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In some instances it makes far more sense to produce such information through direct government funding. In other instances public commons approaches perhaps can be more efficient or complement the government provisioning efforts.

Other people view organized open-access and public-commons approaches as systematic means for organizing volunteerism and philanthropic efforts for the production of communal information products and services. Regardless of theory one can obviously make information fully available to others without one’s own self subscribing to any of the explanatory hypotheses.

This presentation reviews illustrative open-access and public-commons projects under five general headings: (1) open-source software; (2) open-access journal and article initiatives; (3) open-access disciplinary and institutional depositories; (4) search engine approaches; and (5) the general public-commons types of initiatives.


The vast majority of speakers at this symposium have used the leading commercial presentation software to guide their talks. Yet, the freely available open-source equivalents of Microsoft Office have increased dramatically in quality, even within the past few months. For example, OpenOffice is an open-source application that extends from and builds upon the open-source operating system of Linux.2 This particular open-source suite of programs seems to work well, the programs are free, and many argue that the potential exists for these programs to far surpass the Microsoft Office suite in general quality and usability due to the transparency of the code and the high level of private and corporate commitments to continue to improve the programs.

Who wrote the code? Volunteer programmers continue to contribute, but this version is also strongly supported by Sun Microsystems. Sun sees at least some open-source software as making sense for its long-term corporate business model.

Writing computer code for sophisticated products such as Linux or OpenOffice requires a high level of expertise. The typical person and even the typical programmer cannot productively contribute to such a development effort. Often these high-end products will take much more than volunteer efforts to make them truly useful and practical. Regardless, the resulting software becomes available for all in the world to freely utilize.


There now are several major specialty collections of full-text, open-access scientific journal articles freely available on the Web. For example, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Astrophysics Data System has 300,000 full-text articles online3 and Highwire Press has about the same number focused in the biomedicine and life science fields.4 Other initiatives include the high-energy physics arXiv5 and PubMed Central.6 Most of these online archives deal with intellectual property issues on a journal-by-journal negotiation basis or have scientists submit original work directly to their archive.

The U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM) subscribes to many thousands of journals. NLM facilitates open access to approximately 100 life science journals that have agreed to make the full text of their articles freely available as soon as they are published, or after a specified period of time, through PubMed Central. Current PubMed Central journals have delays of up to two years, with most releasing their material six months or less after publication. Thus, one could argue that this open-access capability is funded by the philanthropy of those journals choosing to participate; however, several have reported that their subscriptions have increased since joining PubMed Central due to the visibility created.

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