The AE Infoserver #H. Maurer, MAE
1. Intention, development, status#The intention of AE, at least under its previous president Professor Dr. Walloe was to establish the Infoserver (ae-info.org) as a beacon, a highlight of AE.
More specifically, usual servers presenting an organisation like AE start with a few flashy pages, inform about the aim of the organisation, its structure, provide a list of members and a set of interesting news items or events that have recently taken place, plus some auxiliary infos like table of upcoming events etc. Such a version is called TRIVIAL INFOSERVER in what follows.
It was the intention of AE to provide much more: Not only to provide CV, Publication list and other important items for each member, but also to have aims and activities presented for each section and some members regularly reporting on important new developments and their view of the section, plus adding interesting contributions in the publication section and a discussion of new developments in a forum provided for each section.
Thus, the Infoserver would provide up to date information on research covered by all sections both for members, the public and journalists. The nomination process was added as another component to it.This version that was decided on is called FULL INFOSERVER in what follows.
It was clear that catching up with the then about 1.800 old members, plus accommodating all new members, and getting all section chairs involved and members prodded to participate actively would take quite an effort, hence all hubs were supposed to contribute to the process, either by making money available via London or by actively helping. Also, it clearly needed someone actively prodding officials and members to contribute: that was me from about 2008 to 2012.
It has to be acknowledged that the Wroclaw hub did indeed help a lot, hence around 2011 it seemed that indeed the aim can be achieved. Unfortunately, other hubs never contributed. It is not clear to the author of those lines why this has happened. Hubs were supposed to be money-makers or providing active help for AE. It is not clear whether this has happened how long to what extent, by either of the labs Barcelona, Bergen or Cardiff. If all of them just cost money rather than making money and providing active help, the role of Hubs has been strangely changed: It is an honour to be a hub, hence hubs pay for this honour in some way. Note at least initially Hubs were seen as contributing to the core of AE and the FULL INFOSERVER be it financially or in kind. They were NOT seen as places who just advertise themselves as part of AE and else they just advertise their importance, have events that do increase the visibility of AE, but basically cost money to AE, be it just because of regular trips of officials of AE to the hubs. Be it as it be, the FULL INFOSERVER has been run just on a small budget without help from other hubs or increased funds from AE, with the exception of Wroclaw, as mentioned.
The demand for a trustworthy server to provide up to date information on new developments seems to be supported by the fact that the current server (with all its short-comings) has 80.000 users per year, i.e. many more non-members access it than members. However, and this can be interpreted as a consequence of its decreasing attractiveness, only 20% are returning visitors. I.e. one can argue that persons hope to find new stuff, are disappointed, and do not return. Since Graz was left alone with a small team, many of the programmed facilities have not been used over the last years as would be desirable, nor was there enough capacity to update important information regularly.
Here are examples of the current status:
(i) The list of members is up-to date, yet the info on members tends to obsolete (only a few members do keep their information up-to-date themselves, although the system makes it easy, and Dana Kaiser form Graz was always willing to help). However, the fields “Highlights of Work” and “Other information” to “get to know” the persons are hardly used. Note that it is possible to reduce the amount of work put into CVs and publication lists to some extent by linking to the often existing material of members.
(ii) The Highlights section Acad_Main/Highlights is interesting, yet a closer look shows that almost all contributions are at least 5 years old, i.e. when someone was pushing to get all kinds of material
(iii) Each section has an area “Sections Activities” (most are empty), “News”, a “Forum” (many without single entry) and “Section Expertise” that is often filled with an automatically created list of keywords that do not show which ones are worth to pursue.
(iv) Of course there are exceptions, like e.g.
(v) The large area supposedly for members publishing pre-versions of papers, or papers that have appeared at some conference, is hardly used. Access to the European Review is not automatic for members (as it should be) and the main areas for publications holds exactly 3 papers, 2 from 2010, one from 2015: Acad_Main/Publications
(vi) The list of upcoming events and past events has been kept going strong, as one of the positive points. Summarizing, without support by a larger budget and without the help of other Hubs (items agreed on when the FULL INFOSERVER was started by me) and without a person actively pushing this, it is amazing to see how much there is and how much the team Kaiser-Leitner is accomplishing. Yet it is also rather frustrating to see that the unique feature of AE, to be a FULL INFOSERVER, is not making headway, due to lack of support of the board, and despite the fact the fact that some young members are using social media to advertise new achievement (AE has currently 172 followers on Twitter, man re-tweeting material immediately).
It appears that the unique role of AE is being reduced by integrating it in a larger network: such a large network may be more powerful, yet it reduces the role of AE to one cogwheel in a large machinery. Whether this is what members of AE want should be decided by its members, not by a decision taken by the board without discussion.
2. Alternatives to continue#
2.1 Continue with the proposed about 21.000.- Euros/year#This sum was originally proposed in Barcelona Dec. 2015 and “provisionally approved”. It presented a rock-bottom calculation to keep operations at a reasonable level and provide enough adaptions to make the FULL INFOSERVER acceptable for some time without embarrassment, until a solution for a still better FULL INFOSERVER is possible. Continuing this solution only makes sense if the board agrees that a FULL INFOSERVER as described in Section 1 is indeed seen as an important part of AE’s presentation to the outside world and hence ways to achieve it will be pursued. Current maintenance can only be seen as temporary solution, and only if a FULL INFOSERVER is indeed wanted.
2.2 Continue with the proposed cutback to about 14.000 Euros/ year#In this case, the Infoserver is downgraded to a server for nomination purposes. However, all programming features that for every new member provides a special area, with CV, publication list and more is created does not make sense, since there is absolutely no room for activities for updates of data or small changes of SW that are bound to be in demand. To make this acceptable and not just a laughing stock some reductions will be necessary, requiring one time financing of about six thousand Euros in addition to the yearly 14.000.- In this case it is recommended, that a three year contract (3 times 14.000 plus an immediate one-time payment for adjustments) is concluded. Without this the one-time effort the server will look more and more like an obsolete ruin. On the other hand, if the one-time small investment is indeed made AE should be sure that the service including the nomination process remains available for the foreseeable future.
2.3. Give up the current server concept #Switch to a reduced kind of nomination, making sure that the data base of members stays accurate and all member are listed. The presentation than consist of a few flashy entry pages plus membership information, etc., i.e. the aim is a TRIVIAL INFOSERVER. Unfortunately, this is a completely watered down and different concept and does require quite a bit of new development, i.e. for a year or two will be more expensive than eve version 2.2.
2.4 Stick to the aim of having a FULL INFOSERVER #This is not impossible. The important item is not the financing but a decision that AE (the board) wants a FULL INFOSERVER and will provide some basic financing for a period of 3- 5 years minimum.
To fill the available software of the FULL INFOSERVER will require some extras funds. There are a number of ways to get it. One is to make sure that AE gets a funded project if its own income and the income and help of all hubs is not sufficient.
There is also an other way that does not require extra funding.
The European Review, currently published at considerable cost, is taken over as part of the publication section of the FULL INFOSERVER. The money saved can be used as follows: (1) 5.000.- Euros for the Editor in Chief D’Haen (EC) who hopefully would continue to do his excellent job; (2) incorporating the European Review into the publication section of the FULL INFOSERVER. That this can be done professionally has been proven by Graz by offering JUCS (with more than 12 annual issues!) free of charge for the whole world for over 20 years, see http://www.jucs.org. The cost for a four-issue European Review is below 4.000 Euros annually if an EC continues to select and quality controls inputs. Further, allocate 5.000.- Euros for an active head (AH) of the FULL INFOSERVER in addition to the current team.
Notice that all this amounts to only 14.000.- Euros, considerably less than is paid now for the publication of the European Review! And suddenly the Journal would have a jump of readership since it would be freely accessible by anyone without registration, and also easier to access than using the current process (requiring registration and such). It would also be a nice component of the FULL INFOSERVER. All additional savings are used by the AH with a team of helpers to solicit new inputs for the FULL INFOSERVER.
Typical inputs would be papers submitted by MAEs to a special part of the publication section, descriptions of sections, etc. etc. It should include publication of papers presented at the annual conferences. Why not have proceedings for each annual conference as part of the publication section? It is a real pity that results of annual conferences show up only in small part in the European Review more than a year later. Why is the AE conference one of the few international conferences without proceedings?
The AH will also make sure to point to new results in Nature, Science, IEEE spectrum and other newsworthy sources. All this at no cost, just cancelling the current contract with the European Review publisher that is counter to the EU “open source” policy, anyway.
However, if the current agreement for the Academic Review is considered a holy cow, note that in addition to the 21.000 per year already the 5.000 additional for the AH would assure an impressive FULL INFOSERVER. How about taking a poll among members to find out how many did access the Academic Review in a year? Graz could easily install a suitable questionnaire that can be filled out by all willing by investing only one minute!
If the board still believes in the importance of a FULL INFOSERVER the role of Hubs should also be reconsidered. Among other tasks, they should act as “tentacles” into the local community to provide new research insights to be collected at the FULL INFOSERVER as valuable advice on topics of interest to all.
2. Conclusion #I have presented the original idea of a FULL INFOSERVER as scientific beacon. Unfortunately, after a good start based on solid programming, the importance of the concept seems to have been forgotten or become less desirable. The Infoserver Graz has been reduced to TRIVIAL SERVER plus a nomination server with more and more outdated and missing information, despite all efforts of the Graz team.
Unless AE through its president and board is going to revive the notion of a FULL INFOSERVER –possible at zero cost as explained- it is recommended that the Graz Infoserver is shut down sooner rather than later. As is, it is neither an advertisement for AE nor TU Graz. Its praise is only due to the automated nomination process and the support of the Graz Team, most notably Dana Kaiser. The shut-down would concern only all superfluous components and the resulting restructuring, i.e. leaving the nomination process as such intact. However, even the necessary one-time restructuring will create one-time costs beyond the 14.000 minimum suggested by AE for 2017, estimated at 6.000 Euros.
If even the funding for such a version as outline in 2.2 is not approved rapidly, my report to the Presidency of TU Graz has to be to just pull the plug. TU Graz cannot identify with what basically leaves the impression of a castle turned into a ruin by leaving many rooms and functions unused.
H. Maurer, March 2017
Maybe you want so send your opinion on whether we need a FULL INFOSERVER or not to me at firstname.lastname@example.org