Humans have never before been called on to save so much stuff in whatever we name these digital containers. Historically we have been compelled by circumstance to let things go, albeit often unwillingly. The list of what we leave behind can include almost everything we care about--books, photographs, hard drives, memorabilia and artworks--to even bigger items such as houses and cars. Whether selling, donating, recycling, sharing or being forced to abandon our stuff due to unforeseen circumstances, we are more or less wired to cope with the dynamic lifecycle of digital and analog “knowledge objects” as they intersect with our lives.
As I hold out hope that I will find time to organize, annotate and share my digital photo archive, others look to keeping ideas--digital text and rich media--around long enough for academic and public review that holds the promise of transformation into vetted knowledge. The timetable for when a paper, dataset or video will become useful, or perhaps even critical, is often unknown. As the cost of storing digital stuff has gone down, we seem less willing then ever before to let things go. The conundrum of coping with the biggest information deluge in human history, coupled with cheap storage, and an unknown timetable for usage seems to equal a disruption in our collective ability to merge and purge our stuff. Terminology discussions for what to call (packed) global knowledge waiting rooms seem to be to be a by-product. We can now afford to rent an endless number of mini-storage units, but will never have time to arrange or make use of their contents.
Les Carr pointed out during OR08 in Southampton earlier this year that collecting and curating over time is what a persistent and permanent repository backed by policies and institutional commitment implies. A repository is not intended to be a fly-by-night dumping ground. About ten years ago the terms "digital library" seemed to be a way to give small or large, and sometimes poorly organized, collections of academically-created web pages a certain gravitas that would promote preservation. A "portal" to resources is also a term that has been used to imply "more than a mere web site." Terminology that is meant to denote REALLY IMPORTANT STUFF has been around for a while. What has been missing in finding the right name is a view towards specific functionality that might contribute to a knowledge workflow on top of resources to make use of really important stuff.
In his keynote address at JCDL 2008 Alex Szalay explained that there is a science project pyramid that builds on a single lab at the base, a multi-campus project in the center, and international consortia on top as scientific disciplines recognize the need for major initiatives that are highly collaborative and distributed. He suggested that the output from these efforts at every scale contain:
–Derived and re-combined data
Szalay would like to see a continuous feedback loop among these three aspects where data and analysis are always updating. In my view the active form that Szalay outlined should be encompassed by a term that implies the inherent function of a semantically-enabled analysis loop in a dynamic "knowledge waiting room."
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