Friday, 24 October 2008

"Expressing Argumentative Discussions in Social Media sites" - and why I like it

At the moment, there are a lot of problems with the way information is cited or referenced in paper-based research articles, etc and I am deeply concerned that this model is applied to digitally held content. I am by no means first to say the following, and people have put a lot more thought into this field but I can't find a way out of the situation by using the information that is captured. I find it easier to see the holes when I express it to myself in rough web metaphors:
  • a reference list is a big list of 'bookmarks', ordered generally by the order in which they appear in the research paper.
  • Sometimes a bookmark is included, because everyone else in the field includes the same one, a core text for example.
  • There are no tags, no comments and no numbers on how often a given bookmark is used.
  • There is no intentional way to find out how often the bookmark appears in other people's lists. This has to be reverse engineered.
  • There is no way to see from the list what the intent of the reference is, whether the author agrees, disagrees, refutes, or relies on the thing in question.
  • There are no anchor tags in the referenced articles (normally), so there is little way to reliably refer to a single quote in a text. Articles are often referenced as a whole, rather than to the line, chart, or paragraph.
  • The bookmark format varies from publisher to publisher, and from journal to journal
  • Due to the coase grained citation, a single reference will sometimes be used when the author refers to multiple parts of a given piece of work
Now, on a much more positive note, this issue is being tackled. At the VoCamp in Oxford, I talked with CaptSolo about the developments with SIOC and their idea to extend the vocabularies to deal with argumentative discourse. Their paper is now online at the SDoW2008 site (or directly to the pdf) The essence of this, is an extension to the SIOC vocab, recording the intent of a statement, such as Idea, Issue, Elaboration as well as recording an Argument.

I (maybe naïvely) have felt that there is a direct parallel to social discourse and academic discourse, to the point where I used the sioc:has_reply property to connect links made in blogs to items held in the archive (using trackbacks and pingbacks, a system in hiatus until I get time to beef up the antispam/moderation facilities) So, to see an argumentation vocab developing makes me more happy :) Hopefully, we can extend this vocab's intention with more academic-focussed terms.

What about the citation vocabularies that exist? I think that those that I have looked at suffer from the same issue - they are built to represent what exists in the paper-world, rather than what could exist in the web-world.

I also want to point out the work of the Spider project, which aims to semantically markup a single journal article, as they have taken significant steps towards showing what could be possible with enhanced citations. Take a look at their enhanced article, all sorts of very useful examples of what is possible. Pay special attention to how the references are shown, how they can be reordered, typed and so. Note that I am able to link to the references section in the first place! The part I really find useful is demonstrated by the two references in red in the 2nd paragraph of the introduction. Hover over them to find out what I mean. Note that even though the two references are the same in the reference list (due to this starting as a paper version article) they have been enhanced to popup the reasons and sections referred to in each case.

In summary then, please think twice when compiling a sparse reference list! Quote the actual section of text if you can and harvard format be damned ;)

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