On being niche
I spoke briefly yesterday at a pre-IDCC workshop organised by REPRISE. I'd been asked to talk about Open, social and linked information environments, which resulted in a re-hash of the talk I gave in Trento a while back.
My talk didn't go too well to be honest, partly because I was on last and we were over-running so I felt a little rushed but more because I'd cut the previous set of slides down from 119 to 6 (4 really!) - don't bother looking at the slides, they are just images - which meant that I struggled to deliver a very coherent message. I looked at the most significant environmental changes that have occurred since we first started thinking about the JISC IE almost 10 years ago. The resulting points were largely the same as those I have made previously (listen to the Trento presentation) but with a slightly preservation-related angle:
- the rise of social networks and the read/write Web, and a growth in resident-like behaviour, means that 'digital identity' and the identification of people have become more obviously important and will remain an important component of provenance information for preservation purposes into the future;
- Linked Data (and the URI-based resource-oriented approach that goes with it) is conspicuous by its absence in much of our current digital library thinking;
- scholarly communication is increasingly diffusing across formal and informal services both inside and outside our institutional boundaries (think blogging, Twitter or Google Wave for example) and this has significant implications for preservation strategies.
That's what I thought I was arguing anyway!
I also touched on issues around the growth of the 'open access' agenda, though looking at it now I'm not sure why because that feels like a somewhat orthogonal issue.
Anyway... the middle bullet has to do with being mainstream vs. being niche. (The previous speaker, who gave an interesting talk about MyExperiment and its use of Linked Data, made a similar point). I'm not sure one can really describe Linked Data as being mainstream yet, but one of the things I like about the Web Architecture and REST in particular is that they describe architectural approaches that haven proven to be hugely successful, i.e. they describe the Web. Linked data, it seems to me, builds on these in very helpful ways. I said that digital library developments often prove to be too niche - that they don't have mainstream impact. Another way of putting that is that digital library activities don't spend enough time looking at what is going on in the wider environment. In other contexts, I've argued that "the only good long-term identifier, is a good short-term identifier" and I wonder if that principle can and should be applied more widely. If you are doing things on a Web-scale, then the whole Web has an interest in solving any problems - be that around preservation or anything else. If you invent a technical solution that only touches on scholarly communication (for example) who is going to care about it in 50 or 100 years - answer, not all that many people.
It worries me, for example, when I see an architectural diagram (as was shown yesterday) which has channels labelled 'OAI-PMH', XML' and 'the Web'!
After my talk, Chris Rusbridge asked me if we should just get rid of the JISC IE architecture diagram. I responded that I am happy to do so (though I quipped that I'd like there to be an archival copy somewhere). But on the train home I couldn't help but wonder if that misses the point. The diagram is neither here nor there, it's the "service-oriented, we can build it all", mentality that it encapsulates that is the real problem.
Let's throw that out along with the diagram.