This post is inspired by my meeting with Carla at Nyeleni 2016.
Carla is a young researcher who is primarily focused on how to do research she is interested in. She is an academic. She is an activist, active in numerous forums. She is interested in issues that can be considered marginalized in main-stream society, and therefore also in academic circles. She connects with people face to face when she can. She is a member on many mailing lists where she can connect with other researchers like her.
Before Carla actually does any research, her search for research opportunities is already creating content. The subjects of inquiry that interest her, the forums she is active in, the funding sources she discovers, applications that she may submit, people she connects with … all of these are an unfolding story of Carla as a researcher. That story is not being told.
Maybe Carla and a few close friends can see it – though even she and they may not see its wholeness because of its fragmented nature. Some people catch glimpses of it when connecting within specific contexts.
Carla’s unique story (as a researched and as individual) is key to her being able to connect with others and to advance her research. I am guessing that when Carla applies for research funding she is required to include some kind of CV. A personal website can be like a living CV where a reader can explore so much more by browsing across more subjects and digging deeper into interesting and relevant ones. It is and constantly changing CV. It can be kept up to to date with the latest occurrences in her life. It also allows her evolving narrative (the way she sees things, in addition to the what she sees) to come through for others (and for her) to witness.
A personal website can act as an information archive. Information can be intentionally stored on it so it can be accessed again in the future.
Documents can be published as articles (rather then proprietary format documents which act as sealed containers), making them always accessible for reading, for searching, for sharing (sending links to others), for conversation (others can leave comments and provide input), etc.
With simple organization using basic taxonomies information can be categorized and tagged in multiple contexts making it easy to retrieve and use. Interesting websites, articles, academic institutions, people, sources of funding, etc. Researchers are particularly prone to discovering and generating much valuable information.
Linkability gives Carla the ability to easily share her work with others and to allow others to reference hers.
Publishing an article (or any other piece of information) on a well structured personal site inherently creates a URL for it. This URL essentially becomes a unique address for that article. It makes easy to share with others, to reference (a key function in research) and, it desired, can be a theme of conversation via commenting.
Linkability is a cornerstone of the internet – it is a backbone of HTML. It was invented as an academic collaboration tool. But at the time of its invention an internet server and a website were expensive and so institutions such as universities were the place for researchers to publish their works and reference others.
Now every researcher that wants it can easily create a website to bring their work to the world.
Anything that is published on a site is de-facto directly controlled by the person who owns and operates that site. If that site is yours, then you control it. When you publish somewhere else you implicitly agree to give that person / group of people control (and sometimes, unconsciously, ownership) over your work: if it is presented, how it is presented, when it is presented and to whom it is presented.
Given the current state of technology there is no reason to relinquish control and ownership of your work. Publishing on a personal site does not need to be exclusive. Work can still be submitted to other established publication channels, however that can become secondary to making it a part of the knowledge-commons.
Ownership gives rise to the question of who really owns your work. If your work as a researched was funded with public funding, shouldn’t your work belong to the public who funded you. Shouldn’t your work become, by default, a part of a knowledge-commons that is in service of society.
Unfortunately that is no the situation today. Most academic papers are hidden behind paywalls that only privileged people (in academic circles) can afford and have access to.
That can change without a structural change in research itself. If every researched took on herself the responsibility to make her work, by default, available to the knowledge-commons we would be living in a different reality.
Each medium of publication reaches different audiences. I would say that the internet, as a medium, has one distinct advantage over others … that it is unknown. You don’t know who will come across your work, how they will discover it and in what context they will meet it. The Internet creates a network of circumstances far more diverse and dynamic then other targeted mediums which reach limited and often predictable audiences.
Also, when academic works are published in traditional channels they are formatted in traditional ways. Often their structure and wording may be alienating to lay-people. I would suggest that by committing to making research a part of the knowledge-commons a researcher may learn new ways of expression that make her work appealing and relevant for a wider audience. Publishing online can include mechanism of direct feedback that can help inform and shape such evolution.
Finally, our work (research or otherwise) is often a means to connecting with other people and expanding our circles of existence. If that is true, why would a researcher limit herself to traditional channels? Why would she not want to cast a wider net and allow herself to connect with people she may otherwise never meet