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Futures of scholarly communication

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 Right from the beginning of my interest in web technologies and scholarly communications it was the possibilities that excited me. Many of these possibilities emerge from analogies with tools from the consumer web or computer science. I’m clearly not alone in this, indeed the constant stream of first “Facebook for Science” variants and then “Github for Science” projects shows how the tools from other spaces can inspire new approaches to research practice.

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 In the earlier piece “How I got into Open Science” one of the first versions of this is described, the way in which the ideas of “Web 2.0” provides a view of a new kind of research practice. In many ways it is still that view that motivates my work. When I first started writing and thinking about these issues the debate was between Web 2.0 and 3.0, between the socially constructed, tag indexed web, and the emerging semantic web. That dichotomy now seems long past its due by date, but neither approach, nor a productive combination has been fully realised in the research space.

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 Perhaps inspiration should be sought at a more basic level of the computing stack? In “Holding up a Mirror” I reflected on how computational and experimental sciences both seem to have a rose-tinted view of each other’s practice. The computational sciences were looking to the experimental sciences as holding greater standards of rigour and reproducibility, while the experimental sciences assumed that computational sciences were naturally more replicable. In practice there are challenges on both sides, but there is potential for best practice from both sides to inspire the other. In the end it seems that the best of each approach offers potential answers to the challenges and issues of the other.

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 “Re-imagining the Laboratory Record” explores some ways in which that might work in practice. Growing out of work with Jeremy Frey’s group at the University of Southampton, this was one of the earlier attempts to articulate our views on how to organise and capture a laboratory record. In its original version it proposed Google Wave as a technology that would allow many of these ideas to be implemented. Google Wave was a flop, a technological leap that never quite delivered on its promise. There are many reasons for this, but one of them was that it was trying to be too many things at once. In this version of the piece the section on Google Wave is replaced with a more recent post, “Data Capture for the Real World”, which adopts a minimal approach. Address the immediate and recognised need but build in the capacity for more to emerge as the user realises it is possible.

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 The third piece also touches on Google technologies and the challenges of tackling multiple use cases. It discusses the challenge of interfaces and systems that help people to work collaboratively with data. Online spreadsheets like Google Docs offer enormous potential for collaborative data cleanup and curation. At the same time they are not well suited for interfacing with computational work flows. Of course, these are things that can be improved upon, but there is something more fundamental going on here. The challenge of optimising dynamic human collaborative frameworks that also work well with computation. Do we need to think differently if we are to translate the inspiration of computational tooling into human research? What does a user experience that works for both humans and machines look like?

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 This is a general question that threads through the whole section, and through many of the other pieces in this book. How do we combine the best that machines can do with the skills and insight of human users. We need to capture data objects efficiently, index them and present them in a range of ways relevant to specific use cases. But we also need to support the human need to work through a story, a narrative of how the pieces fit together. Perhaps we can automatically generate some of those narratives, treat them as merely a display layer separated from the underlying data. But that is some way off, the human researcher is still the much more potent story teller.

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 The final piece in this section tries to find a route to balance these needs in the context of an ever growing research corpus. Written as a white paper for a meeting in Dagstuhl that would later lead to the formation of the Future of Research Communication and E-Scholarship organisation (FORCE11) it was one of my earliest attempts at integrating some of my emerging ideas about the need for narrative with the graph and web based view of research objects that had developed earlier from our lab notebook work.

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 It attempts to chart a path in which we can have the best of both worlds. Individual objects can be captured and managed, the relationships between them described in ways that allows the automated aggregation and display of the small scale stories. But the larger scale stories still require human intervention to build a compelling narrative. The question of resourcing is at the centre of this, and by extension the issues of resourcing peer review discussed previously.

9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 In the end this remains my solution that original false dichotomy of Web 2.0 vs semantic web. It integrates the idea of research objects (or aggregations of fragments) with the need for story telling. Ultimately the root of my journey into humanities perspectives might be found here as well. It took time for me to understand and value the idea of narrative, but it has remained central to my thinking ever since.

10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 The challenge of course lies in implementing the ecosystem of tools that would actually allow this set of ideas to be expressed. That work remains largely undone. The pieces are now starting to emerge but we are some distance from a full realisation. Apparently these things move slower than many of us would hope. But in the end the journey from inspiration to application is one that requires more than just the pieces being in place, it needs a compelling story to be told about how they fit together.

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