and a form is provided on the website to enable you to do this. Non-member records will be displayed after vetting and once payment has been received.

Instructions for entering your details in the online Directory are given in Box 2.

Because the Data Protection Act requires the BGS to obtain your permission to publish your details on the web, a security system has been incorporated into the online Directory so that your record cannot be created or edited by anyone else but you. The procedures for creating a record in the online Directory (Boxes 1 and 2) are, therefore, more involved than we would like.

If you have any difficulties with entering your details in the online Directory, please contact either Quentin Leiper or Andrew Bond. If you do not have internet access but would like to update your Directory entry, please contact Quentin Leiper.

The hall of fame is a work in progress, but one we hope will add a bit of fun to the site and encourage younger people's interest in geotechnical engineering.

Here we plan to publish biographies of leading personalities from the British geotechnical world; describe projects of major geotechnical significance; and explain key discoveries from the science of soil mechanics. To get the ball rolling, we have republished the results of Paul Wheeler's recent survey of the profession that he presented at the BGS's 50th annual general meeting last June (see The great and the good of 50 years of geotechnics, GE July 1999, p6 and Figure 5).

We would welcome anyone willing to contribute new or previously-published material to this section. Please contact the BGS administrator to do so.

Talk back

The BGS committee wants to hear from you about the meetings, lectures, conferences, and seminars that its organises on behalf of the British geotechnical community. What events do you want the committee to organise? Which meetings do you find interesting and informative (and which not)? In particular, the BGS wants to attract younger members into the Society and would welcome comments from graduates on the activities of the BGS.

Your webmaster is also keen to know you like and dislike about the website!

Talk back is the place to send us your views.

Prizes

The BGS awards a number of prizes each year, including the prestigious Skempton Box 1: Procedure for BGS members to add a record to the online Directory 1.Go to the directory section of the site 2.Click on the link labelled 'Add YOUR name to the Directory' 3.Enter your surname and eight digit BGS membership number where indicated and click 'Submit' 4. If you had an existing entry in the 5th edition of the BGS Directory, this will be displayed.Click on the 'Add'button to create a record based on your existing data and then proceed to step 6 5. If you didn't have an existing record in the 5th edition, create a new record by clicking on the link labelled 'Create a new record'and then proceed to step 6 6.Make a note of the unique password that the system has assigned to your record and click 'Edit your record' to allow you to revise your details as you see fit (if you forget your password, you can contact the BGS webmaster for assistance) 7.Remember to change your password to something you can remember and don't reveal it to anyone.This secures your record from access by anyone other than yourself Gold Medal (recently awarded to Dr Ken Fleming of Kvaerner Cementation and Dr Dick Parry of Cambridge University); the BGS Prize for the best geotechnical paper published during the year; and the Cooling Prize for the best presentation by a young geotechnical engineer. The website honours past winners of these Box 2: Procedure for non-BGS members to add a record to the online Directory 1.Go to the directory section of the site 2.Click on the link labelled 'Add YOUR name to the Directory' 3.Enter your surname, title*, initials*, and email address where indicated and click 'Submit' (items marked * are optional and are used to locate your entry, if any, in the 5th Edition of the BGS Directory) 4.Check that you meet the entrance requirements (see main text) 5.Send payment of the annual fee of £25 to the BGS Administrator 6.Proceed with steps 4-7 of Box 1 awards.

This is also the place where you will find the rules of entry to the Cooling Prize competition.

Rookie

The rookie section of the site provides information about the Young Geotechnical Engineers' Symposium and Conference; details of the Cooling Prize competition; and links to the Geotechnical Training Coordination Committee's listing of continuing professional development courses, hosted by the Geological Society.

How to join

Anyone who wants to join the BGS, as an individual or corporate member, can do so by completing one of the application forms provided in the how to join part of the website. The Institution of Civil Engineers, which administers the Society's finances on behalf of the BGS, is not ready yet to accept online payment of subscriptions, so this is currently an offline mechanism for joining the BGS - but one that we are sure will change in the future.

Committee

You can find out who serves on the BGS committee and what responsibilities they have in the committee section of the site. Biographical details (including a photograph) of each committee member is given as well as e-mail addresses for the office holders for you to contact them on BGS matters.

There are 18 committee members and two guests who serve on the BGS committee (including the chairman, vice chairman, honorary treasurer, and honorary secretary). Providing them with agendas, minutes, and other documents for the main (and subcommittee) meetings is an expensive operation if done traditionally - by posting printed papers to each person. The website will allow this expense to be dramatically reduced, with documents available (in a password-secured area) to committee members for download as and when needed.

This section also holds the committee information pack which provides detailed information on every aspect of running the Society.

Conclusion

The BGS website and online Directory will help the Society satisfy its Vision and Mission, as set out in the Memorandum of Understanding (GE November 1998). In particular, it will assist us in reaching a wider engineering audience, both in the UK and overseas. It will also help us to communicate better with our members (and potential members) in an efficient and economic fashion.

We encourage all members to visit (and help us test! ) the site and, in particular, to activate/update your Directory entries as soon as possible. Non-members wishing to maintain their entries in the Directory need to submit the appropriate fee or - better still - join the Society. You will gain the added benefits of Ground Engineering magazine, plus all the meetings and other activities. You will also enjoy the 'feel good factor' from helping promote geotechnical engineering, supporting our prizes and young geotechnical engineers' activities, and being a member of the best network our industry has to offer.

Andrew Bond (webmaster@geo.org.uk) is managing director of Geocentrix, a company specialising in the development of geotechnical software and website design and hosting.

Quentin Leiper (chairman@geo.org.uk) is the current chairman of the British Geotechnical Society and company chief engineer of Carillion.

Building the site

The BGS website was built using a combination of tools selected for the myriad tasks involved in publishing a data-driven website.

The static parts of the site were written in HTML (hypertext markup language) and JavaScript using NetObjects Fusion 4 .The graphics were designed using a combination of Corel PhotoPaint 7 and Xara Webstyle 1.2 .

Dynamic content was coded in ColdFusion Markup Language (CFML), using Allaire ColdFusion Studio 4.0.The databases that underpin the site were built in Microsoft Access 97.

The site is hosted on a Microsoft Windows NT 4 Server, running ColdFusion Server 4.0.The site was published using the in-built FTP (file transfer protocol) support in NetObjects Fusion and GlobalScape's CuteFTP 3.

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