Web 2.0 Science

12Sep07

I’m hoping to kick of a series of posts on the coming role of the Web 2.0 in science. I’ve been planning this for some time, but you know how it is when you’re busy.

What is the Web 2.0?


Fig 1. Web 1.0 vs. Web 2.0, an analogy with Johnny Five (Short Circuit) and the Nestor Class-5 (iRobot).

The first Internet revolution was about accessing the web’s information—like looking up movie times or driving directions. The Web 2.0, on the other hand, is about working with information—like blog journalism, collaborative encyclopedias. The avatars of the Web 2.0 revolution are social networking sites, wikis, `intelligent’ applets, etc.

Science on the Web 2.0

Sixteen years ago Paul Ginsparg developed the arXiv. The dawn of e-prints fundamentally changed scientific publishing. The way we access information as researchers is no longer chained by the limits of their physical library. We are still feeling out the edges of this new world of scientific publishing. See, for example, this essay by Prof. Michael Peskin in the APS News. (Also notable for `web 2.0 science’ is Professor Peskin’s page on the inclusion of `active figures’ in e-prints.)

Ginsparg was building on the Internet as a vehicle to make information easily accessible to anyone around the world. But the Internet is now much more than that, and I believe we have yet to make the most of this `brave new web’ as a tool for scientific research and education.

In the pre-Internet era, nobody ever thought about the `problem’ that only big, rich libraries could afford many scientific journals. (And even then, these only represented a fraction of scientific research that might not even be current by the time one’s library gets the journal.) But this wasn’t a `problem’ — it was a fact of life. In the same way, the `problems’ that the Web 2.0 can solve are `facts of life’ that we’ve learned to accept as part of the usual business of doing science.

Some of these problems, for example, have been solved without us thinking too much about it. Can’t find the current estimate for the top quark mass? No need to look it up in the PDG, just type it into Google! (Check the citations, they lead back to the PDG via Wikipedia.)

Meanwhile, we have great databases like the arXiv and SPIRES which are full of useful information, but are stuck in an `old school’ database. When faced with such a treasure trove od information, have to ask ourselves, WWGD? Or, what would Google do?

The Plan

Over the next few weeks I hope to offer some thoughts on where we can go with the Web 2.0 in physics. For the most part I’ll refrain from being too speculative, focusing instead on technologies that are available now.

Some reading…

I would go crazy if I tried to collect a bibliography of all of the resources talking about the `future of the Internet’ as applied to science. In particular, there are heaps and heaps of bloggers who blog about the future of blogging. I’ll leave most of this literature for you to find on your own. And anyway, blogs are not all that central to what I have in mind. And neither is Facebook.🙂

There are, however, a few posts in the past year that really got me thinking about the Web 2.0. These focused on a series of blog posts by myself, Jon Shock, Bee Hossenfelder regarding online video media, as well as a few other posts. A brief list of posts:

Anyway, hopefully that will help get people thinking. There’s a lot to be gained by thinking deeply not only about science, but about the tools we use to do science. For those who still need a motivational presentation on the Web 2.0, I recommend this one:



2 Responses to “Web 2.0 Science”

  1. Great post. Thanks for turning me on to this video – I know a lot of people who need to put this under their pillow at night so they start to understand how exciting the changes in publishing and communication are.


  1. 1 Web 2.0 Science: Rise of the Wiki, Part III « An American Physics Student in England

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