Sir — This may be the age of information, but gaining access to it is often difficult. Finding a site on the World-Wide Web can be like searching for a needle in a haystack.
In India, only half of the 40 laboratories in the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), the country's largest research and development organization, have websites of their own. These 20 institutions follow five different ways of naming their sites. If you don't know the address, you can't reach the site by guessing. None of them end with .gov.in. The Central Mechanical Engineering Research Institute, Durgapur, has opted for http://www.cmeri.com. Some end with .org — which gives the impression that the pages are hosted by a service provider located in the United States, where web addresses do not end in a domain indicative of the country. Most web-based search engines are unable to help, since they only reach some 16% of the web (see Nature 400, 107–109; 1999).
Adopting uniformity in naming domains could circumvent this problem. Many institutions around the world use their name or acronym as the lowest domain and move up hierarchically. For example, all the institutions in the CSIR could use .csir.dsir.gov.in, since CSIR is part of the Ministry of Science and Technology's Department of Scientific and Industrial Research. The Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology could be at http://www.ccmb.csir.dsir.gov.in. Educational institutions should follow the same convention. By understanding the organizational hierarchy of any institution one should be able to guess the web address.
The next improvements could be to the content, organization and facilities provided by the web pages. In the scientific world, concerted efforts are under way to realise the full potential of electronic communication, with e-print archives, online journals and the development of E-Biomed. Web pages for government-funded research and development laboratories need to offer more than just basic facts about the organization. They should show depth of content and should include details of their scientific activities, search facilities and routine updates.