OSTI's contribution to international discovery: WorldWideScience.org

by Kristin Bingham on Thu, Apr 3, 2008

On June 22, 2007, OSTI opened WorldWideScience.org, a global science gateway, to the public. WorldWideScience.org was an ambitious undertaking and OSTI was the perfect organization to take on the technical, administrative, and organizational challenges to take a powerful idea and bring it to fruition.

WorldWideScience.org is a federation of national science portals; participating nations make research results available to citizens and scientists of all nations. Speeding global access to scientific information speeds discovery, encourages collaboration, and accelerates revolutionary advances in science. WorldWideScience.org allows searching of 32 databases, comprising more than 200 million pages, from 44 cooperating countries. Federated search technology allows users to simultaneously search the 200 million pages from all 32 databases in real-time with a single query.

WorldWideScience.org is modeled after OSTI's Science.gov, a gateway to over 50 million pages of authoritative research and development results and other selected science information provided by U.S. government agencies. Much like WorldWideScience.org, Science.gov's content is aggregated from cooperating organizations. For Science.gov, 17 scientific and technical organizations from 13 federal agencies participate in the Science.gov Alliance and contribute the content. Science.gov has evolved through several generations of technology, from its launch (Science.gov 1.0) in 2002, to Science.gov 4.0 deployed today. Later this year, OSTI will introduce Science.gov 5.0 and upgrade WorldWideScience.org to take advantage of its advanced feature set and improved usability.

While OSTI is clearly committed to technological innovation, having pioneered the use of federated search in the federal government when it launched Science.gov 1.0, OSTI is not interested in technology for technology's sake. OSTI's mission centers around advancing science and making R&D findings widely available and useful to DOE researchers. The story of how WorldWideScience.org was conceived is a powerful example of how OSTI lives its mission above and beyond the technology behind it.

Dr. Walter Warnick, Director of OSTI, was representing the Department of Energy at a meeting of ICSTI, the International Council for Scientific and Technical Information, in June 2006, in Washington, DC. ICSTI's mission, in part, is to "provide leadership in promoting recognition of the value of scientific and technical information to the world's economic, research, scholarly and social progress." Dr. Warnick delivered a speech in which he proposed a global science gateway for the web. This is an idea that Dr. Warnick conceived and discussed with OSTI and DOE staff in 2005. A member of the British library attended that meeting and brought up the idea to Lynne Brindley, Chief Executive of the British Library. She loved the idea, and things progressed quickly.

On January 21, 2007, Dr. Raymond Orbach, Under Secretary for Science of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) signed a statement of intent with Lynne Brindley, in London, to partner on the development of a global science gateway. DOE announced this auspicious event the next day, dubbing the global gateway, Science.world. The name could only be temporary, though, as .world is not a valid top-level domain name. So, OSTI launched a campaign to permanently name the science portal. In the Personal Perspectives thread of this blog, Kristin Bingham tells how, as a new member of OSTI's staff, she nervously submitted the name WorldWideScience.org to the senior staff, for consideration. Bingham's submission met with wide approval and, as they say, the rest is history.

On June 22, 2007, five months to the day after the statement of intent was signed, WorldWideScience.org opened. On behalf of the United States, OSTI contributed Science.gov which, although it is a federated search application itself, is searchable as if it were a single database. The United Kingdom contributed access to two collections:  the original contribution was UK PubMed Central, and in July 2007, they contributed access to the Electronic Table of Contents for the British Library.

Today, WorldWideScience.org searches 32 major knowledge collections in 44 countries. It transforms the task of searching them from "all-but-impossible" to "trivially easy." Typically, even well informed information specialists are aware of the existence of only a few of these collections. WorldWideScience.org obviates the need for users to know about the collections. But, WorldWideScience.org does more. Let's assume, for arguments sake, that the user is aware of a number of the collections. Without WorldWideScience.org, the user would be faced with the tedious chore of searching each collection individually. WorldWideScience.org eliminates the tedium of the individual searches by doing all the searches in parallel. But, WorldWideScience.org does still more. Let's assume that the user laboriously searches each collection. The user would be faced with dealing with dozens of separate hit lists totaling hundreds of hits. The user would be overwhelmed with information glut. WorldWideScience.org solves this problem, too. It combines all the hit lists and sorts through them with its sophisticated relevancy ranking algorithm.

Thus, WorldWideScience.org overcomes the major obstacles to searching the world's best collections: having to know about collections at the corners of the earth; having to search each of dozens of collections one at a time; and sorting through myriad hits.

OSTI hosts and maintains WorldWideScience.org and integrates new databases as they are contributed. Additionally, OSTI manages the relationships with the foreign governments that participate in this alliance. And, true to OSTI's mission, DOE researchers and the American people benefit from OSTI's leadership and innovation.

Kristin Bingham
Information Program Specialist, OSTI

Sol Lederman
Consultant to OSTI



About the Author

Kristin Bingham's picture
Kristin Bingham
Former Information Program Specialist