What’s “open source knowledge management”?
December 5th, 2007 by dwentworth
One of the biggest challenges we face at Science Commons is explaining what we do — and, much more important, why it matters.
In many cases, the core problem is translation; what makes sense to a computer scientist is gibberish to a life scientist, and vice versa. We want to connect with as many people as possible, both within the scientific community and beyond. To that end, we’ve decided to publish a series of posts to bring more clarity to the terms and phrases we use. To make sure these posts are truly useful, we’ll be asking for your feedback. Got questions? Criticism? A better definition of a term than the one we’re proposing? We hope you’ll send us an email or add your comments to the post.
First up is a term we’ve been using to describe our Neurocommons project: “open source knowledge management.” This is a hybrid term that splices together concepts from the worlds of business and software development.
The first part, “open source,” is derived from “open source software.” Open source software is software that’s published with licensing to allow anyone to look under the hood at the underlying “source” code to see how it works. Any developer can copy the code and modify it — either to improve the original software, or build on it to create something brand new.
“Knowledge management,” or KM, is a term often used by businesses to describe the systems they have for organizing, accessing and using information — everything from the data in personnel files to the number of products on store shelves. One reason that it’s “knowledge” management rather than “information” management is that the word knowledge connotes use of information, not just its availability. Having the ability to use information is what makes it valuable. One classic example is Wal-Mart, which used real-time data about its inventory to realize tremendous, game-changing efficiency gains and cost-savings.
So how is our Neurocommons project an “open source knowledge management” project? In a nutshell, Science Commons is developing all of the key elements for a free, web-enabled KM system for biological research that anyone can use, and anyone can build on. Right now, scientists don’t know “what’s on the shelf” — either in terms of research data or materials. They don’t have an easy way to sort through or make sense of the terabytes of data being produced in laboratories around the world. They certainly don’t have “one-click” access to materials like cell lines. We want to change that. Our goal isn’t (simply) to increase efficiency in the research cycle and magnify the impact of investments in research. Ultimately, we hope to speed the pace of discovery — unlocking the value of research so more people can benefit from the work scientists are doing.