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The content conundrum: how to tackle tech’s silent problem

content issues in tech content issues in tech
Photo credit:

Marin Fisch 

The dissemination of tech content is key for its use and transparency, but legal frameworks in place fall short. Sparrho's CEO Dr Vivian Chan discusses the industry's next move.

I am the CEO and co-founder of Sparrho, the online recommendation search engine for all things science and research. In that sense, we’re a discovery platform of scientific information for everyone.

Sparrho was created out of frustration: myself and my colleague, Sparrho co-founder Niluka Satharasinghe, were finding it increasingly difficult to find useful research to complement our own, and decided to curate our own online tool to innovate a (famously) archaic industry.

Based in London, UK, we aggregate over 21,000 sources to enable our database of over 5 million pieces of content, including articles, patents, grants and events – whilst working with the British Library – to help you stay on top of the world’s research.

Because of that, certain content issues in tech have presented themselves that need addressing. The two I outline here are both the most pressing and more actively discussed.


How the dissemination of content affects tech businesses

In order for anyone to make informed decisions, be it scientists, researchers, policy makers, data is required.

Using technology to enable the ‘reading’ of text/data in a scalable fashion is crucial for ensuring content is disseminated to end users. Text and data mining (TDM) on content you have legal access to is analogous to someone having access to a book in the library, reading/memorising a book and taking notes if he or she wishes to do so.

TDM simply allows our technology to do exactly this at a much faster pace; technology should be seen as an extension rather than competition or a limiting factor when addressing content issues in tech.

At Sparrho, we’ve found that the scientific data we aggregate and recommend (research articles, patents, conference posters, events, and grants) brings value not only to scientific researchers, but also to professionals like patent attorneys, journalists and even ordinary citizens.

A clear use case here is mothers trying to keep on top of research developments for the diagnosis for their ill children – this inherent value of content dissemination is why taxpayers are funding research in the first place.

I won’t go into too much detail about the current legal framework tackling content issues in tech, and how this compares globally, but it’s worth outlining that the EU Commission is focusing its efforts on deciding where it stands when it comes to TDM.

The UK has approved exceptions for non-commercial purposes, and many are looking into how the US fair use exceptions are being implemented, executed, and the benefits it has brought to the economy as a whole.

Other members of the Sparrho team have also contributed in similar discussions – my co-founder Nilu was invited to The Hague at the end of last year to discuss this very issue, and our head of engineering, Greg spoke on a panel at the Wellcome Trust in March.

The accessibility of content goes hand in hand with dissemination and is a major part of tech discussion surrounding content issues in tech.

A majority of the positively analysed research is published in the form of research articles, which mainly are not openly accessible.

The UK has moved towards ensuring that research funded by the UK government should be published in Open Access journals – this is known as the Open Access policy which was rolled out in April 2013 after recommendations from Dame Janet Finch.

This is a step forward; however, there are still some practical complications, especially with the differences between green open access, self-archiving, and gold open access, publishing in an open access journal.

These content issues in tech may therefore affect the level of useful data to hand; the more relevant data we have, the more informed decisions we can make in the future.

Being flexible in this digital age

Content issues in tech also include those surrounding copyright; there is an ongoing discussion about direct payments and ensuring copyright holders get paid fairly.

Copyright was created to protect the content creator and acknowledge the value of its content; however, acknowledgement in today’s society is often solely linked to monetary remuneration.

While there is nothing wrong with this, it’s important to highlight that not every content creator has produced his or her work for this purpose. For example, if we take a step outside the scientific community, artists like Radiohead’s Thom Yorke have released new music for free so listeners can enjoy their art, while others are removing themselves from streaming services as they aren’t receiving enough royalties.

Both types of content creators exist and content issues in tech are compounded when you reiterate that copyright wasn’t originally created to ensure creators get paid, but rather protected and acknowledged.

Inherently there’s differences across the different media industries too.

The content value created in science is different to that created in other industries – it is supported by the governments and taxpayers who want more advancements for benefiting humankind.

Content issues in tech transcend mediums: as industries are inherently different, trying to fit one copyright framework across these varying industries is extremely challenging.

These differences have been inherently created by humans.

In the world of digital content, data is already interconnected. The internet exists as a network map of knowledge, where there is no distinction between industries or even commercial vs non-commercial settings.

Data, and even content that is then created based on data, are presented digitally so that individuals can easily consume, digest and create links between them. This linkage allows new forms of discoveries and collaborations to form which should help mitigate any content issues in tech that stubbornly remain.

In science, fields like biochemistry and biophysics were created because there was new value drawn from innovations and discoveries from the coming together of biologists and chemists and/or physicists.

Similarly, inter-disciplinary links are also often found within government research groups and industry/private enterprises, where there are lots of university projects being co-funded or supported by companies in the pharmaceutical, automobile, or oil/gas sectors.

The ability to draw these collaborative links from content/data across all borders is in and of itself valuable.

This again highlights that additional and compounding value can be derived by the different end-users, and which may differ from its original creation – this is what drives advancements and innovations.

Where does that leave tech companies?

If we don’t address these content issues in tech – TDM and copyright issues in the EU – it will affect not only startups and SMEs, but also large corporations like Google.

This is not an easy task when you consider the content issues in tech I’ve outlined above but ultimately, the EU Commission needs to build a flexible legal framework that enables the market to get what it wants, by creating policies that individuals (especially the next generation) can relate to so that it does not inhibit future innovations and the EU economy.

Why not try an agile system of test and repeat? Test it with a period of time, see how the market responds and re-iterate accordingly.

Technology is here to stay, and if anything, it will only become more powerful.