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The future role of iMechanica

Teng Li's picture

Since iMechanica went official on 9 September 2006, its growth has always been accelerating. As of 22 February 2007, the total number of hits on iMechanica reaches 1,000,000+, iMechanica has 1252 registered users, 908 posts and 1308 comments.

While iMechanicians have been experimenting various ways using iMechanica, it would be helpful to think further about the role of iMechanica in the future. This way, we can shape iMechanica into a sustainable form to serve our community better, and in turn, foster the advance of the discipline of mechanics.

iMechanica aims to use the Internet to enhance communications among mechanicians. We have witnessed how iMechanica brings mechanicians of common interests together and serves as a platform for discussions and interactions. Posts deliver ideas and concepts, comments raise questions and arguments, authors response, readers echo. Quite often an active discussion produces more fruitful information beyond the original post, and inspires new posts and further discussions. iMechanica even brings us together physically. iMechanicians get to know each other through online interaction, then meet over lunch, continue their discussions. Some of us are proposing real get-togethers of iMechanicians during national conferences.

iMechanica also aims to pave a way to evolve all knowledge of mechanics online. The knowledge base of Applied Mechanics is huge. It has been accumulated over millennia, represented by texts, equations, graphics, photos, audios, videos, and carried in the form of books, papers, notes, tapes. As the Internet age arrives, more and more knowledge becomes online, and there is no exception for the field of mechanics. Almost all journals now offer electronic versions, at least for new issues. Some journals even provides electronic version of all back issues. Many newly published books on Amazon.com are available in both paper and electronic formats. Google is implementing their ambitious plan to scan all books in the world and put them online. You can search full text of these scanned books, a critical function that paper-based books don't have (Try out Freund and Suresh's Thin Film Materials as an example). With such efforts from Google and many others, it would be a reasonable prediction that most information available in conventional media will eventually be available online for us to use (or is it possible: if any information is not available online, nobody will make use of it??)

The above said, what should we set the role of iMechanica to achieve our aims? Take the success of Google as an example. When massive information become available online, everyone virtually shares the same information source. Then locating the right information one needs becomes more important than the massive information one owns. This is where Google stands out of other search engines. While the search engines becomes more and more powerful, however, we still can not solely rely on them to find the right information, especially when it comes to scientific research. This is partly due to the still limited amount of scientific data available online, and partly due to the lack of intellectual processing of the scientific data in these search engines. The former can be rather fixable, but the latter may take much more time and effort to improve. This is exactly where platforms like iMechanica should stand out. With a sufficient large user base, the expertise of iMechanicians can cover most branches of the discipline of mechanics. In other words, we form a web of mechanics and mechanicians, the unique power of iMechanica. While letting the technical gurus and financial giants like Google to help us put all knowledge of mechanics online, we should focus our effort on helping mechanicians and people from other fields locate the right knowledge of mechanics they need. By doing this, we reorganize the knowledge of mechanics online, help people solve new problems, and in long term, evolve the knowledge of mechanics.

Your comments and inputs are cordially welcome!

-Teng

Comments

Zhigang Suo's picture

Dear Teng: Thank you so much for this review of our young history, and a perspective of our future. Your remarks reminded me of a recent talk given by Fred Wilson. You might enjoy watching the video. Here are two quotes he used in the talk.

"On the one hand information wants to be expensive, because it's so valuable. The right information in the right place just changes your life. On the other hand, information wants to be free, because the cost of getting it out is getting lower all the time. So you have these two fighting against each other." Stewart Brand, 1985.

"What does an abundance of information creates? A scarcity of attention?" Herbert Simon, 1971.

Let us keep talking about the long-range vision of iMechanica, and about easy steps that we can take now. I find this recent thread on the cohesion and education in our field helpful.

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