Abstract: In designing information infrastructure, participants are planning for the long-term. The notion of infrastructure evokes images beyond 'a proof of concept,' a 'one-off solution' or a 'pilot project.' Rather, as Bowker and Star have noted, infrastructure is intended to be provide a persistent, ubiquitous and reliable environment. However, in implementing such projects, participants encounter multiple difficulties: how to design infrastructure before it has users? How to secure the continued commitment of participants? How to ensure the perseverance of the project in the face of changing technologies, emerging standards and uncertain institutional trajectories?
We do not yet know how to plan at the scale of centuries, or even decades. Within infrastructure building endeavors, the science of the long-term is nascent. In this presentation I compile insights drawn from comparative ethnographic studies of projects seeking to develop information resources for the sciences (dubbed cyberinfrastructure or eScience). I outline competing meanings of 'the long-term' and trace an extended example of a design strategy employed by participants. I argue that strategies of the long-term bring together and manage shifting institutional environments, emerging technologies and the organization of maintenance work.
Dr David Ribes is a post-doctoral investigator at the School of Information, University of Michigan. David completed his PhD in Sociology and Science Studies at the University of California (2006). His research is based on three years of participatory ethnography with GEON, the geosciences network. His dissertation is entitled 'Universal Informatics: Building Cyberinfrastructure, Interoperating the Geosciences.' David traces the work of participants as they develop an 'umbrella information infrastructure' and shows how they are simultaneously building a technology platform, a scientific institution, and a new organizational form for interdisciplinary collaboration. David's research on GEON is now part of a comparative study of cyberinfrastructure projects, including Long-Term Ecological Research, the WATERS Network (hydrology and environmental engineering); and Linked Environments for Atmospheric Discovery. Through comparative research he addresses questions of large-scale and long-term infrastructure design; the epistemic consequences of information technologies (e.g. ontologies); and transformations in the structure of science funding and policy.