Confusing will not work

key by ul_Marga

There is a possibly interesting paper in Genome Biology by Barend Mons et al: Calling on a million minds for community annotation in WikiProteins. I say possibly because the paper itself is quite confusing to me but the overall goal seems to be a cool concept. This group has created and is encouraging the use of “WikiProteins” a community annotation system for “community knowledge.” Sounds a bit fuzzy? Well, reading the paper does not completely help. For example here is the abstract

WikiProteins enables community annotation in a Wiki-based system. Extracts of major data sources have been fused into an editable environment that links out to the original sources. Data from community edits create automatic copies of the original data. Semantic technology captures concepts co-occurring in one sentence and thus potential factual statements. In addition, indirect associations between concepts have been calculated. We call on a ‘million minds’ to annotate a ‘million concepts’ and to collect facts from the literature with the reward of collaborative knowledge discovery. The system is available for beta testing at webcite.


This is an interesting attempt but the community they are asking for is not in existence yet. The goal is extremely worthwhile, since the best way to create knowledge from the huge mountain of data being created is to incorporate large social networks. But the community must be created first.

However, at the moment in the science community there is a large activation energy (yes, human social interactions also require energy to be expended in creating the network before the information flow can become self-sustaining). First, there needs to be demonstrable proof that putting time into community annotation will be productive and rewarding. There is no proof of this yet.

Second, most scientists are creatures of habit; they have developed a workflow that is successful. In order to get them to change, it had better be easy. Again, time is important, especially in the early phases of community building.

I spent some time at the site trying to get an idea of what was involved. I still did not really figure it out. I do not believe many working scientists will either.

However, this is an important site and one that should be watched. Simply because the initial site is not there yet does not mean it will not quickly get a lot closer to perfection. It is a beta. It is easy to incorporate feedback and move rapidly to something more usable. Lowering the barrier to entry would help a lot.

These sorts of tools are too useful for them to remain unused. A million minds will someday be involved in this work. But it will not happen until a strong community is created.

Online communities will be how we solve the difficult problems facing us. The sooner they are functional, the sooner we can begin finding solutions.

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