vrijdag 12 juni 2009

First post

Every blog needs an introductory posting, and this one is no different. What is it about? What can we expect to hear? Why even bother blogging? Those are the kinds of questions both you and I would like to see answered. "You and I", I hear you wonder? Yes, because it is not completely clear to me either what exactly I will and will not write about yet. So let's start with giving some idea about what I am doing, and why that is interesting to keep a weblog about.

The Science System Assessment department of the Rathenau Instituut is dealing, among other things, with trying to apply bibliometrics and patentometrics to map the dynamics of science and knowledge transfer. The problem that our department quickly ran into was that the available tools that can deal with this kind of data are relatively far between, require many manual, error prone and labour-intensive steps and don't fit together well. Worse, we soon ran into limitations with the amount of data we could handle in them that started to affect our research.

So, we decided to build some tools ourselves. Seeing that the tools that were (and are) available are not open, we had to start from scratch. That presented both a challenge and an opportunity, because in this way we could also rethink basic issues of how these tools should work. We decided to go for a design where all tools work against standard relational databases in which we structure the available data as well as possible. We also wanted the tools to be easy to use, so a clear graphical interface was a must. Since I have experience developing software using the excellent C++ based Qt toolkit, I chose to use that as the environment to build these tools in. As an added bonus, cross platform compatibility as well as database back end independence come practically for free.

As the first tools began to be available in early versions, more and more ideas about what else we could do and needed begun to pop up, and soon the idea to build some tools led to a complete toolkit that is still growing. Now the time has come to make these tools available to you too. The toolkit will officially be launched at the 5th conference of the National Centre for e-Social Science in Cologne. The first tree tools will be released in their "1.0" or "ready to use" versions, while the rest of them are made available "as is". Because we would have liked to contribute to the exisiting tools but could not, we have decided to avoid the same issue with our initiative.

We would love to hear from you, and even better, to work with to to improve these tools! We expressely invite you to use them, test them, and improve on them. To make that possible, we are making all sourcecode available under a liberal open source licence. We will also make a public issuetracker available, as well as a forum and other collaboration tools.

And that brings us to the why of this blog: we feel that it is important to keep you up to date with what is happening, what we are planning, and what others are doing with these tools. This blog is one of the ways in which you can do that. We are also working on a nice website, and a temporary website will be up soon. If you have other ideas about how to communicate, want to aggregate your own blog, or have any other comments: don't hessitate to contact me. I'd love to hear from you!

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