20 January 2007


Foreword to Heather Hedden's upcoming book

I was asked to write the foreword to Heather Hedden's upcoming Indexing Specialties: Web Sites, to be published in 2007 by ITI. Given the importance of this book in the indexing industry, I am reprinting that foreword here. For more information on the book itself (not yet available), visit either ASI's publications page or a list of ITI's indexing publications.

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Indexing is not a popular profession by any stretch of the imagination. Not only is it almost completely unknown in lay circles, but let's be honest: writing indexes sounds about as exciting as cleaning the house, but a hundred times harder. Also, if you were born in any year before 1990, the idea of Web indexing sounds like cleaning a house in outer space. I mean, there are no houses in outer space.

The Internet and the Web -- this monstrously huge and growing system of sharing data -- desperately need more information sorcerers like Heather Hedden. Not only does Heather have the talent to recognize when knowledge is missing, but she also has the ability to make that knowledge visible. She starts by learning for herself, and then she loves to share.

Heather and I first crossed paths in my classroom, where I taught a course called "Writing Indexes for Books and Websites." My course was written to explore the questions and theories of indexing, and so couldn't be limited to just books. Heather’s interest went much further, and since then she has explored writing web indexes as a singular discipline. For me, Heather has been a student, an apprentice, and a role model. She's someone I count on to get things done. She has vaulted across the lines from library science to book indexing to web indexing, each time with surprising success, and has since become a renowned and respected expert in the web indexing community.

Indexing Specialties: Web Sites is a book filled with honest, get-it-done advice. Heather is not afraid to talk about the code and the tools, because she has faith in her readers. In her hands, the complicated stuff looks straightforward. Besides, when the technical lessons are over, Heather shows readers how to think about web indexing as well: as a process and as a business. Until now, if book indexers wanted to graduate to the Internet frontier, they had no unified place of reference, no single source of everything they'd want to know. In fact, some of the tools Heather includes in this book were almost completely unknown to indexers until now.

I am excited and pleased to see Heather compiling this knowledge in a book. She has put into print an indexer's Rosetta Stone, which will lead book indexers toward other information management topics like taxonomies, information architecture, and search tools. It's not about complicated coding practices and computer programs, but about the guidelines to getting that A-to-Z index published on the Internet, and doing it right.

She begins by exploring the boundaries of web site indexing, clarifying what kinds of sites need indexing, how they should look, and how they should work. Then she immediately provides the HTML building blocks to making your indexes appear on the Web, the surprisingly simple code you'd need to create index pages, index entries, indentations, hyperlinks, and cross-reference links. If you've never programmed on the Web before and are afraid it's over your head, you’ll be kicking yourself once you see how easy Heather makes it.

Once you're armed with the grammar, you next need the tools to actually write. Heather gives you the detail about the tools (
CINDEX, HTML Indexer, HTML/Prep, Macrex, SKY Index Professional, and XRefHT) to create or generate indexes that are ready for web publication. She takes more time exploring the specialized tools of XRefHT and HTML Indexer, two stand-alone web indexing applications, and shows how you can use their features with agility.

The last third of the book is dedicated to the "mindspace" of web indexing. There's more to indexing than just the tools, and so Heather writes carefully about how indexers should approach the job. She addresses the challenges of working out of order, adding anchors, indexing periodicals, and knowing which pages and at what level of detail you should index. She deals in detail with cross-references, language, subentry structure, and format. Finally, Heather dives into the nitty-gritty of the web indexing marketplace, including how to market yourself as a web site indexer.

Web Sites is going to satisfy you immediately and in the long term. On behalf of the American Society of Indexers -- and myself, personally -- I am honored to welcome Heather as an esteemed author in our community.

Seth Maislin
President of the American Society of Indexers (2006-2007)

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On Feb 6, I corrected the exact title of Heather's book in two places.
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