Knowledge Discovery and Big Data

Tom Gardiner Slush

After a week which saw us sharing a stage with London Mayor Boris Johnson in Israel and mingling with thousands of exciting entrepreneurs at the Scandinavian tech powerhouse that is Helsinki, we’re now off to the Big Apple to hopefully take The Next Web by storm as one of their featured Boost startups!

But before we jet off to continue spreading the RefME citation gospel, we wanted to share the highlights of the talk our Co-founder and CTO Tom Gardiner delivered in the “Redefining School” track at Slush’s Green stage on Thursday.

Slush 1

Tom started off by reminiscing about how much simpler things seemed when he was a fresh-faced little boy looking forward to his first day of school. Knowledge lived within the walls of the classroom and the library. Computers were a “special treat” for when you finished your proper study (ie. book learning).

Slush 7

There’s nothing wrong with books of course. We love them almost as much as we love citations, but there’s no denying that the world has changed a lot since then. Although it hasn’t really been very long in the greater scheme of things (Tom’s not really THAT old, even by crazy startup standards) kids live in a very different world these days. They have access an incredible amount of information, in a huge variety of formats, and all of it only a touch away, via a selection of magic screens.

I use the term “magic” here because we’re effectively living in the world that famed Science Fiction writer Sir Arthur C. Clarke referred to when he said that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”. If you had the right kind of DeLorean and took a trip back in time, even 20 or 30 years ago, would people have believed you when you described the things you can do, anywhere, with these portable super-computers that everyone is now so blasé about? Probably not.

But these huge advances in technology and virtually unlimited access to such high volumes of data have also created a new problem: information overload.

The key question then becomes how to find the relevant information amongst an ocean of content. What is relevant to one person and their studies will be just noise to another. So how do you tell the difference?

Slush 6

Tom believes the key to doing that is using citations. The reason we love citations so much is because of their power to reveal how a piece of knowledge connects to another. By mapping out citation data we can start to understand what content is relevant in ways that have not been possible before, and that’s very exciting.

“It goes way beyond the Amazon-like mechanism of recommending similar content. Citations allow us to pinpoint with great accuracy how a specific passage, sentence or quote relates to a greater body of knowledge, whether backing up an argument or presenting an alternative viewpoint. It’s the ultimate expression of crowd-sourced knowledge, and it has huge implications to the way that people will search for and discover content in future.”

Our job as technologists, concludes Tom, is to build tools that empower students to do this, and that is RefME’s mission. The classroom of the future is without borders, but it cannot be without structure. Technology can help the researchers and Nobel laureates of the future to find the knowledge that will enable and amplify their discoveries. And something to get excited about.

Slush 5

A video of Tom’s presentation will soon be available on their website. In the meantime here’s a couple of tweets including an amazing live sketch summarising the sessions.  Tweet your comments and feedback to  @GetRefME using the hashtag #Slush15



Bonasio, A. (2015) Redefining school. Available at: (Accessed: 11 November 2015).


Bonasio, A. (2015) RefME at the next web in New York city!. Available at: (Accessed: 11 November 2015).


Bonasio, A. (2015) RefME on the road with Boris Johnson. Available at: (Accessed: 11 November 2015).


Mayer-Schönberger, V. and Cukier, K. (2013) Big data: A revolution that will transform how we live, work and think. London: John Murray General Publishing Division.


Sir Arthur’s quotations (2015) Available at: (Accessed: 28 October 2015).


RefME (2012) RefME on Twitter. Available at: (Accessed: 11 November 2015).


blog comments powered by Disqus