Google Wave and open science

Cameron Neylon is one of the first to see the implications of Google Wave for open science.  From his reflections (today):

Yes, I’m afraid it’s yet another over the top response to yesterday’s big announcement of Google Wave, the latest paradigm shifting gob-smackingly brilliant piece of technology (or PR depending on your viewpoint) out of Google. My interest, however is pretty specific, how can we leverage it to help us capture, communicate, and publish research? And my opinion is that this is absolutely game changing – it makes a whole series of problems simply go away, and potentially provides a route to solving many of the problems that I was struggling to see how to manage.

Firstly, lets look at the grab bag of generic issues that I’ve been thinking about. Most recently I wrote about how I thought “real time” wasn’t the big deal but giving the user control back over the timeframe in which streams came into them. I had some vague ideas about how this might look but Wave has working code. When the people who you are in conversation with are online and looking at the same wave they will see modifications in real time. If they are not in the same document they will see the comments or changes later, but can also “re-play” changes….

Another issue that has frustrated me is the divide between wikis and blogs. Wikis have generally better editing functionality, but blogs have workable RSS feeds, Wikis have more plugins, blogs map better onto the diary style of a lab notebook. None of these were ever fundamental philosophical differences but just historical differences of implementations and developer priorities. Wave makes most of these differences irrelevant by creating a collaborative document framework that easily incorporates much of the best of all of these tools within a high quality rich text and media authoring platform….The Waves themselves are XML which should enable straightforward parsing and tweaking with existing tools as well.

One thing I haven’t written much about but have been thinking about is the process of converting lab records into reports and onto papers.  While there wasn’t much on display about complex documents a lot of just nice functionality, drag and drop links, options for incorporating and embedding content was at least touched on. Looking a little closer into the documentation there seems to be quite a strong provenance model, built on a code repository style framework for handling document versioning and forking….

Finally the big issue for me has for some time been bridging the gap between unstructured capture of streams of events and making it easy to convert those to structured descriptions of the intepretation of experiments.  The audience was clearly wowed by the demonstration of inline real time contextual spell checking and translation. My first thought was – I want to see that real-time engine attached to an ontology browser or DbPedia and automatically generating links back to the URIs for concepts and objects. What really struck me most was the use of Waves with a few additional tools to provide authoring tools that help us to build the semantic web, the web of data, and the web of things….

Google don’t necessarily do semantic web but they do links and they do embedding, and they’ve provided a framework that should make it easy to add meaning to the links. Google just blew the door off the ELN [Electronic Laboratory Notebook] market, and they probably didn’t even notice.

Those of us interested in web-based and electronic recording and communication of science have spent a lot of the last few years trying to describe how we need to glue the existing tools together, mailing lists, wikis, blogs, documents, databases, papers….That problem, as far as I can see has now ceased to exist. The challenge now is in building the right plugins and making sure the architecture is compatible with existing tools. But fundamentally the framework seems to be there. It seems like it’s time to build.