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Loss, time and money

22 December 2014 5 Comments
May - Oct 2006 Calendar

May – Oct 2006 Calendar (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For my holiday project I’m reading through my old blog posts and trying to track the conversations that they were part of. What is shocking, but not surprising with a little thought, is how many of my current ideas seem to spring into being almost whole in single posts. And just how old some of those posts are. At the some time there is plenty of misunderstanding and rank naivety in there as well.

The period from 2007-10 was clearly productive and febrile. The links out from my posts point to a distributed conversation that is to be honest still a lot more sophisticated than much current online discussion on scholarly communications. Yet at the same time that fabric is wearing thin. Broken links abound, both internal from when I moved my own hosting and external. Neil Saunders’ posts are all still accessible, but Deepak Singh’s seem to require a trip to the Internet Archive. The biggest single loss, though occurs through the adoption of Friendfeed in mid-2008 by our small community. Some links to discussions resolve, some discussions of discussions survive as posts but whole chunks of the record of those conversations – about researcher IDs, peer review, and incentives and credit appear to have disappeared.

As I dig deeper through those conversations it looks like much of it can be extracted from the Internet Archive, but it takes time. Time is a theme that runs through posts starting in 2009 as the “real time web” started becoming a mainstream thing, resurfaced in 2011 and continues to bother. Time also surfaces as a cycle. Comments on peer review from 2011 still seem apposite and themes of feeds, aggregations and social data continue to emerge over time. On the other hand, while much of my recounting of conversations about Researcher IDs in 2009 will look familiar to those who struggled with getting ORCID up and running, a lot of the technology ideas were…well probably best left in same place as my enthusiasm for Google Wave. And my concerns about the involvement of Crossref in Researcher IDs is ironic given I now sit on their board as second representing PLOS.

The theme that travels throughout the whole seven-ish years is that of incentives. Technical incentives, the idea that recording research should be a byproduct of what the researcher is doing anyway and ease of use (often as rants about institutional repositories) appear often. But the core is the question of incentives for researchers to adopt open practice, issues of “credit” and how it might be given as well as the challenges that involves, but also of exchange systems that might turn “credit” into something real and meaningful. Whether that was to be real money wasn’t clear at the time. The concerns with real money come later as this open letter to David Willets suggests a year before the Finch review. Posts from 2010 on frequently mention the UK’s research funding crisis and in retrospect that crisis is the crucible that formed my views on impact and re-use as well as how new metrics might support incentives that encourage re-use.

The themes are the same, the needs have not changes so much and many of the possibilities remain unproven and unrealised. At the same time the technology has marched on, making much of what was hard easy, or even trivial. What remains true is that the real value was created in conversations, arguments and disagreements, reconciliations and consensus. The value remains where it has always been – in a well crafted network of constructive critics and in a commitment to engage in the construction and care of those networks.


  • Titus Brown

    The Friendfeed point is interesting. Perhaps all of these middlemen are bad things to rely on? (Facebook, Twitter, etc.)

  • Yes and no. The other thing that stands out is how persistent all the wordpress.com blogs are. Plenty of self-hosted sites giving me dead links as well. So middleman are bad if they’re unreliable but good when they are reliable. Which is to say that reliable things are reliable but its quite hard to tell in advance who is going to be reliable.

  • cameronneylon

    Yes and no. The other thing that stands out is how persistent all the wordpress.com blogs are. Plenty of self-hosted sites giving me dead links as well. So middleman are bad if they’re unreliable but good when they are reliable. Which is to say that reliable things are reliable but its quite hard to tell in advance who is going to be reliable.

  • The biggest bugbear of any social media service that is “free” is that you really cannot expect any client-quality service from them. I pay pinboard $25/year to back up my bookmarks and tweets (which you can’t expect twitter to look after long term). I believe instapaper offers similar functionality, but I have no experience of this.
    The web gives the illusion of stability in the short-term, but really it is anything but, so a writer’s task becomes copying text on and on. Contemporary poet Kenneth Goldsmith is making some nice interventions apropos this copying (he is @kg_ubu)
    To end: some link rot bookmarks: https://pinboard.in/u:juliusbeezer/t:link_rot

  • Titus Brown

    I very much like my github-based model – my blog is built from stuff in my github. I can recover all of the text with a simple clone, and I get a complete copy of my repo (and it is all on my laptop already, anyway). 90%+ of my content is kept that way… so the only problem is if my laptop and github both go away :)