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Web 2.0, e-Science and Innovation

Last week the e-Science Institute organised a "think tank" to review the state of e-Science and suggest opportunities for research. A major emphasis of the debate was the recent trend to use Web 2.0 tools to support scientists. Dave de Roure gave several examples he saw at recent conferences, including wikis and blogs such as Open Wetware and Useful Chemistry, as well as various data mashups. Tony Hey gave a public lecture on e-Science and Digital Scholarship which presented a similar story, including the use of utility computing (which now seems to be called cloud computing - you've got to love the constantly changing buzzwords in IT). Among the discussions, people mentioned the combination of Web 2.0 tools with semantic web technology, and the combination of structured queries and semi-structured information as in DBpedia.

This growth of e-Science 2.0 (to coin a buzzword of my own) has mainly seems to have occurred largely in the life sciences, perhaps because they're not centrally organised like the physicists and astronomers. Perhaps they also have more smaller-sclae experiments. One interesting point is that the adoption of these tools has been driven by the scientists making use of commonly-available tools. It isn't the result of existing "road maps" for e-science. It's another case of innovation occurring at the boundaries between communities; where ideas meet and produce new ideas. Sometimes this sort of innovation can be planned (or at least encouraged); sometimes it happens anyway.

This suggests to me that whenever an organisation runs a roadmapping exercise, it pays to include people with a broad mix of backgrounds and some wild ideas. Many of the ideas produced won't germinate, but some of them may grow into something useful.

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