Recent Thoughts

Opening Knowledge

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We blogged about our mission a couple years ago, and it has been fascinating to see how our understanding has grown over time.


All that we do in this company is motivated by our mission, which is:

To open up the knowledge of the world, so that light and understanding will be more accessible to everyone.

We live in the information age. Why does knowledge need to be opened up?

Knowledge is trapped right now in books, on the Web, and in people’s heads. If our goal is to make light and understanding more accessible to everyone, we need more than access to books, libraries and other repositories of knowledge. We need to lower or remove barriers to the transfer of knowledge from one person to another. Transferring knowledge is harder than it needs to be, often requiring a lot of explanatory background information because the connections in logic of a particular nugget of knowledge are not linear. Research, at its essence, is simply structured learning, and is the process of connecting pieces of information together to create a new nugget of knowledge. We need easier ways to share these nuggets of knowledge. We also need to be able to share knowledge in more open, personal ways. Knowledge needs to be accessible in whatever way people think.

A library in France is a good metaphor for how knowledge is trapped and inaccessible right now. If you look at the picture below, you notice that this library, officially named La Tête au Carré (The Square Head), looks like a well-formed classical bust, up to the bottom lip. The rest is obscured by the opaque aluminum block that is the top four stories of the library. Because it is covered with finely perforated aluminum mesh, nobody can see into the library from the outside, but the people inside can see out. It’s hard to tell whether the library is depicting someone male or female, old or young, happy or sad. Neither can you tell what is in his or her mind, nor what he or she is thinking.

Tête carrée, or Square Head, a library in Nice, France
Une tête au carré à Nice (A square head in Nice) by Benoît Lesquerbault, licensed under a CC-BY license, is actually the seven-story administration building of the municipal library in Nice, France. The sculptor, Sacha Sosno, uses the art of obliteration to invite the viewer to imagine the rest the sculpture.

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W3C Web Annotation Working Group

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We are thrilled that web annotations, one of the core building blocks that we are using for Geungle, have made it onto the W3C standards track. While this is a great stepping stone in the standards process, there is still a good ways to go before they becomes a W3C Recommendation, and are adopted by the general Web community. There is great hope, however, for Doug Schepers, the W3C contact for the new working group, mentioned that web annotations broke the record for the number of W3C votes for any new charter ever since online voting began (in 2003).1 I have thoroughly enjoyed witnessing how people have come together from many different places and worked together, trying to make the web a better place. While there were opportunities to sow seeds of discord, no one did (that I am aware of). This is kind of unique in the standards world (yes, even at the W3C), but I think everyone just realized the importance of this work, and that collaboration was essential for success. I have learned a lot watching this process, and have been impressed by everyone in the Open Annotation Collaboration, especially Rob Sanderson, Paolo Ciccarese, and Herbert Van de Sompel for their vision and inclusive approach. Thanks to Hypothes.is for sponsoring the W3C workshop that helped to make all of this happen.

Since the creation of the World Wide Web, not all has been peachy-keen. The original vision of the Web, according to Tim Berners-Lee, was one of openness and collaboration, one of democracy and egalitarianism. While there has been forward progress, there has also been a lot of backsliding. Corporatism, in various forms, is fighting right now to take over the open, independent Web—to gain control of it. This is not happening without resistance, however. The IndieWeb is one example of an initiative to take the Web back to its original vision. As we transition to doing research on the Web, it is critical that the remedy be not worse than the disease.2 While research is now moderated by the incumbent gatekeepers, there is the potential for research to be “hedged in” in many more ways if this transition is done badly. The Web, and especially the Web of research, needs to grow organically, in accordance with principles of meritocracy, and without corporate hedging. I am hopeful that there are enough people now clamoring for openness and transparency that this will happen.

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A More Focused Mission

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As we have finished up our preparations for OAI8, we’ve had a wonderful opportunity to review our company’s mission. Doing so has helped us to focus even more on what we are trying to achieve and will (hopefully) help us to be able to make more of a difference.

I want to share with you a little of the journey that we went through, and why we made some of the changes that we made.

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DORA and Research Assessment

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There has been an ongoing discussion in the research community about how to assess the impact and quality of research outputs. Much of this is driven by the desire of funding agencies to fund the best research and of employers to employ the best researchers. These are good things that everyone would agree with. Yet, how do you measure good research?

That is a surprisingly difficult question to answer.

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Heading to OAI8

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OAI8 Poster

We’re excited to announce that in June we’re heading to the CERN Workshop on Innovations in Scholarly Communication in Geneva, Switzerland to present a poster on our forthcoming open-source research framework, ROC.

CERN is a very appropriate place for us to introduce ROC for two reasons. First, much of the research that is being done at CERN is to increase our understanding of what I would call inner space, or, the atom. When I think of outer space, I think of NASA; when I think of inner space, I think of CERN. Much of our work as a company is to understand and model the fundamental unit of research: the case.

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Open Business, Open Booth

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Wow! Has it actually been almost a full year since we headed off to take Pentandra and Geungle to our first conference? Incredible! The conference in Cincinnati last year for NGS (National Genealogical Society) inspired us and uplifted us—both personally and as a company. Learning from incredibly talented people and making some wonderful friends built us up. Plus, we got to try our hand at stepping to the other side of the exhibit hall isle. We got to take on the role of “vendors” for the very first time. (That was an interesting experience in and of itself, but perhaps best left to another post another day.)

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The Hairdresser and the Archaeologist

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Coin of Julia Domna I
This image, entitled Coin of Julia Domna, by Rasiel Suarez is licensed under a CC-BY-SA license.

I don’t know much about hairdos, especially those that were in vogue 1500 years ago. But it turns out that the experts may not have known everything there is to know about them either. A couple weeks ago, on the front page of the Wall Street Journal was a story1 about a very unusual hairdresser named Janet Stephens.

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We’re Back

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Life carries the constant the intrigue of twists and turns through the ever-present opportunity for change. Each twist that presents itself has the potential to make us stronger. That strengthening experience can be as brutal as the most intense strength training any physical trainer ever imagined. Sometimes strength builds slowly, more slowly than we wish. Other times it builds so quickly that it leave us unprepared for the rapid change. Either way, in the end we can look back knowing that we are changed by the adventure of life.

We have had some unexpected strength building in our lives of late. Just like in the gym, it doesn’t really matter what exercises you used to get the results you wanted. The same holds true in terms of life strength building as well. What built the strength is less important than what you do with the strength once you have it. I am not here right now to share all of the twists we have experienced of late. The specific details of our strength training are not the important part. Using that strength to accomplish more than we could have before is what matters as we move forward.

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