UK Web Focus

Innovation and best practices for the Web

Web 2.0: What Can It Offer the Research Community?

Posted by Brian Kelly on 27 February 2007

Web 2.0: What Can It Offer the Research Community? is the title of a talk I’m giving at on Wednesday 7th March 2007.

Normally I might make an announcement about the availability of a presentation after the event. However I’m increasingly realising the advantages of getting others involved in the early stages of prepearing talks. In this case I have made my slides available on Slideshare prior to the event – and have been pleased to discover that the slides have been marked as a favourite by two Slideshare users (digicmb and jensjepper). This has been useful as, as one might expect, these two users both have slideshows on related themes which are of interest to me.

But what do you think Web 2.0 can offer the research community? Since the Web was developed for the particle physics research community and, as Tim Berners-Lee has pointed out, Web 2.0 is simply a marketing term for his original vision of a collaborative and highly interactive environment, surely the particle physics research community will welcome the potential provided by Web 2.0?

On the other hand, perhaps, as PPARC is a government-funded organisation, the organisational culture may be conservative, with the emphasis of PPARC’s Web site having an attractive and usable interface to quality content will corresponding quality assurance and workflow processes which ensure that organisational and government guidelines are strictly adhered to. In which case, Web 2.0 might be regarded as primarily a trivial social networking environment which might have to be tolerated in universities, but has nothing to offer the research community.

What is your view on what Web 2.0 can offer the research community?  And do you have any examples which I can use?

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17 Responses to “Web 2.0: What Can It Offer the Research Community?”

  1. The researchers I have talked to like Blogs for reasons other than social networking. Researchers observe a traditional methodology. However, blogs allow a more creative freeflow ability to put down ideas as they appear in the consciousness. The aim is creativity, rather than social networking, comments and kudos. A popular platform for educational social networking is elgg.net. For example, see elgg.net/holla/weblog.

  2. ajcann said

    Personally, I’d stress RSS more as a means of combatting information overload (not that we have that RSS killer app yet!).

  3. Peter Miller said

    Dunno what definition of Web 2.0 you’re using but I like Tim O’Reilly’s notion (if I remember aright) of services that get better the more people use them. Not a user myself but I would think that citeulike.org has some web 2.0-ish characteristics on that basis, ditto community-based/distributed annotation in bioinformatics and adjacent areas. As far as wikis are concerned in the latter regard, http://www.topsan.org/WikiHome is an extant example based on the JotSpot wiki recently acquired by Google, WikiProteins at http://www.wikiprofessional.info/ a forthcoming high profile one (judged by the recent article in Nature). However, I have no measures of takeup/use.

  4. WRT what Ajcann says, whilst RSS can be of much assistance, it can very much increase information overload, because it consists of feeds which are essentially pushed at viewers.

    What is needed is some method of text mining of aggregated RSS feeds of different kinds (e.g. new patent announcements, new calls for papers, new journal content, new content in IRs, etc etc) and then matching the results with personal interest profiles, to produce a current awareness service which essentially identifies new items of real interest from the vast amount that’s being produced via RSS.

    This really might be a solution to information overload.

  5. Brian, I’d look at the third-party work being done with tools like CiteULike (which Peter also mentions above), PubMed, Connotea and similar services.

    I’ll leave you with some references which I’ve come across in the past few months, and let you draw your own conclusions:

    Social software and distributed scientific evaluation, Postgenomic (which does some of what Roddy talks about), Connotea/box.net mashup, myexperiment.org, Marginalia Plug-In for Open Journal Systems, PLoS

    Actually I think the science/research/technical publications area is currently probably one of the liveliest and most active in adopting or at least starting to use tools based on web 2.0 principles of collaboration, sharing and transparency.

  6. ajcann said

    Err, isn’t that called Google Roddy? ;-)
    At least, it would be if GoogleScholar had an RSS output like GoogleBlogsearch and GoogleNews. Aggregate the whole lot into one “river of news” using GoogleReader and Bob’s your etc.

    In my field (Biology), RSS feeds from targeted PuBMed journal searches go a long way towards this…
    http://eutils.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/eutils/erss.cgi?rss_guid=0FM9OxqXHH5dRUGmY682x_XRLGXdhavumChjn9U2_5O

  7. Peter Miller said

    I was inclined to say check out the JISC VRE projects in as much as some are portal-based and hence presumably fall under another definition I use for Web 2.0, viz “small things, loosely connected”. However, they might be a bit heavy-duty for your purposes.

  8. Peter Miller said

    If you’re going to include microformats, you might want to mention the Operator Ff extension. Every academic’s current favourite though has to be the reference management tool Zotero. If you’re going to cover RSS, you might also want to give Yahoo! Pipes a shout.

  9. Hi Peter – thanks for drawing my attention to Zotero. That was new to me and it does look good. Has anyone else used it?

    I would, though, disagree with your suggestion that it is “every academic’s current favourite” – surely every academic’s favourite application must be FireFox?!

  10. WRT Ajcann’s comment above – maybe I didn’t explain my point well enough, as what I was suggesting is not what various Google services can do. I think a ‘river of news’ as Ajcann suggests would actually be quite a torrent.

    What I was getting at was something far more personalised and specific.

    i.e. create a good personal interest profile (not just keywords, but a ‘fancy’ profile. Create silos of aggregated RSS feeds – one for new patent announcements from the various sources, one for new content in IRs, one for blog content, one for journal TOCs, etc etc.

    Then use text-mining techniques to match the two together, to produce a very specific and personalised current awareness service.

    One of the keys to this is producing good quality profiles. Another key is doing the matching. What I’m suggesting is not simple keyword matching.

    Hope this helps.

    Roddy

  11. Hi Roddy – the ‘river of news’ analogy which AJ mentions and you cite is quite old, coined by Davey Winer, I think. Googling for river of news I notice several articles, including one on
    Inside IT: Dip your mobile into the fast-flowing river of news
    published in the Guardian in September 2006 and, more recently (19 Feb 2007), one on Taming your own river of news.
    Might that river have already been tamed? Or, to use another analogy, might that Sushi bar which brings you the tasty morsels you’ve been waiting for have already arrived?

  12. Peter Miller said

    OK, I was being a little playful with the “every academic’s favourite” but I was referring to “extensions”, not browsers/applications. I’d actually be interested to know the uptake of Ff in the academic community. Do you have any figures?

  13. [...] by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on March 1st, 2007 Peter Miller recently suggested that “Every academic’s current favourite [FireFox extension] has to be the reference [...]

  14. Brian,

    Terrifically useful links you noted above WRT ‘river of news’ and an amazing coincidence in that I’ve been drafting something called ‘Gold Dust’. But the river doesn’t seem to have been tamed yet. That’s what the project we’re drafting would do. As Grant Robertson wrote on 19 Feb 07 in the link you note http://www.downloadsquad.com/2007/02/19/taming-your-own-river-of-news/ “This seems like an obvious target for some rockin’ open source app, WordPress plugin, Yahoo! Pipe, etc.. but a cursory search says I’m going to have to roll my own if I want to hang with the cool kids. Where’s the open source content flow aggregation system for the everyman?”

    RSS is, in effect, delivering an ever faster conveyor belt of tasty sushi, but users have to stop at the bar, wait for the conveyor, and choose what they want from the morcels. All very time consuming.

    Roddy

  15. Hi Roddy – looking at the Artifacting Stalker page which is linking in from the “Taming Your own River Of News page, it looks as through people are talking about generating millions of tiny streams which flow into a gigantic RSS ocean (if the example I cited, RSS feeds are provided or the minutae of an individual’s life – “08.00 – brushed my teeth”, …).
    Now this won’t be of interest to you (or the library community). So I think there will be a need to scope the ‘solution’ to the RSS ‘problem’. Perhaps it would be useful to hear more about your project work.

  16. Hi Brian

    If you looking for examples of Web 2.0-type service use in research you might like to mention the Ant Web site. One can map species of ants across the globe onto Google Earth. See: http://www.antweb.org/google_earth.jsp

  17. Peter Miller said

    So I asked 80-ish first year students if they knew what the orange RSS icon did. And one person knew. And he was a mature student. Does that contradict or reinforce stereotypes or were the students just being shy? Of course, you can deliver RSS feeds via Grazr etc and it doesn’t matter if students don’t know what acronyms or icons signify.

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