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Underlay

September 4, 2020 5:04pm

Today I talked with Samuel Klein (twitter) from the Underlay project.

Underlay is working towards creating an organizational and informational layer over data, a meta-data layer, where you have an ability to put data into collections, link the data (thus creating a (non-visual) graph of data connections), and add assertions about the data, specifiying schema and other useful information (where it comes from, who collected the data originally, ownership...). Besides technical work on protocol that enables all of that, they are building a service for data/collection storage, curation and collaboration. See also their explanation: About the Underlay.

I also presented to Sam the mockup of the Unfold Research and he also gave me a feedback on it. His comment was that he understood the problem that the Unfold was solving (associating and finding content), and that the core-idea is well exposed and that he can see the value and platform's potential. We also talked about Unfold's option to be used as a web browser plugin. In that regard, it shares an approach that Hypothes.is has, but also offers a more specific and more well curated content to the users. He was also very fond of that idea and could see its potential as well.

He also pointed out the value in ability to associate data and extract information and sentiments around a certain article or a topic, even without being able to access the content itself (or being limited in some way). With Unfold, you can have a quick overview of what people are talking about it, what they think about it, and how much are people are working on it. All that information could be useful even on its own, without the article itself. This was indeed one of the goals of the Unfold, to be able to quickly assess the situation and decide what to do next faster, such as whether to read the article itself, or to try out some of the projects doing the replicaton/implementation or something else.

Sam and I also talked about the requirements for content moderation and sensitivity of the system, robustness and abuse, spamming, and how to better align incentives. Sam is much more optimistic about that than I am, and his view is that the more high-quality content will be more used and will thus remain high-quality because everyone benefits too much from it for it to be not taken care of; and the low-quality content can remain that way if it wants. He thinks that, at least in case of Underlay, exerting a big control over a system is not necessary.


It turns out that this space of projects for more open data and science really isn't that big, which is something that I was familiar with but still couldn't verify. Most of the projects are still in the early stages. Some of the things that Sam mentioned also were:

  • Liberate Science's Hypergraph - a continuous "as-you-go" scholarly communication application
  • Whole Tale - a platform that supports computational reproducibility by enabling researchers to create and package code, data and information about the workflow and computational environment necessary to support review and reproduce results of computational analysis that are reported in published research
  • Science Bounty - a global, decentralized marketplace for paying scientists to perform scientific due diligence
  • ARTiFACTS - enables researchers to create an immutable record of their outputs so they can be securely shared

We also mentioned things like:

  • Hypothesis - web annotation tool
  • Octopus - a novel scholarly publication platform (see more about my talk with its founder)
  • Solid (new website) - a technology, like the Web, but a new level of standard which adds to the existing protocols to make it more powerful, particularly to empower individuals at home and at work

While there are overlaps between problems and solutions the projects are working towards, that is not a bad thing because it means that we, as communities and software developers, have learned about opportunities and capabilities of the Internet. We've learned about technologies and problems of our best tries so far, and there seems to be a shared direction in which we are all going.

Again, the problem of funding such projects remains as well.


Sam is also involved in a number of different open data, open science, and collaboration projects and communities, so do find a way to support him. Big thanks to Sam for his time and feedback, and I wish him and his team the very best!