Any Publication, Anywhere, Anytime
by Baaba Andam, student writer
Imagine a world where you can access any publication anywhere at any time. William Arms thinks that world is technically feasible because computing is now easy and cheap and there is no technical barrier to putting information online. What would prevent this from happening would be our societal values. Arms’ research interests lie in making information available online through digital libraries and Web information systems. He is particularly interested in the technical, economic and social implications of his work. As he puts it, “the interesting problems are where computers meet people.”
Arms' current project is the Web Laboratory. "In the old days, scholars would rummage through information in libraries and museums. The Web Lab is a model for rummaging through digital collections instead of through physical collections." The Web Laboratory is built on the historical collections of the Internet Archive. “The Internet Archive collects a complete snap shot of the Web every two months, " explains Arms. "But the Internet Archive does not organize the data for in-depth research and this is where the Web Lab comes in."
The creation of the Web Laboratory involved unusual interdisciplinary collaborations between computer and social scientists. Computer scientists use it to study the structure of social and informational networks, while social scientists use it to examine the diffusion and polarization of ideas. These collections are huge and the Web Lab has become a showpiece for Cornell's developing expertise in data-driven science.
The Web Lab continues a theme of Arms' previous research with the National Science Digital Library: where to automate information management tasks that scholars or librarians have traditionally performed manually. As Arms points out, “You can’t have a machine duplicate all human tasks. You have to figure out where you need human skill and where you can automate."
As libraries have moved towards digitization they are becoming supercomputing applications. "You do not think of humanities when you think of supercomputing," he says. "How are social sciences and humanities going to change with digitalization and what new computer science is needed to support them?”