Re: Central vs. Distributed Archives

From: Greg Kuperberg <greg_at_MATH.UCDAVIS.EDU>
Date: Thu, 2 Nov 2000 08:46:24 -0800

On Thu, Nov 02, 2000 at 03:07:58PM +0000, Stevan Harnad wrote:
> It is not at all clear why you describe open archiving as "anarchic"!
> It was precisely in order to put order into distributed online digital
> archiving resources through interoperability that the OAI was
> initiated!

I certainly think that a standard for interoperability could be useful,
but it is wishful thinking to suppose that it can tame an anarchy of many
tiny little e-print archives. In my discipline, when the literature
is excessively decentralized, as it was entirely before 1998 and still
largely is, neither authors nor readers have any confidence that papers
floating around on the Net are permanent. And they are right, because
no one could promise to keep those papers forever with any credibility.
Any given paper could be erased accidentally if it is in one tiny
archive somewhere. Or maybe the maintainer of that particular archive
never explicitly promised permanence anyway; if so he could shut down
his archive when he gets tired. The fact that the arXiv is so large
and so widely used and mirrored is a necessary ingredient for assuring

> The only "do-it-yourself" issue is self-archiving itself. And the issue
> is very clear: If researchers want the refereed literature freed, now,
> then they can do it themselves, by self-archiving, now.

The "self" in self-archiving could mean individuals acting for themselves,
or it could mean the research community acting for itself by directly
supporting one or a few archives. I have the feeling that you don't
see this as an important distinction. I'll give you an analogy to show
you what I mean. I use Linux, which an open, standards-based operating
system. It would be absurd to call my use of Linux "self-programming",
even though Linux is maintained by some of its users. I see the arXiv as
highly analogous to Linux. This is why I am reluctant to use the phrase

> Again, it is a question of how long the researcher community is willing
> to wait for the optimal and inevitable: It is now within immediate
> reach to eliminate all the research access/impact-barriers, now,
> through self-archiving.

I can't say that this ambitious goal is "within immediate reach" in
mathematics, because many of us have worked hard to make it happen and
we see a lot of work ahead. We can't expect all mathematicians to change
their minds in one day. I have no desire to believe, as I once did,
that the exponential rocket is about blast off.

If you think that encouraging many small archives to spring up is the
magic step, then I simply disagree. Because when we glued together
many small archives into the math arXiv, the whole was much more than
the sum of the parts. Even though the math arXiv has only 5% of new
math papers, and even though it will take years for it to get to even
50%, it is at least growing more quickly than all of the Lilliputian
mathematical archives put together.

> > The Los-Alamos based arXiv works well for the TeX-based e-print culture
> > in mathematics, physics, and parts of computer science. But it is not
> > clear how to extend that particular system to the rest of science.
> Why? This formula has been repeated so many times that people are
> actually believing it, without anyone ever having explained why it
> should be thought to be true!

I don't mean to say that other disciplines can't have an open archive
that's *like* the arXiv. I certainly think that they can. I mean that
other disciplines are sufficiently different that their open archives
might need separate administration. And that would lead to fragmentation,
which concerns me more than it does you.
  /\  Greg Kuperberg (UC Davis)
 /  \
 \  / Visit the Math ArXiv Front at
  \/  * All the math that's fit to e-print *
Received on Mon Jan 24 2000 - 19:17:43 GMT

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