A couple of weeks ago I posted about what went wrong with Intute, and towards the end I gave a few personal details about how I was prevented from presenting, to the rest of the Intute team, a new (and I thought exciting) alternative plan to that of cataloguing the best of the Internet. The personal details were included because without them, no-one would have understood why I didn’t present the new ideas, and also the lengths that were taken to stop me presenting them at a meeting to which I had been invited by the Intute Management. Amongst the feedback to the post was a rather insulting and inaccurate Comment which called my past contribution to Intute ‘increasingly negative’, ‘disruptive’ and ‘vindictive’. The Commenter, who I don’t remember from Intute days, and if he was involved, he has left no traceable contribution that I can find, went on to say that “…more than a few people breathed a sigh of relief that you weren’t involved further.”
That last bit is probably correct, especially if it refers to some of those who continued to be employed to catalogue Internet resources.
As a manager of one of Intute’s ‘Hubs’, one of several things that concerned me at the time was the cost of cataloguing Internet resources. I believe this was eventually calculated to be something like (including overheads, etc) £80 per record*.
Here’s an example of a catalogue record from Intute:
This journal site includes sample issues with abstracts, bibliographic details and pdf format full text articles covering alternative propulsion and alternative energy generation systems.
The journal includes original research papers, literature review reports, case studies of current interest, and book reviews. It is published by Inderscience.
Here are 163 similar records.
Of course, there was more to Intute than records like that. Intute actually did quite a lot of good work, there were some good informative blog entries, there was the Virtual Training Suite, and Intute helped more than a few people find quality Internet resources. But the Internet resource catalogue was always unfortunately kept at the heart of Intute, and JISC money was poured into it.
Intute, and its predecessors, got through a large amount of funding during the lifetime of the various services and projects. It must have been more than £10 million and perhaps even £20 million*. There seems to be little to show for that investment today.
In 2005 the wrong decision, at a key time, was taken with respect to Intute’s future. I remember an Intute meeting in, I think, Birmingham, where I argued that the service should progress beyond an Internet resource catalogue and become a much more useful service involving cross-searching of various bibliographic databases and more (on which a lot of work had already been done). I suggested that the actual Internet resource catalogue should be drastically cut in size, and that the resulting savings in costs could be put to better use. There were several people at that meeting who agreed with me. Obviously, the cataloguers didn’t agree.
If I remember correctly, it was the Intute Board who took the decision to continue to concentrate mainly on an Internet resource catalogue, and from this point onwards, Intute was doomed to a slow death, even though further £ millions went into funding it.
Now – from the abusive Comment in my previous post I deduce that there may be some people who would like all of this, and more, buried. The message is clear – if you bring it up, your character may be questioned. There will be flak. It’s already the case that some people are reluctant to say much in public about these sorts of things (because you never know who might mark one of your future bids for funding, etc), and not just matters relating to Intute, and the best course is therefore usually assumed to be: tow the line/keep quiet. This doesn’t affect me anymore, because I’m retired, and I’m prepared to bring things up, and I’m not put off doing so by personal abuse.
How on earth, in 2005 when Google had already gone public and when the popular search engines had already taken over ‘Search’, could a Board including university librarians and others who should have known better think that cataloguing the Internet, in order to produce a searchable database of about 80,000 records of the type above, have a future worth investing more £ millions?
Who gained from this decision, and in what ways? Did anyone make money (from consultancies, etc) from giving advice that influenced the decision? Was there other pressure? Was there a stitch up? Or – was it simply a dumb and costly decision?
Is there a can of worms here? It should be possible to raise such questions without receiving abuse.
With the funding that was available, Intute would have been in a wonderful position to develop similar ideas and services in a way taylored to the best interests of academics, had that decision not been made by the Board. The decision by the Board seems to me like a major screw-up of JISC funding; and libraries, students and researchers are still suffering from it. That’s why this stuff is still relevant today.
As a footnote, if my suggestions to Intute at the time were disruptive according to this definition, then I’m actually proud of that fact.
* If you have more accurate figures, please let me know.