Contemplations from the CRIG Unconference

December 11, 2007

One thing and another meant I was unable to blog final thoughts and summaries about the CRIG unconference that I attended last week, so this is rather long, being a combination of the post I would have written Friday afternoon and a couple of consequent thoughts.

Firstly, on unconferencing, or at least the way it was implemented for CRIG; I like it a lot. Since we were partly a talking shop and partly a workshop to refine interoperability scenarios and challenges, the main session worked essentially like a lightweight breakout session system – topics were assigned to whiteboards, and people chose topics, migrated, discussed and withdrew as they wished. It was leagues more interesting and more productive than being assigned a breakout group with a topic. Successive rounds of dotmocracy helped to sort out the zeitgeist from the soapboxes. I could see this format working extremely well for e.g. the Cambridge BarCamp, or the e-Science All Hands meeting.

This was the first face to face meeting of the CRIG members as CRIG members, and really helped to frame the agenda for CRIG. I realized that there are some big issues underlying repositories that only become really important when discussing interoperability. For example, I can see OAI-ORE creating the same kind of fun and games around pass-by-ref, pass-by-val that the community currently enjoys when discussing identifiers, and just like identifiers, it touches just about every scenario.

One message came out pretty strongly; the emphasis on repositories isn’t useful in itself. One of the topics for discussion that passed dotmocracy (i.e. was voted as something people wanted to talk about) was “Are repositories an evolutionary dead end?”, a theme picked up by David Flanders. Well, I personally don’t think so, but then I’ve probably got a more malleable definition of “the R word” (as Andy Powell puts it) than most. If I’ve read the mood correctly, people are beginning to regard centralized, data storing, single-software, build-it-and-they-will-come IRs as a solution looking for a problem. Some regard repositories as a complete diversion, others that we should act on our improved understanding of the problems in academic content management and dissemination by acknowledging failed experiments and moving on quickly. Nobody gave me the impression that they thought the current approaches would work given a couple more years, more effort or more funding.

This has all been said before; when the conference was over, I reminded myself of Cliff Lynch’s 2003 definition of the Institutional Repositories, which describes institutional repositories in terms of services, collaboration, distributed operation, commitment. If you haven’t read it, or haven’t read it in a while, go back and take a look, it’s in the 5th para.

Whilst it’s only a view of how things should be, I think it’s a good view, and it neatly sums up what’s important about repository interoperability – it’s about the interaction between systems needed to achieve a repository.

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2 Responses to “Contemplations from the CRIG Unconference”


  1. […] that institutions and centralized software systems will be able to evolve rapidly enough. Jim, in a recent post, already alludes to something like this and makes reference to a post by Clifford Lynch, who […]


  2. […] that institutions and centralized software systems will be able to evolve rapidly enough. Jim, in a recent post, already alludes to something like this and makes reference to a post by Clifford Lynch, who […]


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