The Internet now makes it possible to publish and share billions of data items every day, accessible to over 2 billion people worldwide. This mass of information makes it difficult, when searching, to extract the relevant and useful information from the background noise. It should be added that these searches are time-consuming and can take much longer than the time we actually have to spend on them. Today, Google and specialized search engines such as Google Scholar are based on established algorithms. But are these algorithms sufficiently in line with users’ needs? What if the web needed a human brain to select and put forward the relevant information and not just the information based on “popularity” and lexical and semantic operations?
This article is a translation of “Science et curation : nouvelle pratique du Web 2.0” available at: http://blog.mysciencework.com/2012/02/03/science-et-curation-nouvelle-pratique-du-web-2-0.html It was translated from French into English by Mayte Perea López.
Web 2.0: New practices, new uses
To address this need, human intermediaries, empowered by the participatory wave of web 2.0, naturally started narrowing down the information and providing an angle of analysis and some context. They are bloggers, regular Internet users or community managers – a new type of profession dedicated to the web 2.0. A new use of the web has emerged, through which the information, once produced, is collectively spread and filtered by Internet users who create hierarchies of information. This “popularization of the web” therefore paves the way to a user-centered Internet that plays a more active role in finding means to improve the dissemination of information and filter it with more relevance. Today, this new practice has also been categorized and is known as curation.
The term “curation” was borrowed from the world of fine arts. Curators are responsible for the exhibitions held in museums and galleries. They build these exhibitions and act as intermediaries between the public and works of art. In contemporary art, the curator’s role is also to interpret works of art and discover new artists and trends of the moment. In a similar way on the web, the tasks performed by content curators include the search, selection, analysis, editorial work and dissemination of information. Curators can also share online the most relevant information on a specific subject. Instead of acting as mere echo chambers, they provide some context for their searches. For example, they address niche topics and themes that do not stand out in a traditional search. They prioritize the information and are able to find new means of presenting it, new types of visualization. Their role is, therefore, to find new formats, faster and more direct means of consultation for Internet users, in a context in which the time we spend reading the information is more and more limited. Curation on the web has a social and relational dimension that plays a central role in the curator’s work. Anyone can act as a curator and personalize information, providing an angle that he or she invites us to discover. This means that curation can be carried out by individuals who do not have an institutional footing. The expression “powered by people” exemplifies this possibility of democratizing information searches.
The world of scientific research and culture is no exception to this movement. The web 2.0 offers the scientific community and its surrounding spheres the opportunity to discover new tools that transform practices and uses, not only of researchers, but also of all the actors of scientific and technical culture (STC).
Curation: an Essential Practice to Manage “Open Science”
The web 2.0 gave birth to new practices motivated by the will to have broader and faster cooperation in a more free and transparent environment. We have entered the era of an “open” movement: “open data”, “open software”, etc. In science, expressions like “open access” (to scientific publications and research results) and “open science” are used more and more often.
The concept of “open science” emerged from the web and created bigger and bigger niches all around the planet. Open science and its derivatives such as open access make us dream of an era of open, collective expertise and innovation on an international scale. This catalyst in the field of science is only possible on one condition: that it be accompanied by the emergence of a reflection on the new practices and uses that are essential to its conservation and progress. Sharing information and data at the international level is very demanding in terms of management and organization. As a result, curation has established itself in the realm of science and technology, both in the research community and in the world of scientific and technical culture.
Curation: Collaborative Bibliographic Management for the Researcher 2.0
In the world of research, curation appears as a logical extension of the literature review and bibliographic search, the pillars of a researcher’s work. Curation on the web has brought a new dimension to this work of organizing and prioritizing information. It makes it easier for researchers to collaborate and share, while also bringing to light some works that had previously remained in the shadows.
Mendeley and Zotero are both search and bibliographic management tools that assist you in the creation of an online library. Thus, it is possible to navigate in this mass of bibliographic data, referenced by the researcher, through multiple gateways: keywords, authors’ names, date of publication, etc. In addition, these programs make it possible to generate automatically article bibliographies in the formats specified by each scientific journal. What is new about these tools, apart from the “logistical” aid they provide, is that they are based on collaboration and sharing. Mendeley and Zotero let you create private or public groups. These groups make it possible to share a bibliography with other researchers. They also give access to discussion forums that are useful for sharing with international researchers. Other tools like EndNote and Papers exist, but these paid softwares are less collaborative.
New platforms, real scientific social networks, have also appeared. The leading platform ResearchGate was founded in 2008 and now counts 1.9 million users (august 2012). It is an online search platform, but it is used above all for social interaction. Researchers can create a profile and discussion groups, make their work available online, job hunt, etc. Other professional social networks for researchers have emerged, among them MyScienceWork, which is devoted to open access.
Curation, in the era of open science, accelerates the dissemination of information and provides access to the most relevant parts. Post-publication comments add value to the content. Apart from the benefits for the community, these new practices change the role of researchers in society by offering them new public spaces for expression. Curation on the web opens the way towards the development of an e-reputation and a new form of celebrity in the world of international science. It gives everyone the opportunity to show the cornerstones of their work in the same way that the research notebooks of Hypothèses.org were used in Humanities and Social Sciences. This system based on the dual role of “observer/observed” may also impose limits on researchers who would have to be more thorough in the choice of the articles they list.
Have we entered the era of the “researcher 2.0”? Undoubtedly, even if it is still limited to a small group of people. The tools described above are widely used for bibliographic management but their collaborative function is still less used. It is difficult to change researchers’ practices and attitudes. To move from a closed science to an open science in a world of cutthroat competition, researchers will have to grope their way along. These new means of sharing are still sometimes perceived as a threat to the work of researchers or as an excessively long and tedious activity.
Curation and Scientific and Technical Culture: Creating Hybrid Networks
Another area, where there are most likely fewer barriers, is scientific and technical culture. This broad term involves different actors such as associations, companies, universities’ communication departments, CCSTI (French centers for scientific, technical and industrial culture), journalists, etc. A number of these actors do not limit their work to popularizing the scientific data; they also consider they have an authentic mission of “culturing” science. The curation practice thus offers a better organization and visibility to the information. The sought-after benefits will be different from one actor to the next. University communication departments are using the web 2.0 more and more to promote their values; this is the case, for example, for the French Université Paris 8. For companies, curation offers the opportunity to become a reference on the themes related to their corporate identity. MyScienceWork, for example, began curating three collections surrounding the key themes of its project. The key topics of its identity are essentially open access, new uses and practices of the web 2.0 in the world of science and “women in science”. It is essential to keep abreast of the latest news coming from large institutions and traditional media, but also to take into account bloggers’ articles and links that offer a different viewpoint.
Some tools have also been developed in order to meet the expectations of these various users. Pearltrees and Scoopit are non-specialized curation tools that are widely used by the world of Scientific and Technical Culture. Pearltrees offers a visual representation in which each listed page is presented as a pearl connected to the others through branches. The result: a prioritized data tree. These mindmaps can be shared with one’s contacts. A good example of this is the work done by Sébastien Freudenthal, who uses this tool on a daily basis and offers rich content listed by theme in the field of Sciences and Web. Scoopit offers a more traditional presentation with a nice page layout that looks like a magazine. It enables you to list articles quickly and almost automatically, thanks to a plugin, and also to share them. A special tool for the “world” of Technical and Scientific Culture is the social network of scientific culture Knowtex that, in addition to its referencing and links assessment functions, seeks to create a space interconnecting journalists, artists, communicators, designers, bloggers, researchers, etc.
These different tools are used on a daily basis by various actors of technical and scientific culture, but also by researchers, teachers, etc. They gather these communities around a shared practice and favor multiple conversations. The development of these hybrid networks is surely a cornerstone in the building of open science, encouraging the creation of new ties between science and society that go beyond the traditional geographical limits.
Un grand merci à Antoine Blanchard pour sa participation et relecture de l’article.
Find out more:
« Curation is the new research, »… et le nouveau média, Benoit Raphael, 2011 http://benoitraphael.com/2011/01/17/curation-is-the-new-search/
La curation : la révolution du webjournalisme?, non-fiction.fr http://www.nonfiction.fr/article-4158-la_curation__la_revolution_du_webjournalisme_.htm
La curation : les 10 raisons de s’y intéresser, Pierre Tran http://pro.01net.com/editorial/529947/la-curation-les-10-raisons-de-sy-interesser/
Curation : quelle valeur pour les entreprises, les médias, et sa « marque personnelle »?, Marie-Laure Vie http://marilor.posterous.com/curation-et-marketing-de-linformation
Cracking Open the Scientific Process, Thomas Lin, New York Times http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/17/science/open-science-challenges-journal-tradition-with-web-collaboration.html?_r=4&pagewanted=1
La « massification » du web transforme les relations sociales, Valérie Varandat, INRIA http://www.inria.fr/actualite/actualites-inria/internet-du-futur
Internet a révolutionné le métier de chercheur, AgoraVox http://www.agoravox.fr/actualites/technologies/article/internet-a-revolutionne-le-metier-103514
Gérer ses références numériques, Université de Genève http://www.unige.ch/medecine/udrem/Unit/actualites/biblioManager.html
Notre liste Scoop-it : Scientific Social Network, MyScienceWork