Thursday, December 20, 2007

Information Science As Web 3.0?

In the early and mid-1950’s, scientists, engineers, librarians, and entrepreneurs started working enthusiastically on the problem and solution defined by Vannevar Bush. There were heated debates about the “best” solution, technique, or system. What ultimately ensued became information retrieval (IR), a major subfield of Information Science.

In his article Information Science, Tefko Saracevic makes a bold prediction:

fame awaits the researcher(s) who devises a formal theoretical work, bolstered by experimental evidence, that connects the two largely separated clusters i.e. connecting basic phenomena (information seeking behaviour) in the retrieval world (information retrieval). A best seller awaits the author that produces an integrative text in information science. Information Science will not become a full-fledged discipline until the two ends are connected successfully.

As Saracevic puts it, IR is one of the most widely spread applications of any information system worldwide. So how come Information Science has yet to produce a Nobel Prize winner?

But the World Wide Web changed everything, particularly IR. Because the Web is a mess, everybody is interested in some form of IR as a solution to fit it. A number of academic-based efforts were initiated to develop mechanisms, such as search engines, “intelligent” agents and crawlers. Some of those were IR scaled, and adapted to the problem; others were a variety of extensions of IR.

Out of all this emerged commercial ventures, such as Yahoo!, whose basic objective was to provide search mechanisms for finding something of relevance for users on demand. Not to mention making lots of money. Disconcertingly, the connection of the information science community is tenuous, and almost non-existent – the flow of knowledge is one sided, from IR research results into proprietary search engines . The reverse contribution to public knowledge is zero. A number of evaluations of these search engines have been undertaken simply by comparing some results between them or comparing their retrieval against some benchmarks.

As I've opined before, LIS will play a prominent role in the next stage of the Web. So who's it gonna be?

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