Access vesus Relevance (panel 6)
The last panel of the ICML dealt with the challenge of making open access to information and knowledge compatible with the need to guarantee the quality and relevance of the information
While Jimmy Wales, president of the Wikimedia Foundation, and Anurag Acharva, main engineer of Goggle Scholar, spoke enthusiastically about the masses of new information being made available to the public on the internet, Baren Mons, professor at the Department of Medical Informatics at the University of Rotterdam, and Pierre Levy, professor of Communication Studies at the University of Quebec, presented their latest researches, which use metalanguages and semiotics to prevent and correct errors in the information provided.
Pierre Levy, one of the most renowned researchers into cyberspace and semiotics, presented a project being developed in Ottawa: the IEML (Information Economy Metalanguage). “Nowadays there is a grammar that is being repeated in articles, libraries… A new language is being created that is understood and used by computers, but which must also be able to express all the subtleties and nuances found in natural languages” said the researcher. Levy believes that it is possible to develop specialized sub-languages (such as the one for health) that can communicate with each other, and share coordinates and knowledge.
Mons, given the presence of Open Access advocates, made an appeal to the audience: “What matters is not the amount of information available, but the development of strategies that guarantee the accuracy and relevance of the vast quantity of information available. Its quality must be assured, by breaking the ambiguity commonly associated to scientific texts”.
For his part, Jimmy Wales presented the projects being developed by Wikimedia, a non-profit foundation based on donations and volunteer work. “We only have two paid staff”, he pointed out. Wikipedia, their best know product, is an open access virtual encyclopedia written by thousands of volunteers in many different languages, and which only utilizes free software.
“We are now among the top 40 most used sites in the world, with broader reach than even the New York Times site. We are viewed around 2 billion times a month”, he stated. However, both Wales and Anurag also expressed their concern about the quality control of the information published in the Net. Although the Wikipedia is an open resource, all its entries are daily reviewed by hundreds of contributors. According to Anurag, Google Scholar (the academic version of the searcher) is also equipped with tools to guarantee the appropriate ranking of the works, such as automated citation extraction.