All entries for Friday 25 November 2005

November 25, 2005

Repository warning

In the Times Higher this week (Nov 25th) I saw the following short piece quoting the Royal Society:-

The push for researchers to make their papers available free online via open-access journals and repositories could be "disastrous", according to a statement released this week by the Royal Society. The Research Councils are consulting on plans to encourage scientists to embrace the open access model. But the Society has called for them to undertake a proper study first. The statement says "The worst-case scenario is that funders could force a rapid change in practice, which encourages the introduction of new journals, archives and repositories which cannot be sustained in the long term, but which simultaneously force the closure of existing peer reviewed journals that have a long track record".

Repositories are an interesting idea. In principle, collecting the research output of your institution and making it available to interested parties – your own staff, your students, other universities, researchers, the press – seems like an appealing idea. But it's hard to find examples of universities which have implemented repositories which have grown into large-scale, impressive content collections. And it's easy to find institutions with repositories which are empty, or nearly empty, or contain content which dates back to the first flush of enthusiasm for the idea, but not much since then.

So there must be counter-balancing factors which mean that even though it could be a good idea institutionally, that doesn't translate into a widely adopted practice. Why not? Perhaps there isn't enough benefit to the individuals who create the research in exchange for the effort of submitting it. Perhaps the rights management turns out to be harder than expected in some cases. Maybe the benefits aren't that much greater than just publishing those bits of your research that you want to on your existing institutional web site (or your blog!).

But a great big rock could be thrown on to one side of the scale; if the Research Councils make it a condition of funding that publications must be placed into an institutional repository, then the inconvenience to individuals, or the question of how useful the repository actually is, just get completely overruled, and whether you wanted to or not, whether you thought it was valuable or not, you'd do it. Hence, presumably, the Royal Society's anxiety.

Writing about web page

You know what irritates me? Actually, that's a much longer list than we have time for here, but amongst the the list is the fact that the four or five computers I use don't all magically know what I was doing when I used the previous one. An obvious example is bookmarks; I bookmark an interesting page when I'm at work, but I don't have time to read it then so I wait till I'm at home, except that then I no longer have the bookmark to hand, and I can't remember where I saw it. Irritation ensues.

There are lots of ways of fixing this – carry your files on a USB flash drive, keep all your data on servers like deli.cious, email yourself important files – but somehow none of them have ever really worked for me. So I'm interested to try Foldershare; it's a web service for synchronising one or more PCs (or Macs). You download a little widget that sits in your taskbar watching what you do, and in your PC's copious idle cycles, it quietly sends changed files in any folders you've elected to sync to the Foldershare server, and from there on to any other machines you've put the widget on, if they happen to be running at the time. Otherwise the transfer is deferred until the next time you switch the other machine(s) on.

The transfers happen over https, so your data is secure en route, and is encrypted so that in theory at least it can't be accessed even by Foldershare employees. As an added bonus, you can, if you wish, keep your synchronised files on their server and then send email invites to other people to access them.

Until recently, this was a pay-for service, so I couldn't be bothered with it. But Microsoft bought the company a few weeks ago and changed it to a free service. I don't know whether I trust Microsoft with any real personal data, but I thought I might give it a whirl with something harmless like my bookmarks folder and see whether the end result really is that all my machines magically have the same set of bookmarks all the time.

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