I have just applied for a Shuttleworth Fellowship.
The fellowships are issued by the Shuttleworth Foundation, which describes its vision as “We would like to live in an open knowledge society with limitless possibilities for all.” I very much share this vision – it is the main reason I founded Open Knowledge Maps. Our goal is to build a visual interface to the world’s scientific knowledge in order to dramatically increase the visibility of research findings for science and society alike.
We want to provide a solution to a challenge that’s almost paradoxical: on the one hand, more research is openly available than ever, and we see considerable interest in science and technology. On the other hand, we are faced with a serious crisis of trust in scientific research, with anti-vaccination movements and climate change deniers on the rise.
I believe that the root of this problem is that it is very hard to get an “in” on research. Access does not equal discoverability or even participation. People outside academia trying to understand a research field are therefore often lost. I want to empower these people by providing better gateways into scientific research. Think: policy makers attempting to optimize decision-making by using evidence from relevant research, educators striving to convey the state-of-the-art, fact checkers trying to verify statements, or patients who would like to learn about the newest findings on their illness.
To make this happen, I believe that we need to do two things: first, improving the discoverability of research findings. Second, turning discovery into a collaborative process – thus enabling participation, and allowing people to create pathways through science for each other. Take a rare disease as an example: wouldn’t it be great, if researchers, doctors and patients would collaboratively map the newest research on this disease – and then share the results of their efforts for the benefit of patients, who don’t have access to specialists?
Enter Open Knowledge Maps: we use knowledge maps, a powerful tool for exploration and discovery. Knowledge maps provide an instant overview of a field by showing the main areas of the field at a glance, and papers related to each area (see below). In addition, knowledge maps make it possible to easily identify useful, pertinent information by separating papers into meaningful clusters – and they are exposing important concepts in the field that you would often need weeks to find out.
During the fellowship year, I want to explore how we can create a space for participatory discovery around these maps. How can different communities interact on a level-playing field, so that they create pathways through science for each other?
A little backstory
If you are an avid reader of this blog, you may recall that I alreay applied for a Shuttleworth Fellowship a year ago. The fellowships first caught my eye, when I learned that amazing projects like ContentMine (Peter Murray-Rust), Hypothes.is (Dan Whaley), and Koruza (Luka Mustafa) had all been enabled by a Shuttleworth Fellowship.
Back in May 2016, Open Knowledge Maps was just starting out, with an enthusiastic group of volunteers, and a prototypical service that enabled users to create a knowledge map for a topic based on the PLOS library (160,000 articles).
Since then, a lot has happened in the project.
The team has grown: I am developing Open Knowledge Maps together with nine amazing volunteers. I have also found great advisors and strong partners from the open knowledge community. We put out two major updates of our search service – pushing our coverage to 100 million scientific articles from all disciplines thanks to BASE. We’ve considerably improved the user experience based on feedback from the community, and we’ve enabled features such as collaborative annotation thanks to Hypothes.is. And we held numerous workshops and sessions at events such as OpenCon, MozFest and re:publica, with more than 300 people in attendance.
I am very happy that our efforts resonated with the community. Open Knowledge Maps was featured on the frontpages of reddit and HackerNews. Our user base has quickly grown: in less than a year, we saw over 100,000 vists and more than 30,000 maps have been created to date. We’ve received hundreds of enthusiastic tweets, e-mails and blog posts, motivating us to proceed with our vision.
We’ve now reached the limits of what we can do as a pure volunteer project. In order to realize the full potential of the idea, we need support. This is why I decided it’s time to give it another go. I also believe that it is a critical time that we are creating this platform in. There are several closed solutions for providing visual overviews that are being developed right now. If we do not provide an open alternative in time, we risk being stuck with proprietary solutions and wasted public money for decades.
As usual, the proposal was developed in the open. Special thanks go to Maxi Schramm, Christopher Kittel, Florian Heigl, Rufus Pollock, Antica Culina and Daniel Mietchen for comments on the draft. But I’d like to thank the Open Knowledge Maps family – team, advisors, partners and users. I am very lucky to shape this vision together with you.
You can find the full proposal on Github.