#GenR Theme: The Decentralized Web – A Gutenberg Threshold! Running: Sept-Oct 2018

A call for contributions!

Image credit: NASA, ESA and the HST Frontier Fields team (STScI), Acknowledgement: Judy Schmidt, 2013. https://www.spacetelescope.org/images/potw1610a/ 
NB: A tip to McLuhan’s notion of ‘knowledge galaxies’ (McLuhan, 1962), and J.C.R. Licklider and his memos on ‘Intergalactic Computer Network’. (Licklider, 1963)

#decentralizedweb – A Generation R Open Science theme running from late August to early October 2018


Intro: A Gutenberg threshold!

The frame of Gutenberg and the spread of book technology with the accompanying acceleration in learning, as an example of earlier information revolutions, has been a long-standing comparison for the growth of the Internet. For example in the book From Gutenberg to Zuckerberg by John Naughton. (Naughton, 2015)

What is of value in the comparison of the creation of the system of ‘movable type’ and systems of the ‘decentralized web’ is the similarity in needing the convergence of many existing technologies to create a new technological pathway for knowledge, such as the book, or the decentralized web. It is then the far reaching impact of these new pathways which in turn create new: knowledge systems, institutions, industries, knowledge regimes, and knowledge galaxies (McLuhan, 1962), etc.

  • With ‘movable type’ the technologies were, as examples: metallurgy, paper, the press, and type matrix, etc.
  • Similarly with the ‘decentralized web’ it is a convergence of technology and also accompanying developments that make it a game changer in opening up a new pathway for knowledge. Example technologies are: the Merkle tree, cryptoIDs, content addressable, LOD, ontologies, DevOps, continuous integration, etc.

Among the many perspectives and motivations for the interest in the decentralization web two areas that seem most compelling for Open Science are:

  • New forms of governance in scholarship and science, and
  • Increased speed and use of automation in the research cycle:
    • the speed of development of research software and systems, and
    • the speed of research and communication.

The model of decentralization is already firmly instantiated as the Internet, a system that never crashes (fatally), or stops working, and can scale and evolve. The question it would seem we face is how to extend such resilience to research software, platforms, and infrastructures.

Currently the decentralized web has three different technology enabling models in the running, but also other that could be considered.

Three main technologies being explored are:

  • Blockchain
  • DAT
  • Solid

But also:

  • CDNs (content distribution networks)
  • BitTorrent, and others…

All of these technology options are currently being run in research programmes in academia. We will look to assemble voices from these different communities to look at the motivations and outcomes of this R&D.

For the researcher we will look at how they can get involved in using what is on offer from decentralized systems while keeping their data and time invested in adopting or trialing these technologies somehow safe.

From the end of August 2018 Generation R will publish on the theme of Open Science and the decentralized web over a six week period. As with other Gen R themes, these initial articles are meant as a set of openings to questions that will be revisited regularly on Gen R.

Themes are run as #OPENNEWS meaning we share our ideas and interests prior to publishing to support the Open Science/Open Scholarship community. The publication run will contain several blogposts and make contributions to partner learning resources, such as Open Science MOOC.

Any questions

Please contact Simon Worthington, Editor: DM or tweet @gen_r_ or simon@genr.eu

Contributor guidelines https://genr.eu/wp/contribute/


Schmidt, Judy. ‘NASA, ESA and the HST Frontier Fields Team (STScI)’. www.spacetelescope.org, 7 March 2016. https://www.spacetelescope.org/images/potw1610a/.

McLuhan, Marshall. The Gutenberg galaxy: the making of typographic man. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1962. https://www.worldcat.org/title/gutenberg-galaxy-the-making-of-typographic-man/oclc/1044520235&referer=brief_results.

Licklider, J.C.R. ‘Memorandum For Members and Affiliates of the Intergalactic Computer Network’. Kurzweil accelerating intelligence, 23 April 1963. http://www.kurzweilai.net/memorandum-for-members-and-affiliates-of-the-intergalactic-computer-network.

Naughton, John. From Gutenberg to Zuckerberg: Disruptive Innovation in the Age of the Internet, 2015. https://www.worldcat.org/title/from-gutenberg-to-zuckerberg-disruptive-innovation-in-the-age-of-the-internet/oclc/1021212643&referer=brief_results.

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