Friday, 20 November 2009

Open knowledge and the role of public funding

I read with interest that Rupert Murdoch intends limiting Google access to its news pages. It shows that Murdoch has no concept of the need for freely moving knowledge to increase human productivity but wishes instead to make a more successful business model for his company. He can do as he wishes however (no matter how much may will disapprove), as the content of his news pages are fully in his control. What if knowledge is created by public funds, should we charge for this? I argue that any research funded by the public purse should be free of intellectual property rights (IPR) as it is a public good paid for by the public. This is called open source knowledge and has a key benefit, anyone can apply it free of charge widening the impact of the generated knowledge. Economists have argued for many years that barriers in market places cause market imbalances that are detrimental to ideal consumption patterns. Usually the imbalance will create unfair pricing. Surely if knowledge produced within a university environment, paid for by tax payers, it must be made freely available to those that want it? I worry about the development of the need for universities to encourage IPR in academic research. Universities are here to expand the body of knowledge and encourage its use in the wider community via a number of channels. Restrict its use via stringent IPR policies and it will be used less. This undoubtedly will reduce the impact academics would hope for in their research and stifle further innovation. It is fair that private organisations that generate knowledge or processes that their IPR be protected. Protection of IPR in this case increases innovation as private investors are made confident that investment is protected underlaw. However, by encouraging universities to be guided into profit making IPR research, the fundamental way that knowledge generates changes. Academics for the most part are not financially orientated but do what they do to maximise the benefit to society. Add a profit motive to this activity and the role becomes one of generating profit on your research and suddenly the knowledge growth model falters. Why am I writing this in a technology blog? The Lancaster Centre for e-Science produces knowledge in the form of software and papers about technology. Every item we produce is governed by open-source attribution lisences. This means that everything we produce is given to the world for free use. This widens our societal impact to the maximum possible by taking away legal and economic cost barriers. This approach does not mean research spin off companies cannot be formed successfully. The academic skill base is huge, and it's one thing creating knowledge and giving it way and then developing it into a business model. It takes skill to do this and this skill needs to be paid for.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Sakai 3 is media and embedded tools

As we become accustomed to the new ways of social media, software must evolve that captures its vibrancy. Students, staff and clients expect this of software providers and the organisations that operate it. Sakai e-research and e-learning software is presently in version 2. Next year comes Sakai 3 (see which heralds a new way of thinking in the way we attach ourselves as individuals to secure online environments. Firstly, existing tool boxes (Moodle, Sakai 2) compartmentalize the tools. Social media, such as Facebook, have shown the value of embedding tools into styled web pages; although applications are limited and information security is weak.

Sakai 3 already manages site security very well (as did its predecessor, version 2) and implementing new social media ways of working is going to be a big hit. It will change the way we manage online relationships with our colleagues, students and clients for sure.

In Sakai 2, each tool sits separately with the worksite you use. So, as a user you may want to encourage your research or teaching group to vote on an important matter of the day either by sending an Announcement or engaging communication via Forums. To complete the vote, however, the user must navigate away from the communication point (e.g. forum) to select the vote tool and then make the vote. Sakai 3 overcomes this limitation and allows users to embed different tools into, say forums, much like a photo in the text document. No technical skill will be needed (e.g. html) but will be drag and drop in operation. What this means is that less clicks are required to navigate around the site simplifying the user engagement process. This new way of working also opens the door to better knowledge management practice. When a vote is cast in Sakai 3, the result would also appear in the forum itself, meaning that knowledge on complete array of activites will be available in one place and be searchable.

Over the coming months the Lancaster Center for e-Science will be installing Sakai 3 as a demonstrator for all existing and new Sakai users to take a look at. In the mean time, if you are interested in learning more about Sakai 3 go to Go to