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June 15, 2007

Open Access in Vienna

I've been in Vienna this week at the ElPub conference, whose theme has been Open Access. Its interesting to attend a conference where the presentations and papers are actually about the theme rather than merely tangentially related.

I presented a paper on Open Source, Open Standards and Open Access that I wrote with Brian Kelly and Randy Metcalfe. It seemed to go down OK. Not the most exciting of papers by my own admission!

There was an interesting paper on P2P by Jorn de Boever, with some categories of P2P architecture. There seems to be a new interest in P2P after quite a hiatus - maybe we'll have to dust off the Colloquia code?

Another interesting area was the discussion of publishing business models, and how these might evolve as the environment shifts in favour of Open Access. In the world of popular media things like Nine Inch Nails' Year Zero project and Cory Doctorow's "Green OA" approach to publishing his novels may be the leading edge of a range of new ways for creators to promote and fund their work. (Those are my examples, by the way. You don't get many fans of cyberpunk and aggressive industrial music at an academic publishing conference...)

After a talk outlining the problems in latin america of developing the sustainable peer-reviewed journal infrastructure necessary for OA, I did wonder whether it was worth the effort - isn't there a potential in such areas to leapfrog the developed world's industrial academic model entirely and go for something easier to sustain from the outset? If you don't already have a sophisticated peer-review system with the various checks and balances to help ensure fairness and accountability, then surely just offering open web journal papers with public web review is already better, and much more transparent and easy to set up than a load of institutional repositories and (largely commercial) aggregators?

On a more 'focussed' note I was interested to learn a new set of acronyms: CRIS and CERIF. Current Research Information Systems are ways to represent and manage research work (projects, partnerships, publications...) and CERIF is a European standard (or is it a specification? I'll have to check that) for representing the structures of current research. This could be interesting on a number of levels, most practically as another candidate for how we keep track of the plethora of research and development projects we want to support with our service. We've been exploring the use of DOAP to date, is CERIF a more appropriate choice?

Given the topics of the conference I shouldn't have been surprised by the vast amounts of metadata and ontology talk going on (the "we only need to agree to describe reality the same way, and then everything is easy!" approach) but it is a bit of a culture shock coming from the current e-learning discourse which has shown a very marked shift away from this approach in recent years. Maybe it genuinely is a lot easier if your community are all high-energy physics researchers, where protons really are protons and super-hadron-collider-beam-detectors really are super-hadron-collider-beam-detectors. As opposed to things like "constructivism", "learning", "personalisation", and "e-portfolio", which have as many definitions as there are educators. Probably more.

Coincidentally, Andy has written a post on a related theme, reflecting something which keeps occurring to me whenever I'm in these settings: aren't these "repositories" just data-driven websites? And isn't "OAI-PMH" just a slightly more complicated way of doing RSS/Atom? Andy writes:

Imagine a world in which we talked about 'research blogs' or 'research feeds' rather than 'repositories', in which the 'open access' policy rhetoric used phrases like 'resource outputs should be made freely available on the Web' rather than 'research outputs should be deposited into institutional or other repositories', and in which accepted 'good practice' for researchers was simply to make research output freely available on the Web with an associated RSS or Atom feed. Wouldn't that be a more intuitive and productive scholarly communication environment than what we have currently?

Quite. And possibly a more appropriate message to take to developing countries, as noted earlier.

Thats all for now, back in Bolton next week. Tschuess!

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