March 16, 2006

Linking Up Research Papers Using Tags

Back in my first post to this blog, I said that over here at Nature we’re interested in the question of "…how far tagging can take us in tackling the (formidable) information organisation needs of modern science." Today we’re starting on a cool (I think) new experiment that might help provide some early answers.

Many of you are no doubt familiar with Matt Biddulph’s wonderful mock-up of the BBC Radio 3 website as it might work with embedded functionality. (See in particular Matt’s Flash movie here.) Inspired by this, we’ve just released some code that adds the same type of functionality (but this time for real) to ‘institutional repositories’ (IRs) — websites that scientists and other academics use to share their work with each other.

One general problem with IRs is that, notwithstanding services like Google Scholar, a lot of their content isn’t very easy to find, and it certainly isn’t easy to browse between related items in different repositories. Our new code aims to improve things by allowing IR users to tag articles and see links to related content, all from within the IR web page itself. Behind the scenes, the software communicates with and/or Connotea (Nature’s own social bookmarking service for scientists). Since Connotea is open source, it will also work with any instance of Connotea Code.

The good folks at the University of Southampton’s Electronics and Computer Science Department have now put this code on their institutional repository, creating our first real-world installation (yeah! :) ). Here is an example of a tagged paper. You need to enter Connotea user details for it to work (because calls to Connotea’s web API require you to be a known user). For those who can’t be bothered with that, here’s a screenshot of the sort of thing you see just below the article abstract:

The recommendations (which are generated based mainly on tag co-occurrence) already seem OK to me, but they should get better as more links and tags get entered into the system.

There’s lots of different IR software out there, and our code currently only works with EPrints, which we chose because it’s very popular, is written in a language (Perl) that we’re familiar with, and has a friendly development team just down the road from us. If you’re the administrator of an EPrints repository then you can get instructions and code from here. I’m told that it’s a doddle to install.

More information is available in this blog entry by Ben Lund, who runs Connotea for Nature. We’re really grateful to the UK Joint Information Systems Committee for funding this work and would be very interested to hear about people’s experiences, either in comments posted here or by email (t DOT hannay AT nature DOT com).


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