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Executive Director's report

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Dr Ross Wilkinson, ANDS

Ross WilkinsonData is a powerful means of supporting communities, including research communities. In 1992, Donna Harman, a woman of great wisdom at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in the US, invited research groups around the world to participate in the first ‘competition’ to find methods of building search engines to discover documents using an agreed methodology, all using the same data. I was pleased to be able to take part in the event.

It was both an engineering challenge to work on 1GB of text – hard at the time – and an experimental challenge to establish what methods worked. Whilst it was a competition, it was really a community collaboration to find out what worked and what didn’t. As well as sharing the data, we shared experiences and failures. It was a tremendous impetus to improve search engines.

The big search companies did not exist then, but people who participated went on to establish big companies delivering great industry translation. We all turned up to a cold and dark Gaithersburg, USA, and it was terrific! Of course this is only one story of how communities are often built around data. The ‘competition’ to establish the human genome has had a similar community effect, and similar translation into benefits.

This issue of Share is dedicated to the many communities that make a difference in translating collections of data to impact – the collectors, the technicians, the research communities and others who all make a big difference. Sometimes we measure data in gigabytes or petabytes. I prefer to measure data in terms of people: how many make the data valuable and how large a community reap the benefits of this value.

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