musings


Wow! Here’s an interesting signal coming from the incoming Obama Administration. “Change.gov” is now carrying a Creative Commons copyright license. According to the copyright policy on Change.gov, they are using the Creative Commons attribution license. That’s the most open license Creative Commons offers, and is a great signal that at least some officials in the new Administration “get” the value of greater openness and freedom to use and reuse information. I hope this is a sign of greater sanity on issues such as defense of the public domain, transparency in government, the importance of fair use, and the need for greater openness in publicly financed scholarly and research communications.

Hat tip to my friend and colleague Jason Schultz over at the Samuelson Technology Law Clinic.

Update: The Change.gov blog has a post describing the reasoning behind adopting the Creative Commons license. Interesting that they are highlighting a comment made by Lessig. It does indicate that the Obama team has some familiarity with the “Access to Knowledge” movement, its thinkers, and goals. A good sign!

Looking at the blog Ars Technica, I ran into a post reviewing an interesting report by the British Library and JISC. The report looks as Internet usage patterns of young people born after 1993 (Side note! 1993! I met my WIFE that year! I’m feeling old…). The aim of the report is to help guide development of digital library services.

The report details how young people, while comfortable with technology, are by no means always “expert users”. Relatively simple search forms most widely used, and “advanced search” functions see comparatively little use. According to the report:

Users make very little use of advanced search facilities, assuming that search engines
`understand’ their queries. They tend to move rapidly from page to page, spending little time reading or digesting information and they have difficulty making relevance judgements about the pages they retrieve.

That’s interesting. It suggests that most young people have big expectations for getting relevant information from a simple text box form. I suppose that’s even more motivation for more intelligent natural language search. Academic repositories may want to look at Powerset, if they come up with search tools (like Google) that you can install on your own sites.

Ars Technica also noted this report claims that “authority” is not dead for the Google Generation. This should give some comfort to professional scholars who worry that students will uncritically believe everything they see on the Web and won’t pay attention to traditional mechanisms for validating information (peer review, credentials, quality of sources, etc.).

Anyway, there’s much more to this report. Dig away!

I sent out an email call for nominations to the ArchaeoInformatics advisory board to the 800 or so people on the DDIG email list. The response to the email was truly overhelming, with 20 nominations coming in within 18 hours of my email (sent at 9:00 PM, PST).

In contrast, I heard 1 response to the weblog post made the day before. It’s an interesting observation about communication in the scholarly / research / and maybe larger professional world. There’s something about an email that provokes a response. It is personally directed, it sits in your inbox highlighted as unread until you do something about it, and once you’ve responded, you feel like you’ve earned a little bit of your pay check. An inbox is like a little to-do list that fills up everyday.

A website like this blog contrasts greatly. One can visit anonymously and not get the same “to-do” list incentive to act on it. At least that’s my impression of how things work for many professional researchers and scholars.

All of this probably has some bearing on the success and failure of collaborative systems for scholarly communication. If you want participation, and want people to feel like they are acting productively, it seems important to leverage the psychology of the inbox.

I’m at the iCommons iSummit and will be blogging periodically about it.

I just a saw a clip of “Star Wreck“, a Finnish science fiction movie made for something like $20,000. The movie is available for free download and has been since pirated(!) in Russia and China. According to the producers, the piracy and free download helped spread a buzz about the movie, and it has got the attention of major studios and distributors. They made 20X more money by giving it away.

What a model for the future of scholarly publishing.

Tom Elliot, Executive Director at the Pleiades Project, recently asked me about my thoughts about where the field of digital humanities (especially with regard to archaeology) was going in the next few years. I basically wrote back saying I had no idea, but that there are some hints about greater access, interoperability, and linkages with the commercial sector. So, here are some random and poorly organized ideas I shared with him:

  • I think we’re seeing pretty explosive growth of a whole suite of online services for humanities. I’m struck by the growing awareness of the importance of standards (OAI-PMH, GeoRSS, COinS, etc.) and I think we’ll see increasing concern with interoperability, scalability, and extensibility in architectures. Initiatives that “play nicely” with each other will win out over stand-alone silos. Tom linked to this important page illustrating some essential features cross-service interoperability should support.
  • I’m not sure that some of the Web 2.0 developments (folksonomies, wikis, etc.) will catch on for scholars, but blogging will probably grow. I think online services will probably do more monitoring and data collection of user behavior and those data will be used to deliver better services.
  • I think we’re also going to see much more available in the way of open access and Creative Commons licensed materials, even by institutions that have resisted these moves in the past (scholarly societies and museums). I’m seeing some individual researchers open up their entire field projects to more or less comprehensive transparency. That will put a premium on methodological quality and project management. It may also lead to some embarrassment of some senior scholars who look good on paper, but keep a very sloppy and incomplete record of their primary research activities.

Last, but not least, I think many of these efforts will capture a lot more commercial attention, since effective strategies in dealing with complex, semi-structured, and often spatially located content will have applications outside scholarship. Similarly, we’ll see more adaptation of commercial tools and services to meet scholarly needs. I think this interaction with the commercial sector will yield the biggest surprises with the most impact. It’s already happening with Google, but will continue in exciting ways.

Update:

Well that was fast. It took me all of 30 seconds to find discussion that contradicted my impression that Web 2.0 social / collaborative tools were not catching on in scholarship. Look at the impressions of Library 2.0 for a completely different take on the issue (link from the Stoa Consortium). It’s a very interesting read.