What can we learn from hashtags as an indexing tool for scholarly research?
Guest post by Tyler Gayheart.(Cross post from http://www.TylerGayheart.com)
Do you feel the Internet is an easy to navigate space for developing a strong literature base for academic research? Or are your inquiries, scholarly or not, piece milled through a variety of sources, channels and strategies? How could this process be improved? Could complex search inquiry strings be more comprehensive of information both in academic, social, literary, periodical and journalistic sources?
An omnibus view of all content, regardless of channel could be made possible by the use hashtags, a type of metadata. If unfamiliar, a hashtag is any form of characters led by the “#” symbol. If standardized in scholarly, literary and journalistic sources, this shift could fundamentally change the way we consume and access content across the Internet. With its origins in the C programming language in the late 1970’s, to Internet Relay Chat (IRC) networks, the hashtag has now reached the point of common use in modern social networking platforms. Today, they are primarily used to categorize and index discussions, ideas, products, all represented by pictures, videos or text-based messages on social platforms. The popularity and use of the hashtag grew concurrently with the rise of twitter and can now be utilized across Google+, Facebook, Vine, Instagram and are typically standard features on new social platforms to promote sharing and interaction.
How could the hashtag overcome the platform for which they are used? Will a platform or service be created that indexes hashtags based on one's interests, social or scholarly? Will this use of hashtags lead to the cannibalization of one platform over the other? It seems that the social media platform market has differentiated itself in terms of specific features, purpose and target audience. Beyond just the popular tags used in social media, how could the hashtag potentially shift how we conduct academic research? Catapulting the scholarly integration and collaboration that could increase shared work in healthcare, business, science and education. For now scholarly research is confined by closely guarded repositories that require subscriptions or affiliation with an academic institution. Regardless of the credentialing or monetary gains from scholarly research, the indexing and categorization could be unified across each repository. This could be leveraged through a hashtag indexing protocol.
Most of what advanced Internet users do today is curate their favorite content (academic or social). Real Simple Syndication (RSS) feeder tools, search filters, and content alerts & subscriptions allow for us to control the amount of waste we encounter in a given browsing or research session.
Current hashtag curation tools help reduce the noise and feed to only the social content we want. It is not too far to say, with open API's and web services, the entire Internet and its contents could be indexed through hashtags. The difference between Google's indexing process and the hashtag metadata tagging process, is that the user (you) has the choice to create a filter for the contents of the inquiry. By using hashtags as a standard protocol for indexing topics, movements, ideas and conversations could categorized content regardless of the hosting or retrieval platform. At this point, we can assume that as hashtags grow in use across content creators, this will open up as a filter to search by through Google search appliances. This could be as simple as a new ‘hashtag’ filter on the Google search platform in addition to ‘news’ and ‘web’.
With the advent of complex algorithms for finding and querying information on the Internet, google has developed and improved upon their algorithm, Hummingbird. Beyond Google's Hummingbird search algorithm, is Google Scholar, which indexes scholarly literature across a variety of sources. How could this be layered with the indexing power of the hashtag? If scholarly publishing platforms and services adopted a standard tagging platform like hashtags, this could provide researchers with a broader and more comprehensive view of the content and topics across all mediums, scholarly, social, media and journalism.
Serious attention has been given to the Internet of Things (IoT), which are objects and virtual products that connect to the Internet. The realization that storage, connectivity, bandwidth, and hardware are becoming so small and cheap that anything that could be connected, will be connected to a network. How will the connectedness of devices and humans change the way we search, aggregate, and consume content through indexing practices like hashtags? This could be the common denominator or standard in which content, regardless of the medium, is searchable and indexed across the Internet.
The implications for the use of hashtags to index, organize and accesf research and scholarly work are boundless. Teachers, researchers, and students have the potential to source content outside of the traditional channels, gaining a wider perspective on a given topic. The game changer takes place when hashtag are standardized by academic authors, journals, publishers, repositories, and educational resources. This standardization has the potential to reach new audiences in real time as opposed to historical search methods like boolean search, RSS feeds, search filters and aggregation platforms. Tools like TagBoard, could expand upon social platforms and provide services to aggregate and sort literature, articles, books, blog posts, taking the hashtag beyond it’s current use for sorting and indexing social activity. If implemented and adopted across channels by authors and publishers, this could create a greater picture for administrators, educators, researchers and learners to sort, index, and consume information specific to their domain of learning or research.
Image Credit: Flickr user Theo La
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Experts argue the jaws of an ancient European ape reveal a key human ancestor.
- The jaw bones of an 8-million-year-old ape were discovered at Nikiti, Greece, in the '90s.
- Researchers speculate it could be a previously unknown species and one of humanity's earliest evolutionary ancestors.
- These fossils may change how we view the evolution of our species.
Homo sapiens have been on earth for 200,000 years — give or take a few ten-thousand-year stretches. Much of that time is shrouded in the fog of prehistory. What we do know has been pieced together by deciphering the fossil record through the principles of evolutionary theory. Yet new discoveries contain the potential to refashion that knowledge and lead scientists to new, previously unconsidered conclusions.
A set of 8-million-year-old teeth may have done just that. Researchers recently inspected the upper and lower jaw of an ancient European ape. Their conclusions suggest that humanity's forebearers may have arisen in Europe before migrating to Africa, potentially upending a scientific consensus that has stood since Darwin's day.
Rethinking humanity's origin story
The frontispiece of Thomas Huxley's Evidence as to Man's Place in Nature (1863) sketched by natural history artist Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
As reported in New Scientist, the 8- to 9-million-year-old hominin jaw bones were found at Nikiti, northern Greece, in the '90s. Scientists originally pegged the chompers as belonging to a member of Ouranopithecus, an genus of extinct Eurasian ape.
David Begun, an anthropologist at the University of Toronto, and his team recently reexamined the jaw bones. They argue that the original identification was incorrect. Based on the fossil's hominin-like canines and premolar roots, they identify that the ape belongs to a previously unknown proto-hominin.
The researchers hypothesize that these proto-hominins were the evolutionary ancestors of another European great ape Graecopithecus, which the same team tentatively identified as an early hominin in 2017. Graecopithecus lived in south-east Europe 7.2 million years ago. If the premise is correct, these hominins would have migrated to Africa 7 million years ago, after undergoing much of their evolutionary development in Europe.
Begun points out that south-east Europe was once occupied by the ancestors of animals like the giraffe and rhino, too. "It's widely agreed that this was the found fauna of most of what we see in Africa today," he told New Scientists. "If the antelopes and giraffes could get into Africa 7 million years ago, why not the apes?"
He recently outlined this idea at a conference of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists.
It's worth noting that Begun has made similar hypotheses before. Writing for the Journal of Human Evolution in 2002, Begun and Elmar Heizmann of the Natural history Museum of Stuttgart discussed a great ape fossil found in Germany that they argued could be the ancestor (broadly speaking) of all living great apes and humans.
"Found in Germany 20 years ago, this specimen is about 16.5 million years old, some 1.5 million years older than similar species from East Africa," Begun said in a statement then. "It suggests that the great ape and human lineage first appeared in Eurasia and not Africa."
Migrating out of Africa
In the Descent of Man, Charles Darwin proposed that hominins descended out of Africa. Considering the relatively few fossils available at the time, it is a testament to Darwin's astuteness that his hypothesis remains the leading theory.
Since Darwin's time, we have unearthed many more fossils and discovered new evidence in genetics. As such, our African-origin story has undergone many updates and revisions since 1871. Today, it has splintered into two theories: the "out of Africa" theory and the "multi-regional" theory.
The out of Africa theory suggests that the cradle of all humanity was Africa. Homo sapiens evolved exclusively and recently on that continent. At some point in prehistory, our ancestors migrated from Africa to Eurasia and replaced other subspecies of the genus Homo, such as Neanderthals. This is the dominant theory among scientists, and current evidence seems to support it best — though, say that in some circles and be prepared for a late-night debate that goes well past last call.
The multi-regional theory suggests that humans evolved in parallel across various regions. According to this model, the hominins Homo erectus left Africa to settle across Eurasia and (maybe) Australia. These disparate populations eventually evolved into modern humans thanks to a helping dollop of gene flow.
Of course, there are the broad strokes of very nuanced models, and we're leaving a lot of discussion out. There is, for example, a debate as to whether African Homo erectus fossils should be considered alongside Asian ones or should be labeled as a different subspecies, Homo ergaster.
Proponents of the out-of-Africa model aren't sure whether non-African humans descended from a single migration out of Africa or at least two major waves of migration followed by a lot of interbreeding.
Did we head east or south of Eden?
Not all anthropologists agree with Begun and his team's conclusions. As noted by New Scientist, it is possible that the Nikiti ape is not related to hominins at all. It may have evolved similar features independently, developing teeth to eat similar foods or chew in a similar manner as early hominins.
Ultimately, Nikiti ape alone doesn't offer enough evidence to upend the out of Africa model, which is supported by a more robust fossil record and DNA evidence. But additional evidence may be uncovered to lend further credence to Begun's hypothesis or lead us to yet unconsidered ideas about humanity's evolution.
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