Open Access News

News from the open access movement


Monday, November 12, 2007

Making the web work for research the way it works for pizza

John Wilbanks, Director of Science Commons, has reactivated his blog at Nature Network.  The blog subtitle is "Agitating for innovation through open licensing and good technology." 

He launched the blog in July 2006, but stopped posting the same month until he could "work out the intellectual property aspects of posting [t]here."  From his first post since then:

To be totally open, I’ve been waiting for Creative Commons licenses to come to the Nature Network before investing myself into blogging. It’s hard for us at CC to work otherwise. And while there is movement on the copyright aspects of this site, it’s not there yet.

However, I’ve been itching to start talking here anyway, and in the short term, I’ll be posting the fulltext of my comments into Nature Precedings under CC-BY 3.0, so that the text itself will indeed be available under an open sharing license....

From today's important post on The Research Web:

We need to start talking about the Research Web....

We need the Research Web because the existing Web doesn’t work for research. Here’s what I mean: Googling a phrase like signal transduction genes in pyramidal neurons doesn’t get you a list of genes. It should get you a list of genes. No amount of collaborative filtering makes it easy to read 188,000 papers – and this is stuff where you tend to want experts moreso than the “wisdom of crowds” – advice from someone who doesn’t understand signal transduction tends to be less reliable than from someone who does.

The Research Web is about integrating lots of stuff that wasn’t designed to be integrated with anything. It’s about getting precise answers to complicated questions instead of a mess of Web pages. It’s about the move to industrialize the way scientists annotate data. The Research Web is about making the Web work in a complex data environment, where machines make and transmit terabytes of content that humans have to interpret.

There’s a lot of phrases out there for this. Network Science. Cyberinfrastructure. E-Science. I like Research Web a lot more, because it ties into the ideas of the Web and what it means to us day to day. Research Web means that search engines work for research, like they do for pizza....

It doesn’t require anything deeply novel to make a Research Web. The “and then a miracle happens” problem doesn’t surface. The Research Web doesn’t tell you anything that isn’t yet known.  We’re just talking about re-designing information that is already digital into a format that works better for research – a format with more context and more structure.

It’s hard and annoying to do this – it takes discipline to use the right URIs, to harmonize existing ontologies, and reading the stuff natively is misery perfected....

It’s worth going through the pain and annoyance because the payoff is so significant: the ability to really thoroughly use all the databases and literature on the Web....

But there is frequently an assumption that the Social Web renders the Research Web unnecessary, that the wisdom of crowds will sweep away journals, that folksonomy renders ontology irrelevant....And it isn’t going to happen, at least, not any time soon....

That means boring disciplined work like re-using the same names for things instead of creating new ones. Work like minting stable names for new things, that pass strict Web standards. It means designing information for interoperability, for collaboration at the queryable machines level, not the human level. The Social Web doesn’t give us that....

And of course, both the Social Web and the Research Web require sanity in licensing. The Research Web totally fails when a thousand terms of use bloom. When papers are locked behind firewalls and databases can’t be integrated, the whole idea behind the Research Web seems almost unachievable. Research Web is built on Open Access to information, content, tools, software, and data. Period....