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Science

Virtual Open Sym 2020

Open Sym this year was held online. My collegues from University of Washington, Seattle and me handed in a paper about an evaluation of the ontology I developed during my phd. The conference was organized in a different manner than last time. There were no parallel sessions and the presentations were rather short, abut ten minutes. Each session consisted of two to three presentations of the respective papers. Through this format, it was possible to get all presentations and the discussions were quite nice.

The social event was held via Mozilla Hubs. I think this was a good idea, but it is not the same as meeting with the people in person. It was also not that easy to have a real private talk within the virtual room, since everyone was able to hear what the others were talking about, although it got more quiet the further you were away from the people.

All in all, I think we should soon try to get back to face-to-face conferences. The discussions of the articles were rather interesting, but most of the time it is way more interesting to talk with people over a coffee or at a social event about stuff. All this was not possible. On the other side, we might use corona to think if it is necessary to conferences at the most exotic places attract people, or rather on less exotic places and save travel costs and time.

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Science

Collaborative open analysis in a qualitative research environment

Together with some collegues I recently published a paper about the use of a vritual research environment for teaching the qualitative method objective hermeneutics. It is a follow-up of the paper SMW Based VRE for Addressing Multi-Layered Data Analysis my collegues did in 2017 where they presented the virtual reserach environment (VRE) and anticipated use cases. This time we evaluate the usage of the VRE. We did this using questionnaires for the students working with the VRE. We see the main potential in the guidance of students through the research process as well as in the tracing of the research, which also connects to principles of open science. The paper also discusses the pedagogical boundaries of this work since students mentioned being more distracted while from working from home than meeting in personal. The analysis was done pre-corona, so this might have changed now.

I also think this research is quite interesting when considering that a lot of teaching is done online now. If you want to try out the VRE, please contact me.

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Science

User friendly

Robert Fabricant describes user interaction designers as highly trained tinkerers , with a robust set of prototyping skills that make up for our lack of formal credentials. We find ways to identify user needs, rapidly develop and test solutions, and gather user feedback while relying on the principles found within this book.

The book he talks about is called User Friendly and is written by himself and Cliff Kuang. It is one of the first books about user-friendly design aimed at non-experts. In the book they describe the last 150 years of industrial design with an emphasis on the paradigm of user friendlyness and how it evolved. The book is split up in two parts, the first one is called Easy to Use, the other Easy to Want. Every chapter is named after one principle of user-friendly design like error or trust.

This way of structuring made it a little hard to read for me. You often get the same stories from a different angle, which is a little annoying. But I liked the general way the authors looks at the problem. Coming from science, it was interesting to see practitioners looking at the topic.
I also liked the second part way more than the first, which is mainly because the first part is talking about typical usability flaws like the ridiculous ways in which nuclear power plants were designed making it hard for the engineers working there not blowing up everything. The second part is about the design of products, not only interfaces, putting people first. These topics I think in general are more interesting, it is also what I am dealing with in research.

I liked the book, especially the last part very much. If you are new to user-friendly design it gives a good overview where the field comes from and also why it is still important to create user-friendly products.

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Science

Open Science Barcamp 2020

This year, I attended again the barcamp open science in Berlin. Due to corona, there were less people than last year, but the experience was still really cool. It is always nice to meet people and chat about open science. In all sessions there were pads where people could add their notes. There are also interviews on Open Science Radio.

The day started with the ignition talk by Birgit Schmidt, who works at University of Göttingen, State and University Library, you can also get the slides. She summarized the actual state of open access science publishing and put emphasis on putting this into the bigger picture and connected this topic with issues about funding as well as open peer review.

I attended four sessions: One about findability of research software, one about diamond open access and two about digital humanities. It seemed to me that this year the barcamp was more focused on certain topics, which way either because of less participants due to the beginning of the corona crisis or because the people attending were more focused on their topics.

Findability of research software is in my opinion a very interesting topic. For an information scientist, software is not findable just because it is on GitHub. On GitHub there are no identifiers, no keywords and often it is also not clear whether the software is still maintained or works with on an actual environment. Therefore I can easily relate to the summary we found in the pad: Research software is often not formally published at all (even though it is available, e.g. via GitHub), or published in specific Software journals (which are not common in all disciplines). This is a problem on two levels

  1.  Existing software cannot be adequately found and people work on the same issues without being able to build on pre-existing work.
  2. It is difficult to get proper credit for your research software and link it to the existing reputation system (that is very much focussed on reputation by formal publication in a journal).

Diamond open access was new to me. Basically it means that you try to keep the licenses of the articles also in your hands and try to do all the publishing process within the community in order to get rid of big journals. So the only infrastructure you have to provide externally is a publication system. For this, there exists especially one system: ojs (open journal systems), which is free software and runs on a server. I really liked this approach because it tackles some problems that still exist with open access nowadays like publication fees and the fact that publishers take your intellectual property away from you. The downside of course are the costs for the infrastructure: I do not have a clear number, but there needs some effort to be put into the hosting and providing of the system, so you also need (public) money or great efforts from within the community in order to run these systems. There are actually some projects even at DIPF doing this and I think it will be interesting to see in the future what happens to these projects.

The workshops about digital humanities were sometimes a little bit challenging. We had started with several discussions what might be problems when it comes to open research in digital humanities and we also have to acknowledge that other fields (especially in the natural sciences) are ahead of the humanities. This lead to interesting discussions in the workshops and still the problems that most of the people attending the open science barcamp do have a background in natural sciences or engineering, where open science is way more established than in the humanities.

I think in digital humanities there are actually two things happening: First, there is the will of a lot of people to make their research more open (I can see this when I talk to people during my dissertation). On the other side, we are also in the middle of the digitization of the field, so there is a lot of stuff tried out as well as researched. I would also argue it is not true that there is not so much open science going on in DH. Just think about all the projects to digitize old writings or the corpora created in linguistics. We see a lot of these processes and actually I think it is really interesting to be in these processes now to see what is possible and what is not possible in the future.

Summing up, it was a great event like last year, and thanks a lot to the organizers.

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Science

DHD 2019

Last week the conference DHD 2019, the German digital humanities conference took place in Frankfurt.

One remarkable discussion I heard was from a panel about 3D-modelling and the reconstruction of buildings. People in this panel were talking about the problems their field has and one was the lack of standards. As we all can imagine it is really hard to reconstruct old objects and buildings.

Some buildings have been re-build, destroyed or have never been built at all. This creates many uncertainties when it comes to questions like: How did the building originally look? Was it built as the architect intended it to be built? If we then look at standards, we see the importance. With a standard, one could exactly see what the other researcher wanted to show with their modelling and exchange and shared work would also be easier.

Another interesting talk was the keynote by Jana Diesner. She talked about her research in computational social science at the University of Illinois. She at first urged for a better collaboration between computational social sciences and digital humanities. This I also think is really important and there are certain fields that are quite close. Actually I think that maybe some of my research more falls in the field of computational social sciences than digital humanities because my institute is still focused on social sciences and the experts in my field are also doing qualitative social science research. The other thing I found remarkable are her stories about the ischool she is working at. In the US, there are many ischools now. The concept (as I understood it) is to bring researchers from different fields like social sciences, information science, computer science and psychology to do research in the broader sense about information. This can be a very fruitful combination because it also brings together new methods and ideas, which always helps to open our minds for difficult questions.

I did not attend so much of the conference because it was just next to my office and I had other stuff to do, but a really cool thing was the poster-slam and the poster session itself. It is just nice to look at posters and being able to discuss research directly with the researchers in a private way and it is also a nicer communication than just via journal articles and presentations.

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Science

FAIR Software

Some of you might have heard about the FAIR principles for data. Since the paper was published in 2015, it became state of the art in data sharing. But data is not all that is needed to make research more transparent. Software is another very important part.

Tackling this topic, the German National Library of Science and Technology hosted a workshop to make software also more FAIR. There have been varios posts, you can also see the complete sessions and the exercises online.

I actually liked the workshop a lot and it is worth having a look at the sessions. It also showed that there are still certain boundaries. For instance, there are no real repositories for scientific software with a search interface that can be narrowed down to scientific criteria. I also know that people are working on knowledge graphs, but right now there is often no good way to link data, software and published results. I liked the approach of Zenodo to provide and easy way to reference software and get a DOI for it, but there are not many metadata available about the software.

The workshop involved a lot of hands-on sessions, the overall principle was based on the carpentries, especially library carpentry, which is a workshop format that is completely open, so everyone can work with it and use it for their own workshops.

I learned a lot and thanks very much to the organizers.