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Attribute / Relation – Personal / Social January 12, 2007

Posted by Andre Vellino in Digital library, Information retrieval, Social networks.

I am taking my queue from the first entry in Peter Turney’s new blog regarding relations and attributes. In my neck of the woods (information retrieval in digital libraries) the corresponding dilemma is “the individual” vs. “the collective”. I think that people are like words in this regard: who they are (or “what they mean”) depends essentially on their (m-to-n) relationship to one another.

I’d like to investigate a web portal environment that enhances the search experience of scientists who use the CISTI digital library. This portal needs to catering to physicists, chemists, doctors, environmentalists, who want to browse or retrieve journal articles. But not in the way that physical libraries are currently used (catalog searching and database searching, primarily.) I have my doubts about whether Google Scholar is the right model either. My guess is that Citeseer has made a pretty good first stab at what a scientific e-library should look like. Except that I think it’s important to know the identity of your user not in attributional terms but relationally.

The scientific categories (nuclear physicist, environmental bio-chemist, etc.) that apply (as attributes) to the researchers who will use this portal belong is only one superficial facet of their identity. Other facets that matter are: what organization do you belong to (private sector / academic / government) and within that, what institutions are you affiliated with, what is the reputation of that intitution, and how authoritative is the information that has it imprimature. When added to citation information about the articles, the authors and the journals, not to mention the content of the articles, I think we’ll get a much better picture of how we can help the reader find what she wants.

These things matter because they speak to the reliability of the information – how much can it be trusted. The “interests” of a scholarly writer are not just about what the writer cares about but also about where his or her allegiances are. For example, if I care about the impact of CO2 emissions on the climate and I want to search an on-line library for important articles on the subject, it probably matters to me whether you (the author) are employed by Exxon or by CalTech (although even that information might be hiding the truth, namely that even though your research is at CalTech it is actually funded by Exxon and your work might or should be suspect.)


1. Peter Turney - January 22, 2007

I am taking my queue from the first entry…

Is that a deliberate pun on taking my cue and first entry in the queue? If not, your subconscious is a genius punster.

2. Andre Vellino - January 22, 2007

The explanation is much simpler – my mother tongue isn’t English and I am slightly dyslexic (semantically, as well as syntactically.) The result is pretty punny, but I don’t think my subconscious can be given any credit.

3. Peter Turney - February 2, 2007

A comment from one of my blog readers has motivated me to learn more about the philosophy of Charles Sanders Peirce. There is a lot of interesting material about him here:


Josiah Lee Auspitz gives a nice introduction to Peirce here:


Auspitz writes that Peirce believed “that everything is relational” and:

“Colapietro takes Peirce a good distance toward such a theory. He understands Peirce’s semiotic to address a central problem in the conception of human subjectivity: the opposition between an inner, private self and a communal self defined by its relations with others — a tension, as Colapietro puts it, between solitude and solidarity. If mind is defined as operating with signs, and if the meaning of a sign is to be found in its conceivable practical effects, it follows that a self can be meaningful to itself only to the extent that it thinks in terms of practices, which are, in turn, predicated upon relations with others.”

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