From the very beginning of my career I have used the World Wide Web as a medium for disseminating my research to a wider audience, and with my colleagues have built various web databases and web based tools to facilitate this. As a result I was recently hired by the entomology department of the Natural History Museum, London as the worlds first "official" Cybertaxonomist – a position that allows me to integrate my research on Phthiraptera, with my agenda to enable other researchers (especially taxonomists) to share the products or their research on the Web. New Web based technologies are making the process of sharing research data much simpler, empowering individuals to be more productive and more creative with information, be that with text, images, sound or video. My job is to help bring these technologies to life science researchers, and to help explain the benefits of doing this.
With the profusion of data now available on the Web come new opportunities for sharing and integrating information. How we organize data is crucial to how we use it, and in this sense taxonomy (the science of classifying information) has never been more relevant. Information that cannot be found might as well not exist, and as a taxonomist I am interested in using the Web to solve some of the challenges faced by my research community, by helping organize the vast compendium of biological data so that ALL its potential users can find it. I cannot do this alone, but the web can help here too. The Web (or more specifically Web 2.0) does more than just link information. Web 2.0 links people, and though this workforce the Web scales to challenges that are insurmountable to any individual or organization. Wikipedia, youTube and flickr are just of the three spectacular examples of this, and scientific research communities have much to learn from these endeavours. So what is the catch? Well there is no catch unless you are an individual or organization with a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. Collectively empowering individuals on the web just means we need to rethink a few things about how we create and share data. Things like copyright, authorship, expertise, peer-review, branding, identity, ethics, aesthetics, rhetorics, governance, commerce, privacy etc.
That shouldn’t be too hard. Should it?