Weather maps, job listings, upcoming events, computer equipment prices, pictures from space-all these and more are available through TechInfo, the on-line service that started up three years ago and is being continually expanded.
A team from MIT's Distributed Computing and Network Services (DCNS) department began creating TechInfo in the summer of 1989 with the goal of helping distribute information within the MIT community. "We felt there was a need to solve some problems out there, like people not knowing what information was available, or when they did, not knowing where to get it," said Steve Neiterman, one of the TechInfo team developers.
Almost anyone at MIT can get TechInfo. It's available via Athena workstations, IBM mainframes, networked Macintosh and Windows-based computers or via modem for non-networked computers. The service, which uses distributed computing, stores information on various UNIX servers around the Institute.
"One advantage of TechInfo is that you can get information out earlier," Mr. Neiterman said. For example, the personnel office publishes job listings once a week in Tech Talk when classes are in session, but they are updated more frequently (and are available 24 hours a day) in TechInfo, he pointed out. It also offers an easy method of publication at no cost, he added. This fall, the Office of Undergraduate Housing and Student Affairs printed only a brief memo about housing, directing students to get detailed information from a TechInfo document.
Usage of TechInfo has grown steadily since its inception. During a recent week, 14,781 documents were read, with an average of 2,111 per day. As is usually the case, the weather forecast was the most frequently read document with 830 accesses, followed by information on Course 6, TechInfo access information and classified ads.
More items are added to TechInfo every day. One recent addition is an on-line version of the Safety, Security and Crime Prevention Handbook distributed by Campus Police. The department will also be publishing a crime log and A Safe Ride schedules; parking information is a future possibility, according to Chief of Police Anne P. Glavin. "The possibilities are kind of endless," she said.
Among the newest features of TechInfo are a "search" function that lets users find a word in any TechInfo document, and "what's new," which shows items that have been added to TechInfo service listings since a user-specified date. DCNS is now evaluating a proposal to add a feature by early next year that would allow users to more easily transfer computer applications via TechInfo.
One of the first TechInfo publishers was Tech Talk, which contributes selected articles from current and past issues as well as classified ads.
The service has since expanded to provide a wide variety of information in many categories. For example, under "computing" are the latest hardware and software stock, prices at the MIT Computer Connection and information on viruses. There are also listings of MIT jobs and volunteer opportunities in the Boston area, course descriptions, weather forecasts and maps, an MIT research directory and library offerings such as database listings, bibliographies and journal directories.
Miscellaneous items under "potluck" include a list of Massachusetts zip codes, Boston sports team schedules, a catalogue of information for area visitors, and statistics charting the growth of Iggy, the DCNS iguana. There are also GIF (Graphics Interchange Format) images, such as satellite maps of North America updated hourly, a scanned photograph of the earth as viewed from the cargo bay of mascot Iggy. Users also have access to similar services at schools including the University of Pennsylvania, Baylor and the University of Oslo.
Because TechInfo is a "partnership" aimed at both providers and users for the exchange of information, the TechInfo team is hoping more departments and organizations around MIT will contribute documents and feedback for TechInfo, Mr. Neiterman said. "The more people that contribute, the more valuable the service is," he said. "We're eager to work with people to publish information and to find out how the MIT community would like TechInfo to grow." Comments can be sent via e-mail to .
A version of this article appeared in the October 6, 1993 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 38, Number 9).