A small image of a red planet
A small image of a blue planet
☚ Click Here to Go Back A Page
doi:10.36152/intpub.2001b14 · PDF Version

The Forest of Knowledge Creation


01 Sep 2020


Sebastian L. Mellen

Design Technology That Matches the Communications Structure of Its Users

Conway's law states that "any organization that designs a system will produce a design whose structure is a copy of the organization's communication structure." This means that technology will inevitably mirror the communications structure of its creators. It follows that an important part of designing software is to build a proper organizational structure around it.

Currently, the Interplanetary Publishing Protocol (IntPub) has no organizational structure. For this reason, it's important that Intpub's technological architecture anticipates and mirrors its future organizational communications structure. Doing so will ensure that Intpub is able to grow without encumberment. But there is another opportunity, which is perhaps more important: Conway's law provides the insight necessary to build software that works for the people it's designed for.

It's important to differentiate between designing technology to a) fit the organizational structure of its creators, or b) fit the organizational structure of its users. We believe Intpub's technological design should mirror the communications structure of the people who will use it — people in research, academia, and science (RAS). This can be thought of as a sort of "reverse Conway's law." This is why understanding the communications structure of RAS is important.

The Complex and Interrelated System of Knowledge Production, Dissemination, and Consumption

The proposal put forth in this article is that the communications structure of RAS loosely resembles a forest. In this forest, researchers act as tree roots, taking in nutrients — information — from the outside world. Through the research process and scientific method, this information is transmuted into "fruits of knowledge," which sprout from the forest's trees. These "fruits of knowledge" then potentiate the growth of new knowledge by providing nutrition and fertilization for nascent ideas.

But right now, this proverbial forest is in crisis. To understand why, we must understand the mechanisms and processes by which knowledge is created today. By constrasting the tools that are used with the optimal communications structure of this ecosystem, we can observe that many problems in RAS, including those which have fueled the Open Science and Open Access movements, are caused by tools which do not fit the communications structure they're used in.

Outdated methods of conducting studies and publishing research have lead to a crisis of "biodiversity" in this forest, and have caused overspecialized silos to emerge which occlude the passage of "informational nutrients" between trees, and regions of the forest of knowledge. By restructuring how we think about the production, dissemination, and consumption of knowledge, we can solve problems that afflict RAS, while simultaneously developing a more holistic and accurate view of how the complex system really works.

Knowledge Encoding

The principal end goal of research is to accumulate and create knowledge. In science, this knowledge is usually represented in the form of empirical facts, theorems, and principles. In other academic disciplines, this knowledge is additionally represented in less formally structured mediums like art and literature.

Basically, all forms of academic knowledge are encoded as information. This information is usually encoded in language, and sometimes discipline-specific notation like mathematical and chemical formulae. Then, this information is stored using some archival method. Historically, the most efficient archival and dissemination method for research has been the scientific paper and journal. Since the widespread adoption of the internet, the methods

The goal of this article is not to describe the actual process of knowledge creation, as there are many different processes for creating knowledge, most of which share little in common. Rather, our goal is to produce a metaphorical representation of the process and structure of creating, processing, disseminating, and analyzing knowledge. Doing this will allow us to more accurately mirror the structure of knowledge communications while architecting Intpub's technology.

Not to belabor a metaphor...

Organizational Myopia — The Crucial Failing of Current Scientific Infrastructure

Technological Mycelium


The influence of organizational structure on software quality: an empirical case study: https://dl.acm.org/doi/10.1145/1368088.1368160