Anna Krystalli "The greatest moral questions of our times are played out on the web and in the fight to keep it open."

Anna Krystalli is a Mozilla Network member and research data scientist with a PhD in Marine Ecology from the University of Sheffield. A self-taught coder, she’s passionate about teaching data management, open science, and the R programming language. Get in touch through Anna’s GitHub, Twitter or website.


Using open data to study ecological change in the North Sea

The web as force of nature

“I tend to think of things in terms of ecology, because it’s the field I’m most familiar with. Complex systems intrigue me. The more I appreciate macro-ecology as the study of how large-scale, adaptive systems emerge from the responses and behaviours of individual networked actors, the clearer its relevance to other fields — including the birth and evolution of the internet.

The more I learn about the internet, the more my intellectual curiosity about the system grows — as does my belief in its importance as the driver of enormous socio-economic evolution, including science.

The web is such a fascinating system — so fast in its response times, powerful and unwieldy, like a force of nature.

It is a force of nature. And so it’s humbling and demands respect. The greatest moral questions of our times are played out on the web and in the fight to keep it open. The tension between transparency and privacy, anonymity and accountability, access and exclusion, the gateway to open society — it’s all there. But we’re not quite there yet.

Using data to track ecological changes in the North Sea

Learning to work open

My learning experience has shown me why open source is so important. I was able to use resources to solve problems — like Stack Overflow, blog posts, open-source code, packages, tutorials, and conversations on GitHub. I could never have done it without others’ contributions to the internet.

It also also allows me to contribute high quality public goods to the internet, beyond just published papers. Informal information is just as important.

I’m self-taught and did it all through the internet.

I’m trying to find a way to stay in science because I love research, but I’m also now convinced that I mainly want to code. I’m coding in R. It’s such an actively developing language. I’ve been making shiny apps and websites and presentations through Rstudio.

Changing the incentive system for sharing

I find working openly so powerful because it changes the incentive system for sharing. Transparent and more visible workflows allow contributors to get rightful acknowledgement from their work and for a broader range of outputs — and to build on reputation systems based on evidence and community engagement. Resources are liberated to be reused and remixed, supercharging innovation and collaboration. In science today, it’s important to be able to iterate and evolve from the code and the tools people are building — not just published papers. Open practices allow this.

Open, reproducible, collaborative workflows go hand-in-hand with modernizing science.

It also builds greater community quality control, enabling feedback throughout development and more of the process. I always thought I needed a perfectly finished product before sharing it with someone else — open source practices have taught me to share openly at an earlier stage.

How I got involved with Mozilla

Launching my first open project as part of Mozilla’s Global Sprint was pretty cool. I built a lot of code to help researchers compile ecological datasets while practising good research data management. It makes the outputs easier to share, combine and eventually turn into more formal XML files that can added to online repositories.

Reusing the code across two projects, and having a student try to use the tools, made me realize: “Hey, this could be useful to someone else. It would be a lot better if others used it — or even helped me develop it.” That lead me to participate in my first open workshop, and to decide to do it as an open project.

I applied for a Mozilla’s Science Fellowship and was later invited to a ScienceLab Working Open Workshop in Berlin. At the time I was only interested in coding and reproducibility — I didn’t know that much about open source.

Mozilla introduced me to the open source movement and community.

It was so fun and productive, and I met the most amazing people there. Mozilla’s goal — to build a community of people working openly, taking the message to other people, and engaging with others — has really panned out. Since then, I’ve been to two Mozilla Festivals, participated in the Global Sprint, and also received funding to help run a symposium on reproducibility. Many of us then participated in the next Working Open Workshop as mentors to others.

Network effects

Mozilla has given me the tools to learn, participate, and get stuff done. They’ve put me in touch with a community of amazing, like-minded people. They’ve also given me the confidence to share my own knowledge and expertise and participate in peer-to-peer capacity building.

I love being with such vibrant, creative community of makers. I found my kind.

They have great ideas, and let those ideas ripple through. I’ve used the network for feedback and expertise, as well as to find the right people for collaboration on projects. At MozFest, I recruited a couple of people to help with my session, and currently I’m helping organize OpenCon Berlin with people I met through the network.

I love how we’re a web community. We’re all over the world, but Mozilla is very clever in bringing us together at specific junctions, and online, and then just keeping us in flow. What we’ve all managed to do in eight months as a group is incredible. There’s a lot of excellent folks in the network, which is itself well embedded in broader open science networks.”

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