Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Thought: A Stack Overflow for finding research material in a subject area

Quick sketching:

Here's an idea for a website.

If you wanted to do some research that touches on a field you didn't know that well and wanted to find out what material -- previous research and so forth -- was relevant to your topic, it'd be useful if there was a dedicated website for asking such questions, where you could get responses from people with expertise in the field.

I'm thinking of a site designed like Stack Overflow, which can build up a refined body of knowledge.

Ideally, it'd be a exchange of information between disciplines, and between those with expertise and newcomers. It'd help research that crosses disciplinary boundaries. It could also help out students that are new to an area, or people undertaking amateur research (which I think is important). It could help academia open up a bit more. These are of course just lofty possibilities.

I imagine some people would not want to make such things easier - seeing it as somehow cheating. I don't see it that way. The idea is to help reduce the friction in undetaking research, and give people more time to focus on the more central aspects of research - finding patterns, synthesising new ideas, etc.

If there were something like this, it'd probably be good if students / academics got some amount of institutional recognition for contributing answers. Like they do for for writing papers (not saying it should be the same amount of recognition of course).

It wouldn't have to be a website, it could be the name of a tag -- like existingMaterialReq -- used in blogposts and/or Twitter to get help from the lazyweb. Probably the most important thing is simply to name and communicate this notion of a request for relevant material in an a subject area.

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