Beyond the PDF?

While looking for something on this blog (which I recommend in general), I stumbled on the fact that an interesting workshop recently took place entitled Beyond the PDF. The workshop goal is described as follows:

The goal of the workshop was not to produce a white paper! Rather it was to identify a set of requirements, and a group of willing participants to develop a mandate, open source code and a set of deliverables to be used by scholars to accelerate data and knowledge sharing and discovery . Our starting point, and the only prerequisite to participating, was the belief that we need to move Beyond the PDF (meant to capture a common philosophy, not necessarily to be taken literally).

In a heady moment we might also describe our efforts as the desire to contribute to the development of a free and open digital printing press for the 21st century. A platform, when utilized, moves us beyond a static and disparate data and knowledge representation to a rich integrated content which grows and changes the more we learn. A system (content plus platform) from which a scholar can interact and once evaluated shows improved understanding and interest.

The only name I saw among the participants who I recognized from the linguistics world was Eduard Hovy. (I only looked at the list quickly. Sorry if I missed anyone.)

In addition to the workshop's general goal of helping build cyberinfrastructure, which is of clear relevance to the cyberlinguists out there, it reminded me of a problem that I've been long aware of, but don't have a good solution for: It's clear that lots of other people out there have a lot of our needs for cyberinfrastructure, but we're not very good at connecting with, say, the biologist who may encounter data management issues with a similar structure to those of the descriptive linguist, often because of the stark differences in the content of the data. This is a hard problem to solve since it can involve "lateral" connections across fields to connect people who would otherwise never know about each other, rather than the more usual "big idea" sort of interdisciplinary dialogue where famous and (and often) divisive scholars face off against each other.

My impression is that people who like to work directly with the data generally are not interested in the limelight. This is probably good for their productivity, but it makes it hard for them to find each other.

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