Trends and trending analysis are one thing, making an impact on the way people work is often quite another. So while I respectfully write up the huge progress being made to provide large scale tools for analytical discovery in unimaginable quantities of data, a small portion of me remains skeptical about the impact of these developments in the short term on the working lives of professionals. Look at researchers in science and technology: you can readily imagine the impact of Big Data on Big Pharma, but can you so easily imagine what this will mean in materials science? Or can you see how the workbench performance of the  individual researcher in neuroscience might be impacted? Its tough, and because it is tough we go back to saying that the traditional knowledge components will last the course. So if you have a good library, access to a reasonable collection of journals and the ability to network with colleagues then that is enough. Or Good Enough, as we keep saying.

So when I read the words “This is important not only for the supplementary data accompanying one’s experiment, but even negative results” I came alive immediately and read consciously what I had hitherto skipped. You see, in all the years that I have spoken with and interviewed researchers, when we get off the formal ground of OA or conventionally published articles, or the iniquities of publishers and the inadequacy of librarians, we get back to some stubborn issues that cling to the bottom of the bucket. One is what do you do with the remaining content derived from the research process which did not get into the article, where it was summarized and where conclusions were drawn from it. I mean the statistical findings, the raw computations. the observations and logs, the audio and video diaries, the discarded hypotheses etc. Vital stuff, if anyone is going to walk that way again. Even more vital is the detritus of failure: the experiment which never made a paper since it demonstrated what we already know, or where the model proved inadequate to demonstrate what we sought to show. Researchers going back to find why a generation of research went astray from a finding that proved fallible often need this content: in terms of detective fiction it is the cold case evidence. Yet more often than not it is not available.

So here is what I found in the nearly discarded press release. Nature Publishing’s Digital Science company (yes, them again!) have refinanced figshare ( and yesterday they relaunched it. What does it do? It archives all the stuff I have been talking about, providing a Cloud environment with unlimited public public storage. They call it “a community-based open data platform for scientific research”. I call it a wonderful way of embedding research workflow into a researchable storage environment that eventually becomes a search magnet for researchers wanting to check the past for surprising correlations. At the moment it is just a utility, a safe place to put things. But if I just add a copy of the article itself then it becomes a record of a research process. Put hundreds of thousands of those together and then you have a Big Data playground. Use intelligent analytics and new insights can be derived, and science moves forward on the tessellate of previous experimentation – only quicker, with less effort and more productivity for the researcher. And much less is lost, including the evidence from the wrong turnings that turned out to be right turnings. (

So will there be 20 of these? Well, there may be two, but if figshare gets an early lead perhaps there will only be one. After all , the reason  researchers would come to value this storage would be having their content in close proximity to others in their field. And while early progress is likely to run quick in Life Sciences, this application has relevance in every field of study. And it also calls into question ideas of what “publishing” actually is. By storing and making available these data, are figshare “publishing” them. They are certainly not editing or curating them. Network access alters many things and here, once again, it catches publishing on the hop. If traditional publishers confine themselves to making margins solely from the first appearance of an article then traditional publishing in this sector is in severe difficulty, whatever happens to the Open Access debate. Elsevier and Nature clearly get it: go upstream in value terms or drown in commoditized content where you are. But does anyone else see it? And why not?





To the great BETT show in London on Friday, now the largest educational technology show in the world. Packed and lively as ever, and its sisal carpets as tiring on the feet as some mini-Frankfurt. So it was not surprizing that I suddenly decided to sit down on a stand in the Innovation Corridor and listen like a good kid to whatever that stand chose to tell me. That stand was featuring a guest appearance by Jan Webb, and after 20 minutes I was as keenly attentive as any tribal elder of the Lilongwe being addressed by David Livingstone, or some rude Saul on the road up to Damascus from Tarsus. For here, in twenty slides, was a convincing demo of K-6 self made learning, all using software generally and freely available, content supplied by class and teacher, and the whole lot referenced via the Resources section of the TES, for whom, I learnt afterwards, Ms Webb now works. Having gratefully put myself in the hands of Teacher, what did I learn? Simply that there are more than enough free or cheap ways to manipulate content into lesson plans and lessons to revolutionize the primary school curriculum. That while teachers will be providing the pedagogy, learners can explore collaboratively or individually and the toolset provides the spine of the activity. We started by making some posters. came into its own there, allowing us to integrate text, music and video into our work, and just when I wished we had a wall to put them on, Ms Webb produced for that very purpose. I noticed incidentally that some of these sites are beginning to add their own content for education: look at in conjunction with this poster background site. Want to add some sticky post-its – turn to Get the kids collaborating around these activities – you can go to But really collaboration is all over the place: Ms Webb pointed to for team whiteboarding, as well as www.123.whiteboard.c0m and Finally and joyfully, under this tutelage, I have been improving my drawing skills on and, very happily, creating my own comics on

And there are some real lessons in all of this. As a result, and almost freely (dumpr cost me $20) I now appreciate exactly why I have been saying for two years that the school textbook is a dodo. The richness of the tools and the potential in the screen-based learning experience bear real witness to this. Schools themselves can put together effective learning experiences very cheaply both to energize learners in every subject and level, and to support less able or confident teachers. TES Resources has led the way by creating a national signposting system to great teacher-produced lessons, effectively peer-reviewed by teachers. So lets stop producing textbooks, digital or otherwise, and start producing improved learning experiences? Is that the message? Well, in many ways it is. Just as teachers are moving into new roles, so are publishers. The best work that I have seen in education in the last year comes not from the great and the good of textbook publishing in the 1960s, when I practised it myself with more energy than effectiveness, but from services like Alfiesoft (supporting teachers in testing and marking and reporting: and innovators like, pushing out the boundaries around testing proficiency in a spoken language.

As I wandered away from the inspiring Jan Webb, a young woman stopped me in the crowded aisles and pressed into my hands a free…. newspaper. I was so shocked that I gulped and grasped it, and then said “thank-you”, before enquiring whether the schoolchildren who were about to receive it free as a result of a special offer would recognize it for what it was. After all most of them come from homes unvisited by such a thing. However, she said helpfully that kids knew they were the things you found in bins outside of petrol stations, so I thought it OK to take a copy of First News home and examine it. It certainly is a tabloid newspaper all right. Very little content and no learning. After Ms Webb I baulked at paying £875 per year for a class set of 32 copies of a non-collaborative, uncreative, non-experience. Then I did a little research. The paper is edited by a former BBC magazine publisher and its Editorial Director is Piers Morgan, erstwhile tabloid editor of the Daily Mirror and now the delight of US chat shows. His dark arts are everywhere evident, from the claim to a million readers every week (small print: Source – First News Readership Survey) to the picture of the Queen, the Union Jack – and David Cameron – on the front page. No ads and no topless girls, however. This whole confection is financed by Steve and Sarah Jane Thomson, who successfully sold their advertising monitoring bureau, Thomson Intermedia, to the eBiquity Group  and now run Addictive Interactive, a “bespoke social loyalty platform”.

So how can we blame the textbook publishers for not changing their ways when someone thinks there is still a business selling newspapers to schoolchildren? I don’t think Ms Webb would have one in her classroom – unless the pupils had made it themselves.

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