Accelerating Science Discovery - Join the Discussion

Navigating Technological Transformation
by Dr. Walt Warnick on Mon, 7 Apr, 2008

Today, all of OSTI's information products are on the web. This is in sharp contrast to the situation as recently as the mid-1990s, when OSTI had no products on the web.

First becoming popular in 1994, the web quickly emerged as a transformational technology, and its potential for reshaping OSTI was apparent. Recognizing the opportunity to advance the OSTI mission, OSTI set out to capitalize on it as quickly as resources would allow by producing web applications to disseminate all manner of scientific and technical information (STI). A steady progression of new OSTI products addressed the various forms of STI: technical reports, e-prints, conference proceedings, accomplishments, patents, and project descriptions . To make it easy for users who want to search through all these products at once, we introduced the DOE Science Accelerator, which is powered by our special web architecture called federated search. Reaching out beyond DOE, we initiated a collaboration with other agencies to allow users to search their R&D results along with DOE's; thus emerged Science.gov. Most recently, we took collaboration world wide by federating the best information sources from governments around the world, WorldWideScience which makes searchable about the same quantity of science as does Google.

Over the years, OSTI has upgraded each of its products, so that, today, they offer more to users than ever before. Such upgrades are made possible by improvements in web technology. Keeping on top of this technological transformation is an exciting challenge. We are challenged to be constantly alert to emerging web technology. We are challenged to make our own contribution to the technological transformation, which we do by advancing the state of the art in federated search, a web technology that is particularly powerful and useful for advancing the OSTI mission. And we are challenged to communicate to users and observers that all of us are in the midst of the technological transformation that promises even more for the future.

Important lessons for OSTI can be learned from examining previous transformational technologies, like the railroads in the 19th century or the automobile in the 20th century. Just as the web first captured public imagination about 1994, the automobile first captured public imagination about 1903 when Henry Ford introduced his first mass produced car.

In the years that followed, the Ford made very significant technological progress. Fourteen years later, in 1917, Ford offered electric lights, secure doors, a roof, and numerous improvements under the hood. We have now reached the fourteenth birthday of the web, and it, too, has evolved dramatically. We now have enormous content, better browsers, search engines, and databases on the web which can be federated.

And just as the 1917 Ford transformed lives, the 2008 web is transforming lives, too.

As we all know, Ford's technology was not static in 1917. The automobile continued to evolve, and indeed continues to evolve yet today. Similarly, web technology is anything but static. Changes are happening so fast that, while we can be pretty well assured that the web will continue to exist a few years from now, no one can reliably predict what it will be like. We are in the Model T era of the web where rapid change is to be expected. Current newspaper headlines point out that the internet, which makes the web possible, may itself become obsolete.

We may not be able to predict what the Web will look like in a few years, but we can learn lessons from history. Ford made the automobile more user-friendly, faster, easier to operate, and most importantly, Ford made the automobile ubiquitous. Just as Ford sensed the burden of transportation was an obstacle to human progress, we know that the burden of searching is an obstacle to science progress. Ford transformed the behavior of the traveling public. We at OSTI are transforming the behavior of the research scientist. We at OSTI are doing everything possible to make use of the evolving Internet to diffuse knowledge related to our agency mission.

But, OSTI is not satisfied to merely keep up with technology. In our mission of accelerating science discovery we must first advance the technology that fosters that acceleration. Federated search technology is the niche that OSTI understands well and strives to advance. Thus, OSTI invests in developing new methods of federating more quality content, in better ways, with better relevance ranking, and OSTI strives to improve usability at the same time as it increases the sophistication of its offerings. Science.gov 5.0, to be released later this year, will further demonstrate OSTI's commitment to advancing science.

OSTI is committed to navigating this technological transformation. We are keeping on top of the changing web, we exploit it fully, and we advance it when doing so advances science.

Walt Warnick 

Other Related Topics: federated search, osti

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About the Author

Dr. Walt Warnick's picture
Dr. Walt Warnick
Former Director, U.S. DOE Office of Scientific and Technical Information