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Big hat tip to the Jones McClure Publishing blog, Annotations, for pointing out John Barker’s post on “Algorithmically Assisted Editorial Insight for Professional Publishers.” In it, Barker discusses the well established notion that there is just too much information out there for even sophisticated search engines to digest without giving the searcher thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of results. Information that has been synthesized by expert editors, summarized and indexed properly helps identify the information that is most relevant to the researchers needs. However, the editorial process is just overwhelmed by the amount of information, and the problem is only getting bigger, and as Barker puts it, it only makes it that much “harder for editors to keep up with the flood.”
The suggestion Barker makes is that there is a need for editors to blend their abilities to synthesize findings from the professional literature and adopt algorithms that can make “it easier for editors to determine the most important points in a document.” This process can help “give an editor a head start in creating a meaningful summary that is meaningful to the professional customers.”
However, Barker goes a bit farther and sees potential in exposing the algorithm directly to the professional customer in some “low value” content documents… such as unpublished legal opinions that have no precedential value. Let the algorithms set the topical classification, and let that classification set the search, linking and relevance rankings of those documents. The classification will not be as accurate as a human editor’s classification, but it increases the value of these documents for the researcher through the algorithmic enhancements. It could even be designed to let the human editor know that there are documents that were initially categorized as “low value” that actually may rise to the level that require a human editor’s review.
In a perfect world, every “relevant” professional document would have that human editor’s touch. In the world we live in, Barker suggests “that professional publishers must strike a balance between applying algorithms and editors to content.” Although Barker does not think that it can completely replace the professional editor, as the technology advances, the algorithmic process can assist at higher and higher levels making the results of the human/computer cyborg editor more valuable to the professional researcher.