Happy Birthday CORDIS
CORDIS has come a long way since the launch of three separate databases back in 1990. It has developed alongside the Internet, the Commission's Framework Programmes for research and attitudes towards communicating science. Now celebrating its 15th birthday, CORDIS comprises 200 services and some 210,000 pages. It is also accessed every month by around 250,000 users from more than 170 countries.
Many people have come and gone over the last 15 years, but CORDIS News found the only original member of the CORDIS team still working on the project and spoke to him about the last 15 years at CORDIS, as well as its future. Peter Finch, now 'Head of Sector for CORDIS Systems', was one of three people who worked to get CORDIS up and running.
'We had a grand idea, which with hindsight was quite a small idea,' says Mr Finch. The idea was indeed small by today's standards - three individual databases with information on EU funded programmes, projects and publications. The target audience was also quite small. The team was hoping to attract an upper limit of 500 users per month, says Mr Finch.
'And then we launched it, and everybody was surprised, including ourselves. It was a great satisfaction going from nothing to something that we could see people were using,' says Mr Finch.
CORDIS became the first service to provide this type of information for free, and was therefore immediately popular. It was its uniqueness that allowed the early CORDIS to get away with an 'abysmal' interface, believes Mr Finch: 'This information wasn't available elsewhere, so people were willing to jump through hoops to get it,' he says. Today, much thought of course goes into making CORDIS as accessible and user-friendly as possible.
Mr Finch also referred to the problems of collecting information. CORDIS was still relatively unknown, and Commission officials therefore were not automatically passing on documents. 'It was a hand-to-mouth existence,' he says. 'We were visiting offices and walking out with floppy discs in our pocket!'
The big breakthrough, as Mr Finch refers to it, was the appearance of the World Wide Web. For him, this was CORDIS' most exciting period. The service moved from being a minor part of a mainframe environment to a dedicated web environment, and immediately attracted more visitors. 'There was a sudden lift-off,' says Mr Finch. CORDIS was in fact the first Commission service to be launched on the Internet.
Since then, CORDIS has grown alongside the Framework Programmes. When the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6) was launched, there was a dramatic surge in work, says Mr Finch. 'The interest shoots up at the beginning of the programme and we have to anticipate it.'
The most recent change has been the migration of CORDIS from its old .lu domain name to that of the European Community. The move to the 'europa' domain is described as 'essential' by Mr Finch. 'Many have been confused by the fact that we had a .lu top level domain, and wonder whether the information on CORDIS is official. This authenticates and validates the message,' he explains.
Asked why he believes that CORDIS has had such a long life, Mr Finch turns the question around, saying that: 'For a programme the size of the Framework Programme, it seems quite astonishing that people weren't allocating a reasonable percentage of resources to an integrated and focussed dissemination of information during the early Framework Programmes'.
'There must be a determined and committed responsibility to disseminate information to the public, both upstream to participants, and downstream in terms of project results,' he adds.
The Head of Sector is confident that there will be a role for CORDIS for a very long time to come, and perhaps a more extensive role than that of today. 'In the past CORDIS has been linked to the Framework Programmes. In the future it is likely that that basis will expand. We expect to be centrally involved in FP7, and also in the Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme (CIP),' says Mr Finch. 'As long as it is the duty of the EU to act in areas of research and innovation, a service such as CORDIS has to exist.'
Looking again to the future, Mr Finch envisages CORDIS developing more of a role outside of the Framework Programmes, 'possibly involving national research'. This has already begun with some work on ERA-WATCH. Involvement in a future European science portal is also under discussion.
Data Source Provider: CIMS; CORDIS News interview with Peter Finch
Document Reference: Based on a CORDIS News interview with Peter Finch
Subject Index: Information, Media; Scientific Research