Update: A version of this post appeared in SURF magazine (on the back page) in their trendwatching column
Technology at its best lets us do what we want to do without being held back by time consuming or complex processes. We see this in great consumer technology: your phone giving you directions to the nearest cafe, your calendar reminding you of a friend’s birthday, or a website telling you what films are on. Good technology removes friction.
While attending the SURF Research day, I was reminded that this idea of removing friction through technology shouldn’t be limited to consumer or business environments but should also be applied in academic research settings. The day showcased a variety of developments in information technology to help researchers do better research. Because SURF is a Dutch organization there was a particular focus on developments here in the Netherlands.
The day began with a fantastic keynote from Cameron Neylon outlining how networks qualitatively change how research can be communicated. A key point was that to create the best networks we need to make research communication as frictionless as possible. You can find his longer argument here. After Cameron’s talk, Jos Engelen the chairman of the NWO (the Dutch NSF) gave some remarks. For me, the key take-away was that in every one of the Dutch Government’s 9 Priority Sectors, technology has a central role in smoothing both the research process and its transition to practice.
After the opening session, there were four parallel sessions on text analysis, dealing with data, profiling research, and technology for research education. I managed to attend parts of three of the sessions. In the profiling session, the recently released SURF Report on tracking the impact of scholarly publications in the 21st century, sparked my interest. Finding new faster and broader ways of measuring impact (i.e. altmetrics) is a way of reducing friction in science communication. The ESCAPE project showed how enriched publications can make it easy to collate and browse related content around traditional articles. The project won SURF’s enriched publication of the year award. Again, the key, simplifying the research process. Beyond these presentations, there were talks ranging from making it easier to do novel chemistry to helping religious scholars understand groups through online forms. In each case, the technology was successful because it eliminated friction in the research process.
The SURF research day presented not just technology but how, when it’s done right, technology can make research just a bit smoother.