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Topic Title: JOM ARTICLE: Web 2.0: What Does It Mean to TMS Today . . . and Tomorrow?
Topic Summary: From the May 2008 Issue of JOM
Created On: 4/30/2008 11:59 AM

 4/30/2008 11:59 AM

Diran Apelian

Posts: 35
Joined: 2/13/2007

"The ignorance of how to use new knowledge stockpiles exponentially."
Marshall McLuhan

As I referenced in last month's introductory column of this monthly series, Web 2.0 is a new modality in learning, communicating, interacting, and connecting. It is a reinvention of how we perceive and use the web, and how the web perceives and uses us. Web content is created by a plurality of users, and it is done from the "bottom-up" rather than "top-down." All one needs to do to grasp the scope of this movement is to reflect on the rise of social networking sites, such as YouTube, MySpace, Facebook, etc.; on-line marketplace sites such as Craig's List, eBay, autodirect, etc.; and, of course, the ever-growing Wikipedia--the biggest multilingual free-content encyclopedia of shared knowledge on the Internet.

All of these sites rely on user participation, as Web 2.0 makes each of us authors, limited only by our willingness to contribute. In a sense, it is changing our web experience from being browsers to being the browsed. This massive interactivity is possible because Web 2.0 requires no special authoring skills or tools--the only requirement is a motivated participant.

Metaphorically speaking, Web 2.0 is akin to being in a bustling Parisian café on the Left Bank: highly interactive, strangers coming together, discussing, and sharing. There are no rules per se, but the group moderates itself to maintain civil discourse. Web 2.0 connects users from all over the world allowing them to develop, edit, and collectively build content. Communication takes on a whole new meaning in that groups of people with similar interests or focus communicate and begin to build a community.

While Web 2.0 represents an exciting evolution of the web, it also represents an array of new challenges and opportunities for a networking organization like TMS. These opportunities are far from metaphorical. They are real and they are immediate.

As a professional society, TMS needs to leverage and take advantage of the distributed knowledge that we have within our members worldwide. We need to engage our members and strengthen our volunteer organization (both present and future volunteers) by effective use of Web 2.0.  It will be important for us to explore ways in which we can be relevant and engage the next generation of MSE professionals.

In this vein, let us remember another notable observation by author and educator Marshall McLuhan, who famously coined the expression "the medium is the message." Less well known but equally profound is his comment: "Today each of us lives several hundred years in a decade. Tomorrow is our permanent address."

Using today to prepare for tomorrow is a key role of the society's board of directors. During March's TMS 2008 Annual Meeting in New Orleans, the board of directors committed to use Web 2.0 modality to reach out, to engage, to facilitate learning, to develop content, and to broaden our community. Specifically, TMS is pursuing a number of Web 2.0-style initiatives. These include:

  • Materials Technology@TMS, where members upload resources, comment on postings, mail postings to friends, and can subscribe via RSS (really simple syndication):
  • Discussion boards for posting comments, including the JOM Reader Zone, where you can comment on issues and take polls:
  • Webinars and webcasts:
  • Presidential Blog with discussion board, which just launched last month:

    These initiatives are reality. In coming months, we will consider a number of other options, including greater use of RSS to deploy news updates about TMS, materials technology, and the TMS Annual Meeting. We will also deep dive, through our recently formed Content Capture and Delivery Committee, a variety of robust initiatives designed to provide greater platforms for real-time and collaborative interactions by TMS members and the entire materials community.

    The board also agreed to spur the Materials Technology@TMS web site into more of a Web 2.0 construct. In this regard, access privileges to various communities' Digital Resource Centers will be broadened. Later this year, the site will be opened to all visitors; membership in TMS will not be necessary to participate. The TMS site will have fidelity with the spirit of Web 2.0--multiple users will develop content, and the communities will self-moderate.

    In an effort to further broaden the reach of Materials Technology@TMS, we will broaden the scope of our communities by having them be inclusive rather than exclusive. The six current communities will be recast into four distinct overarching communities. These are:

  • Materials Education
  • Materials and Society
  • Emerging Materials Technologies
  • Established Materials Technologies

    The caution we should keep in mind with Web 2.0 is that abuse may occur from mischief-makers and copyright laws can be violated by unattentive posters. Another potential danger is that inaccurate or misleading information could be posted. It will be important for the TMS community to moderate itself and for the members of the society to participate in this moderation. We are the caretakers of the materials community, and we have an obligation to assure that we promote responsible conduct by individuals who use our resources--in whatever form they may be presented, not just via discussion and postings on web sites. We can do much to build a strong community of learners--as we have already done, for example, via our peer-review activities, our roles as an ABET accrediting body, and our responsibility for managing professional registration in metals and materials.

    In closing, we need to keep in mind the poet T.S. Eliot's questions: "Where is the life we have lost in living? Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?" I propose one answer in response to all three: Professionals coming together to build a collective wisdom for the profession!

    Diran Apelian is a professor in the Mechanical Engineering Department at Worcester Polytechnic Institute and the 2008 TMS president.
     5/16/2008 9:22 AM

    Diran Apelian

    Posts: 35
    Joined: 2/13/2007

    Words of wisdom! Diran, thanks for this insightful message.
    May I respectfully suggest that in our efforts to reach out, we should make our own knowledge available to the broader community without strings attached. Could we start, for example, by making the president's blog available to everyone who reaches the site (members and non members) without the need to login ?

    Regards from Philly

    Antonios Zavaliangos
     9/9/2008 10:45 PM

    Diran Apelian

    Posts: 35
    Joined: 2/13/2007

    Having been forced to be more involved with IT than MSE, I had a few comments on this Web 2.0 article. The concensus from TMS seems to be to post them here for discussion.

    I do think I should preface things, in that if working with or generating Intellectual Property is part of my job, I will do that faithfully. However, on a philosophical basis I have a number of problems with Intellectual Property as a concept.
     9/9/2008 10:52 PM

    Diran Apelian

    Posts: 35
    Joined: 2/13/2007

    Intellectual Property in the Materials Industries

    While a major driving force for improvements in computers and
    electronics is due to Materials Science and Engineering (at least
    in theory), most perceive that these industries advanced on their
    own. Developments in those industries are leading a change in
    how Intellectual Property (IP) is viewed. While this note is
    against IP laws as currently expressed, I recognize that
    engineers in today's world have to work with the system.

    IP laws originated at a time when barriers to entry were
    astronomical to most creators. In most markets and
    circumstances, barriers to entry are now much reduced or even
    inconsequential. The reason for IP laws has more or less gone
    away. The materials industries are more associated with patent
    than they are with copyright, so we will similarly restrict this
    note. However, it seems that copyright is where the rewriting of
    IP is going to start.

    Patents are seldom about innovation: rather they are a means of
    obtaining a monopoly in a marketplace, or a means of defense
    within a marketplace. If we take the situation of electronics
    manufacture, it is easily conceivable that a product can be
    researched and reduced to practice in someone's garage. This has
    been true for many decades now. It is almost 20 years ago that I
    seen in an entrepreneurial magazine devoted to that market (now
    out of print), that if someone invented a product that would be
    competing against large players (IBM, GM, GE, ...) that they NOT
    patent the invention but rather stick with trade secrets. It was
    not feasible to compete with big players in a market.

    For years in the materials literature, I've been reading about
    proprietary this and patented that. For the most part, the
    materials industries are selling commodities. Let us compare the
    materials industries to another family of industries that
    involves heuristic manipulation of physics and chemistry
    knowledge: the food industries.

    There can be little doubt that chefs are capable of great
    innovation: watch just about any night of Food TV. None of this
    knowledge is protected by patent, and little is protected by
    trade secret. For the most part, the knowledge is taught openly
    at every cooking school in existence. How can an industry
    survive, let alone prosper, with no IP laws? Easy, follow the
    lead of the food industries.

    For instance, it isn't difficult to produce plain steels such as
    1013. It is about as difficult as making bread. What
    differentiates one steelmaker's 1013 from another? How uniform
    is the composition? How clean is the steel? How uniform is the
    micro-structure? What ranges of uniform micro-structure can be
    produced? There is a "pool" of steel-makers producing more or
    less the same quality of steel, very much like the pool of fast
    food restaurants out there. No IP protection to speak of, they
    survive in their markets based upon location and service. And
    there is a place for premium producers: in much the same manner
    as you can find restaurants selling $100 hamburgers in a world
    filled with fast-food $1 (or so) hamburgers.

    The composition variables in materials are not worth protecting,
    as we can easily invent automatons to "blindly" investigate any
    composition of matter, no intelligence required. No
    intelligence, no reason for IP. While micro-structure is a more
    difficult problem than composition, there is no intelligence in
    table lookup. And table lookup is essentially what is happening
    with micro-structure: someone wants a particular micro-structure,
    you lookup the procedure to produce it. And it will not be much
    longer before we can design automatons that can search through
    the endless methods of thermo-mechanical and similar treatments
    which are used to produce specific micro-structures. Again, no
    intelligence, no reason for IP.
     9/9/2008 10:55 PM

    Diran Apelian

    Posts: 35
    Joined: 2/13/2007

    A Philosophy Change is Necessary for Web 2.0 in the Materials Industries

    I'm an out-liar (Asperger's Savant), and as a result of that, I
    have far more exposure to the Information Technologies (IT) than
    most in the Materials Industries.

    All over the world and the Internet, you will find "Users' Groups"
    in various aspects of IT. Many (most?) of the people
    participating in these groups are people who are employed in IT.
    It is not unusual to find some person asking questions, typically
    because of some problem in what they are doing as part of their
    job. And also it is quite common to find other people employed
    in IT, answering these question. In most industries (including
    materials industries), this is unheard of.

    Until employers in the materials industries will allow employees
    to respond in forums similar to Users' Groups (or mailing lists),
    it is a waste of time to consider the formation of a "materials
    society" in the Web 2.0 context. Nobody can ask questions, and
    nobody can answer questions. There is no community.
     10/27/2008 12:12 PM

    Diran Apelian

    Posts: 35
    Joined: 2/13/2007

    [ I wonder if 6 weeks is long enough to wait for comments? :-) ]

    On September 30, 2008 a thread at Slashdot (News for Nerds) entitled 'Towards a Wiki For Formally Verified Mathematics' was started. The URL for that thread is:
    This isn't the first attempt at something along this Web-2.0 line of thought, and it probably won't be the last. However it is one of many attempts to set up a system whereby advances in the field that are published, can self-verify.

    The idea is that it starts with a basis of true theorems, and builds upon those in a way that can be verified by program. This is a useful thing to do. I suspect that theoretical physics may (has?) take up this approach before the math people are finished exploring this approach. From there, it will branch out and at some point it will come to Materials Science and Engineering. I suspect where we first see this is in thermodynamic aspects of our field.
     10/27/2008 12:36 PM

    Diran Apelian

    Posts: 35
    Joined: 2/13/2007

    [Duplicate content deleted]
     11/7/2008 11:39 AM

    Diran Apelian

    Posts: 35
    Joined: 2/13/2007

    The American Mathematical Society recently added some more work on automated theorem proving, and slashdot has a thread which points to these articles, some other articles at Physorg and an extended discussion.
     11/14/2008 8:46 AM

    Diran Apelian

    Posts: 35
    Joined: 2/13/2007

    Intellectual property rights arguably need to change. How Web-2.0 evolves is going to be a driver of changes in intellectual property rights. I ran across an interesting quotation:


    I was talking on Wednesday with Daniel Tunkelang, chief scientist for Endeca, about potential competition his company faces from open source (e.g., Lucene). In response, Tunkelang made an exceptionally interesting point, which I summarize here:

    Open source drives innovation by making yesterday's technology a commodity, forcing proprietary vendors to innovate in order to justify their paychecks.

    This got me thinking. Patents are short-term monopolies (20 years) designed to give inventors sufficient time in which to recoup their R&D costs and turn a profit. Open source turns the 20-year patent term into two years, if that. As a relentless, ever-growing competitor, open source keeps the proprietary world in check and on its toes to a degree that the industry has never before seen.

    This was found at CNet (

    It may be a few years before this trickles down to MSE, and it might not drop 20 years to 2, but it will probably drop it significantly.

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