Tending our garden

This is the concluding bit from a short essay I just wrote. I’m demoralized lately about academia in general, but I hope it doesn’t show here…

If social informatics is a gathering storm, if there are a large number of people who do work within the area and are willing to build the field, we should be uniquely able to do so. As information professionals, we should be at the leading edge of scholarly communication. This seems to be the case with “other” informatics. The benefits accrued in sharing data among bioinformaticists led to a clamoring for open exchange of ideas and for access to data. Clearly, if social informatics is to be a success, it requires a knowledge ecology that fosters such exchanges, and allows easy access to the most recent and continuing research.

The Journal of Computer Mediated Communication provides us with an example of how an electronically accessible, widely-read journal can act as a catalyst for a field of study. Likewise, FirstMonday, though perhaps not as widely esteemed as JCMC, remains an organ for distribution of research within the field of social informatics, and a crossroads for exchanging information between disciplines. Neither of these journals directly identifies with social informatics. While there are several journals that are more closely attuned to the social informatics perspective, because they are only open to subscribers, they tend not to be as widely read. If the aim is to present social informatics as a viable and growing field, there is a need for journals that evangelize the work done in this field, and that provide a point of contact for scholars.

Perhaps equally striking is that so few researchers who self-identify as scholars of social informatics participate heavily in either open or closed systems of interaction online. How is it that we study computer-supported collective work without using such systems to further our own research? Outside of a few graduate students and an even smaller number of faculty, researchers in the area do not maintain weblogs or even home-pages where their work can be easily accessed.

While there is certainly a danger in becoming insular or self-centered, this is not a problem the field faces right now. We need to be drawing together the wide range of ideas and approaches to research. We need to be sharing our work, finding common themes, as well as areas of disagreement. We need the kind of discursive community that we study. We need, to borrow a phrase from the dot-com boom, to start eating our own dog food.

Bringing designers and researchers of every stripe under the same roof is the greatest challenge to the field of social informatics, but it is also its greatest strength. The division between designers and researchers is an artificial one, tied largely to existing institutional structures. We, perhaps better than anyone, recognize how entrenched such structures can be. Nonetheless, by crafting our own knowledge ecology, by presenting examples of how scholarly communication can be improved, we provide both infrastructure for the emerging field, and an object for shared research.

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One Comment

  1. Posted 4/22/2005 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

    I totally agree with the idea of shared research. We know the benefits of sharing our knowledge, especially within the realm of academia, yet some researchers don’t bother to pick up new technical skills to blog what they know, or even don’t share their research in fear of stolen ideas and such. If only the academia were more open and accessible to the masses, we won’t be accused so much as being insular as you said. From open-access journals to napsterizing scholarly literature, there should be a movement that propels these ideas. You had some ideas here and I posted one on the Directory of Open Access Journals

    More needs to be done… otherwise we are literally fucked as a school.

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