The web, like all network technologies before it from the mobile phone to writing itself, has the potential to enable a qualitative change in our capacity as people, organizations and societies. We are starting to see the first glimmerings of how our research capacity might change with projects like Galaxy Zoo and Polymath but these remain isolated examples. What will it take to exploit the network capacity that the web brings us to enable a step change in the efficiency and effectiveness of our research? There are no complete answers, but a growing understanding of networks makes it clear that effective scalable networks have certain characteristics - scale and connectivity, frictionless resource transfer, effective user side filtering tools - that are completely at odds with today's scholarly communications frameworks. Today, we limit the scale and connectivity of networks by concentrating access, we create friction by perpetuating business models built for physical distribution of paper, and we use monolithic and non-transparent filters that are hideously expensive and largely ineffective. An effective global research network will be built on open content and charged services. Service providers will compete to offer authors the greatest reduction in friction and ability to share their research outputs. Many of these services are not dissimilar to activities carried out in traditional publishing houses today, but getting there from here will not be straightforward. The risk (or opportunity, depending on your perspective) is that if this transition is not managed properly, we run this risk of losing the existing human and technical infrastructure as business models that are no longer fit for purpose fail.
Cameron Neylon is a biophysicist who has always worked in interdisciplinary areas and is an advocate of open research practice and improved data management. He currently works as Advocacy Director at the Public Library of Science. Along with his work in structural biology and biophysics his research and writing focuses on the interface of web technology with science and the successful (and unsuccessful) application of generic and specially designed tools in the academic research environment. He is a co-author of the Panton Principles for Open Data in Science and writes regularly on the social, technical, and policy issues of open research at his blog, Science in the Open.
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