My Shuttleworth application and manifesto

The Shuttleworth process asks applicants to answer four questions. “Please think about how your idea relates to technology, knowledge and learning and how your idea relates to openness when answering each section.


  • Describe the world as it is. (A description of the status quo and context in which you will be working)
  • What change do you want to make? (A description of what you want to change about the status quo, in the world, your personal vision for this area)
  • What do you want to explore? (A description of the innovations or questions you would like to explore during the fellowship year)
  • What are you going to do to get there? (A description of what you actually plan to do during the year)

Here are my first two answers… The first is close to a manifesto and the second addresses the social and political aspects. The key feature is that web-based communities and democracy are now sufficiently common that we can hope to use that culture.


Describe the world as it is. We’re in a battle for our digital future. The Web has released huge creativity and spread digital democracy but at the same time large vested interests – governments and companies – want control, compliance and conformity. Change comes by people developing new tools, the creation of communities, the spread of knowledge and the emerging vision of a better world. Companies and governments also see the potential of the Web; often using it well but also often repressively. Many, especially the “content” industries, feel threatened and use legal and technical means to restrict access and innovation.


300 Billion USD globally funds Science, Technology Medicine (STM). Much of this directly benefits the planet – health, climate, development – and also supports informed decision-making. But 80+% of the published output is paywalled and only rich Universities can read it. Scholarly publication is largely controlled by companies who try to retain the status quo. With some notable exceptions, they forbid free re-use of the information, try to re-license it, and effectively prevent the innovation seen in other fields (journalism, commerce, and government). Billions of research dollars are wasted as science rots in PDFs and behind paywalls.


The system is broken, technically and morally. Young people hate it, but only a very few have yet found ways to change it.


What change do you want to make? To build a community which frees data and builds tools for better, Open, STM communication. This will empower readers, both in and outside traditional academia, by creating an enhanced semantic environment. I have the Quixotic expectation that this will change the culture of scientific information and create a self-replicating movement. The technology will then spread because it is immediately useful. (An example is Figshare for collecting data, invented almost by accident and after 2 years now a major player).


Disrupting the central control exercised by large commercial publishers will create an expectation that readers deserve better tools and data, and can create them themselves. Using machines to liberate facts from copyright publications is, in fact, legal, but it’s very rare because people are frightened by lawyers. There’s also much publisher FUD (including “PMR (sic) will publish all our content”). The UK government will support content mining in 2014-04 by implementing the Hargreaves recommendations (which I have strongly argued for and supported). This is thus an ideal time to start deployment on a large scale. It will both demonstrate the value and also create an unstoppable wave of liberation (as has happened in many creative industries).


The traditional science publishers, like traditional music publishers, have held back innovation. I am set on changing that.

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