Home » Blog

Links as the source code of our thinking – Tim O’Reilly

23 November 2008 No Comment

I just wanted to point to a post that Tim O’Reilly wrote just before the US election a few weeks back. There was an interesting discussion about the rights and wrongs of him posting on his political views and the rights and wrongs of that being linked to from the O’Reilly Media front page. In amongst the abuse that you have come to expect in public political discussions there is some thought provoking stuff. But what I wanted to point out and hopefully revive a discussion of is a point he makes right near the bottom.

[I have conflated two levels of comments here (Tim is quoting his own comment) – see the original post for the context]

“Thanks to everyone for wading in, especially those of you who are marshalling reasoned arguments and sharing actual sources and references, showing you’ve done your homework, and helping other people to see the data that helped to shape your point of view. We need a LOT more of that in this discussion, rather than slinging unsupported allegations back and forth.

Bringing this back to tech – showing the data behind your argument is a lot like open source. It’s a way of verifying the “code” that’s inside your head. If you can’t show us your code, it’s a lot harder to trust your results!”

Links as source code for your thinking: that’s a meme that should survive the particulars of this particular debate!

In a sense Tim is advocating the wholesale adoption of the very strong attribution culture we (like to think we) have in academic research. The importance of acknowedging your sources is clear but it also has much more value than that. By tracing back the influences that have brought someone to a specific conclusion or belief it is possible for other people to gain a much deeper insight into how those ideas evolved. Being able to parse the dependencies between ideas, data, samples, papers, and knowledge in an automatic, machine readable, way is the promise of the semantic web, but in the meantime just helping the poor old humans to trace back and understand where someone is coming from is very helpful.

Comments are closed.