Partially Attended

an irregularly updated blog by Ian Mulvany

The slow web, more thoughtful experiences.

Wed Aug 22, 2012

697 Words

I’ve been concerned for a few years about the flow of data that we are producing, and how to handle the angst of not being able to keep up with everything, ever. I think it started when I became a very heavy user of google reader back in 2006 or so.

There is little doubt that the web is moving more in this direction, Anil Dash recently called for people to stop creating web pages, and to start creating only streams.

The angst of being awash in a stream of data is that you sometimes feel a little like you are drowning in it. For the last few years, I’ve been using twitter and more recently hacker news, as my main filters. If a link bubbles up enough times on either of those places it’s probably worth checking out, but it’s an inelegant solution.

On the flip side, I’ve been concerned about the creation of artificial scarcity as a method of increasing impact factors and prices within the STM industry. By setting a high bar, for acceptance, you make it harder to get in, and you hope that exclusivity extends to getting more attention to the papers that make it in.

So here I am worrying about both ends of the spectrum. It seems perhaps wrong to have an artificial bar on publishing science, as science is so important, and posterity is usually the best judge, but on the other hand throwing away the bar pitches you into the stream, and perhaps allows you to drown a little.

We eLife I we are removing artificial scarcity in terms of having no limits on page numbers, or numbers of articles published per unit time, on the other hand, we are setting a very high bar in terms of quality. It’s fascinating to be at the heart of an initiative that is tackling these questions directly. I’m learning a lot.

I don’t know what the answer is yet. I know I want to formulate the question in my own words a bit more, but in the last week a thread of a thought has intrigued me. I read a post about a new music service that has just launched. The service is called this is my jam, and the philosophy behind it is beautifully described by one of the co-founders.

The big idea is that they ask members to nominate one new song a week, no more. If you follow a dozen people, you will get the thoughtful recommendations of about an album’s worth of music a week, just the right amount to consume in that time. By thinking about the value of the content, and how long an ideal amount of time is to interact with that content, they have created a service which tries to give you the time to experience the content, they are trying to create a more thoughtful experience.

Perhaps there are some lessons here on how we can create a curatorial experience for the research literature, perhaps not. One of the key differences here is that what I listen to from a musical point of view is highly optional. What I read in terms of the literature is deeply connected to the eventual outcomes of success as an academic. There are far fewer songs in the world than there are scientific publications (about an order of magnitude less). The rate of song creation is much lower than the rate of scientific article creation, so a slower approach to presenting the literature could end up damaging the researcher. On the other hand, the vast majority of research that is published is either wrong or irrelevant, or both.

I want a system that supports researchers, that does not make them fearful of the vast quantity of information that is out there, that can deliver timely quality recommendations, and humane experiences for interacting with that information. Interwebs, show me your ideas, throw me your suggestions, diffuse the solution towards me through tweets, the mailing lists, and news sites, craft the answer and allow it to emerge, partially formed, and ready to be moulded into a thing that we can make to help, to try to help.

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