August 2007
The Coming Revolution in Scholarly Communications & Cyberinfrastructure
Paul Ginsparg, Cornell University


All of the above can be expected to comprise the core functionality of future sites intended for scholarly participation. A recently implemented example is Nature Precedings,8 a free service from the publishers of Nature that permits researchers in the biological and life sciences to share preliminary findings, solicit community feedback, and stake priority claims. It distributes preprints as does arXiv, but it also accepts other document types such as posters and presentations. The site advertises its intention to help researchers find useful content through collaborative filtering features including tagging, voting and commenting. It is possible that preprint and file sharing have historically been impeded in the biological and life sciences communities due to the perception that such prior appearance could prevent later appearance of the work in premier journals. Since it is connected to a premier journal, Nature Precedings could significantly foster acceptance of dissemination of prepublication and ancillary materials within these important communities.

In another example of use of new technologies to port social research networking to a more distributed form, arXiv began accepting blog trackbacks in 2005. This technology permits blog software to signal to arXiv.org that a blog entry discusses a specific article, and a link added from the relevant article abstract at arXiv.org back to the blog site can then facilitate discovery of useful comment threads by readers. Blogging can require a substantial time commitment, but nonetheless a number of serious researchers have joined in and provided rich content, and provided links to other informative resources that wouldn't otherwise be readily discoverable. arXiv.org now points back from about 7000 articles to about 2000 blog entries, still a small volume. The underlying idea is to replicate in some on-line form the common experience of going to a meeting or conference, and receiving from a friend/expert some informal recent research thoughts and an instant overview of a subject area. Though without the in-person contact, the blog links provide some semblance of the above discussion framework and are moreover available to all, helping to level the playing field just as does the open article dissemination. It is not yet known whether the useful blogger lifetime will be months, years, or decades, but more researcher bloggers are currently joining in than are dropping out. Perhaps trackbacks from a heavily used archival site such as arXiv will provide some additional incentive for bloggers, giving comfort that they're not just typing into the wind. While the current number of bloggers remains a minuscule percentage of the number of authors, it is possible that externally moderated discussion fora, where people can post occasional comments non-anonymously without having to maintain their own dedicated long-term blogs, will be the most important long-term usage.

Before expecting too rapid a pace of change, however, it is useful to consider as well some current habits of the high energy and condensed matter physicists surveyed above. A large majority reports using arXiv as its primary information source, and a large majority has personal web pages. But only a small percentage (< 10%) uses RSS feeds and less than 20% listens to podcasts. Only a small percentage (< 10%) follows blogs regularly, a smaller percentage participates in blog discussions, and an even smaller percentage (< 1%) maintains its own blogs. Less than 10% have ever tried any social bookmarking sites, and only 1% found them useful. To be fair, many of these new resources have become widespread only in the past 3-4 years, so there may be an adoption lag for people already past their PhD's and already focused on research. Past generations of users can be expected to expand their repertoires as new features become commonplace at Internet commerce and other non-research sites, but can't be relied upon to anticipate the most useful future features.

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Reference this article
Ginsparg, P. "Next-Generation Implications of Open Access," CTWatch Quarterly, Volume 3, Number 3, August 2007. http://www.ctwatch.org/quarterly/articles/2007/08/next-generation-implications-of-open-access/

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