Saturday, July 23, 2011

Microsoft Research Summit 2011 - day 3

Dinner Cruise
The dinner cruise turned out not to be especially cold, since the ship had large indoor areas where we ate. Microsoft  also provided an open bar at this and in fact at all the dinners. Often the wine at such functions is dubious, but even the wine was good and the quality of the selection of micro-brew beer was equally impressive.

Of course the goal of the dinner was not food or drink or even the scenery along the lake, but the conversation among colleagues. I ate with fellow deans from Illinois, Michigan, and Carnegie Mellon, and even if no great research comes from our discussions, collegial discourse is an important social component in the efficient functioning of organizations and projects.

Day 3
I should remember more of day 3 that I do, but jet lag had not quite lost its hold and the morning presentations, while good, left little permanent impression. The main event of day three was in any case the iSchool meeting with Lee Dirks and Alex Wade from Microsoft Research. Lee and Alex gave some sense of the projects they are working on. Lee especially has an interest in long term digital archiving that includes involvement in projects like PLANETS. While testing is an official component of PLANETS, I find that it puts less emphasis on testing than on planing and organization. Testing is, however, what is really needed and that is what I tried to suggest in the meeting -- not, I think, with great success.

The other research aspect that I tried to sell, without much obvious resonance, was ethnographic research on what digital tools people really use and what they really want. Microsoft builds tools and we saw a lot of them that are oriented toward research, but I wonder how well some of them will do in the academic marketplace in the long run. Ethnographic research gives deeper insights into what people understand and misunderstand than do surveys.

Just before I left we held the oral defense of the thesis for one of my very best MA students [1]) whose thesis looked at how a group of literature professors at Humboldt-Universit√§t zu Berlin (which actively supports Open Access) regard Open Access. It was striking how much they misunderstand Open Access and how little they know about it. Most of them would never have filled out a survey. This information would just have slipped away or remained as an anomaly. Microsoft could profit from research like this and had an interest in it in years past. It is less clear that it does today.

[1] Name available on request, with the student's permission.

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