August 2006

The AAI is supporting an open expert panel discussion for the upcoming “Preserve America Summit” that will be held in October of 2006.

The expert panel will discuss issues relating to national historical preservation policy and how best to structure the US role in international efforts at historical and cultural heritage preservation. This discussion is open to all and is available under the open terms of the Creative Commons Attribution license.

I think there are important questions about the access, use, other intellectual property issues that surround cultural heritage documentation. This is a chance for DIGG members to share their opinions on how digital preservation and dissemination efforts should mesh with federal and international historical preservation policy. How should digital documentation fit with funding priorities, policy guidelines, and strategies for community participation?

To view and comment on the discussion, please click here.

Wow! The Stoa Consortium group blog recently highlighted a very interesting development noted by the blog “Semantic Humanities“.
Here’s a really interesting collection of software resources and tools being developed at MIT under the banner of the SMILE project. Most are based around RDF (the Resource Description Framework), a W3C standard that is the backbone of efforts to develop the Semantic Web.

It looks like many of the tools here can help in dealing with many of the interoperability concerns faced by researchers. For instance, archaeological datasets would be more valuable when seen against various environmental and ecological datasets. Tools like this can help enable “mash-ups” between resources developed in these various disciplines.

Their TimeLine widget would be of immediate interest to archaeologists, because it provides a ready-made software tool to graphically represent chronology (in the form of an easy to navigate timeline). It looks very clean and easy to implement, and would make an impressive navigation tool for archaeological resources on the web. This would be a great browsing navigation and visualization enhancement for Open Context.

All their work is free and open source. It’s definitely worth exploring.

PLoS One, a new and innovative approach to peer-review journal publication, has just launched by the Public Library of Science, the leading publisher of open access, open licensed science and medicine. They aim to serve all areas of science and medicine, hoping to encourage multidisciplinary communication. Again, thanks go to Peter Suber’s Open Access News for sharing this announcement.
PLoS One has an innovative approach to peer-review. Submissions will be evaluated first by the PLoS One editorial board on issues of technical merit. If the paper is accepted, it is published in the PLoS One open access, system and is exposed to “community-based open peer review involving online annotation, discussion, and rating.” (see llink)

Having pretty clearly established themselves as serious, respected scientific publishers (PLoS biology has an impact factor of 14.7), PLoS looks ready to experiment with digital media to try other approaches to publication. PLoS One represents an experiment in a lot of ways. Papers are more clearly part of an ongoing process of communication and discussion and are less like static artifacts. Evaluation and review continue well after initial public dissemination. And in PLoS One, the community is invited to add value to papers through “Web 2.0″ collaborative tools.

I’m very interested in following how this works and how it is accepted by the professional community. Community participation is an important data integration strategy for Open Context. In that system, user interaction, especially tagging, establishes rich semantic linkages between items from different datasets. Enough user tagging would add rich value to all the content, highlighting significant observations and potentially identifying interesting linkages across multiple datasets.
Drawing value from user interaction and making users more than consumers of information but inviting them to be participants in creating valuable knowledge sounds like a great approach. It has been widely successful in several high-profile commercial sites, such as Flickr (tagged photos) and Del.ic.ious (tagged web content). The Wikipedia, a fascinating phenomena of almost unbelievable scope and depth (and one of the top 20 most visited websites), is entirely built out of volunteer user developed content.
These enormously popular sites reach for a general global user community. They are not really intended to serve the needs of specialist professional communities. The uptake of these community-participatory (“Web 2.0″) approaches is relatively limited in academic and professional communication (though see Connotea). I doubt this has much to do with technophobia as it much as it has to do with the special social, incentive and professional needs of scholars. If PLoS One can help figure out how to motivate professional communities to use participatory tools that add value to scientific communication, I think they will have made a fundamentally important contribution.