26 November 2007

A hiatus in the Weblog

Things have been quiet for the past week here, simply because I was in Amsterdam doing a keynote at the First International Conference on Information Management. Not the first, of course, but the first organized by Prof. Rik Maes of the business school at the University of Amsterdam. And a pretty entertaining event it was too. Apart from doing the keynote I ran a group discussion on future challenges for IM with Chun Wei Choo - like Rik, a member of the Editorial Board of IR - we came to the conclusion that the main challenge was 'managing complexity' - the complexity of systems, of the technology itself, of the proliferation of information resources and the complexity of the information users' approaches to information.

So, that was last week - tomorrow I'm off to another conference in Vilnius, Lithuania - the conference of the Nordic Network for Intercultural Communication, where another Board member, Elena Maceviciute, and myself will be presenting the results of a pilot project we ran earlier in the year on research network building by re-located scholars in Sweden. Well - a change is as good as a rest, they say :-)

It's not likely I'll be attending to the Weblog at all in this period, so nothing more for at least a week - unless some truly startling development takes place!

20 November 2007

Firefox 3.0 now in testable beta

Firefox 3.0 is on its way and the brave and developers can now test it. Well, I'm not particularly brave in the use of beta software, but I downloaded it anyway. On the surface, nothing much seems to have changed. However, 'under the hood' as they say, the rewriting of 2,000 lines of code has resulted in a lot of changes - too many to list in this Weblog.

However, one development:

"One click site info: Click the site favicon in the location bar to see who owns the site. Identity verification is prominently displayed and easier to understand. In later versions, Extended Validation SSL certificate information will be displayed."

The comic thing is that, when you click on the Mozilla icon in the address bar the pop says: "Identity unknown. This Website does not supply identity information". In fact, so far, I haven't found a site that does supply such information - perhaps that feature is there just for Web developers to take advantage of in the future

21 Nov: There's an enthusiastic review at Ars Technica

The PR benefits of OA

The Public Library of Science Weblog has an item on the publicity surrounding one of its papers on the discovery that Nigersaurus taqueti, a vegetarian dinosaur. At the time the blog entry was written, there had been 583 news reports and 1,855 blog entries on the story.

This, of course, is one of the benefits of open access - if a paper is newsworthy, the fact will be discovered readily by journalists and access will not be a problem. It's a little unlikely that any paper in Information Research will achieve such notoriety, but you never know... :-)

19 November 2007

Amazon and e-books

Cyberspaces is abuzz with news of Amazon's e-book reader, Kindle, for example at the ZDNet site there's a review and pictures. In the review, Jeff Bezos is quoted as saying

"This is a 500 year technology and we forget that it’s a technology. As readers we don’t think about this too often", said Bezos. "An interesting question is why are books the last bastion of analog".

The answer: Books disappear when you read them. They fill their role and get out of the way. "What remains is the author’s world", said Bezos, referring to the reader "flow state".

It seems very odd that a bookseller - on the other hand, he's not a real bookseller, is he? - should say that books disappear when your read them. That suggests that he has no idea of what people do with books - they are an instrument of social interaction: we talk about them, we exchange them, we lend them (occasionally) to friends, we pass them on to charity shops and many of us keep those we treasure to read again and again, and even if we pass the physical object on, some of what we read remains in our consciousness.

E-book readers may become a new fashion item, but unless I am very much mistaken, they'll never replace the printed book - the book just has too many 'affordances' that a computer screen lacks - and apart from anything else, if I leave a paperback on the train before having read it, I can pick up another secondhand copy from Amazon for a fiver - if I leave my 'Kindle' behind I'm nearly $400 out of pocket!

18 November 2007

The EU and Open Access

Thanks, as usual, to Peter Suber for drawing attention to the documents and minutes of an EU meeting on open access. It seems that no general point of access to the files exist, since Peter gives links to each, and I have searched the European site without success.

However, the point I want to make (and I begin to seem like a rusty record) relates to the so-called 'green' and 'gold' routes to open access. One of the points arising out of the discussions and reported in the minutes is:

The debate persists on whether to move towards open access through repositories and funding body mandates (“green” open access) or through paid open access models/'reader pays' solutions (“gold” open access). Are there are other paths towards open access? Can the two options coexist?

So, once again, we have an official body which, at present, equates the 'gold' route to OA with author charging and wonders whether or not some other method exists! Of course another method exists and it is the only one that maximises the social benefit of open access - it is the 'platinum' route of subsidised, collaborative publication of OA journals - and this comment from the EU demonstrates why this route needs to be separated from the 'gold'.

Of course, it is possible to conceive of other methods. From the point of view of what the technology allows, the notion of the quarterly journal issue with its package of papers is something of an anachronism. It would be perfectly feasible to set up a peer-review process which resulted not in an electronic journal, but in an electronic archive. By this, I do not mean the equivalent of the 'green' route, but a new, peer-reviewed repository, which used, say, RSS to notify interested parties of new items admitted to the repository.

It would be relatively easy to do this for languages with a relatively small number of native language speakers and probably easiest there in the humanities and social sciences, where the cultural context is most relevant. So, rather than having, for the sake of argument, the Electronic Journal of Bulgarian Literary Criticism (or whatever that would be in Bulgarian!) one would have the 'Bulgarian Humanities Research Repository' - run by a national research body, or by a consortium of universities - which would include not only papers on literary criticism, but on any other humanities discipline. Humanities scholars of all kinds would have point to which to submit papers and one point from which to receive papers. This idea would also have the secondary benefit of allowing national funding agencies to determine the research performance of departments, through the volume of material submitted and accepted and also through the possibility of developing a national citation index for the disciplines.

It is, of course, in the publishers' interest to encourage the assumption that 'gold' involvs user charging, since if this mode of support spreads, they have income from two directions, instead of being exposed by having only one source - subscriptions. So perhaps the EU would benefit by having less close ties to the industry and exercising a little more imagination about the options.

17 November 2007

Annual Review of Information Science and Technology

Readers of the new ARIST (vol. 42) who come across my chapter, entitled 'Activity theory and information seeking' might be rather puzzled to discover that only one page is devoted to that subject.

The intended title was simply 'Activity theory', since the chapter ranges over the origins of AT and its application in a variety of fields, including (but not exclusively) information science. However, glitches happen, even in the best regulated publishing houses, and at some point after the proof copy was corrected, the title was changed. Apologies from all concerned!

16 November 2007

Repositories and digital libraries

There are a couple of paper in the latest issue of ILFA Journal of interest:

Open Access and Institutional Repositories – a developing country perspective: a case study of India, by S.B. Ghosh and Anup Kumar Das, and

The Joint Czech and Slovak Digital Parliamentary Library, by Eva Malackova and Karel Sosna

14 November 2007

Lawrence Lessig on copyright

That wonderful TED site has just posted a recording of a speech by Lawrence Lessig - it's an excellent presentation. Go take a look.

'Adaptation' and 'derivation' in Creative Commons' licences

SPARC Europe is cooperating with the Directory of Open Access Journals DOAJ) in the promotion of a 'Seal of approval' for OA journals. There is nothing about this, at the moment, on the SPARC Europe Website but it seems that the award of the 'Seal' will depend upon the journal using the Creative Commons BY licence and supplying DOAJ with metadata for the papers. The CC-BY licence is suggested as being the most 'open' of the licences allowing for 'derived works' and, by implication, it would seem, allowing archiving, text-mining, etc.

Originally, Information Research used the CC-BY licence (or its equivalent at the time I adopted the licence) but I found that the situation was rather ambiguous, since the full licence contains no full definition of 'derived work'. Rather, it defines 'adaptation' and mentions 'derivative work' as part of that definition. Nothing in the full licence says anything about archiving, text-mining or any other post-publication use of OA papers. The definition of 'adaptation' suggests why this is the case:

'Adaptation' means a work based upon the Work, or upon the Work and other pre-existing works, such as a translation, adaptation, derivative work, arrangement of music or other alterations of a literary or artistic work, or phonogram or performance and includes cinematographic adaptations or any other form in which the Work may be recast, transformed, or adapted including in any form recognizably derived from the original, except that a work that constitutes a Collection will not be considered an Adaptation for the purpose of this License. For the avoidance of doubt, where the Work is a musical work, performance or phonogram, the synchronization of the Work in timed-relation with a moving image ("synching") will be considered an Adaptation for the purpose of this License.

From this, we understand why the "Creative" Commons is so called - it is a licence for creative products in the sense of literary, musical and artistic works, which may undergo various forms of adaptation, a novel into a radio programme, a work of art into an advertisement, etc. - it is does not appear to be designed for works of academic scholarship.

The key questions for scholars are, 'What is meant by derivative work', and 'What kind of derivative work is permitted under this licence?' and I cannot imagine many academics being happy with the idea that their work can be 'built upon' other than in the way we normally think of that, i.e., someone taking an author's ideas as expressed in a work, using those ideas, building upon them to produce a novel work of scholarship with quotation, citation and referencing. Any other form of 'adaptation' that brings about a new product surely deserves the original author to be treated as joint author of the new production.

It should also be noted that the CC-BY licence permits commercial re-use of an author's work and I would find this completely unacceptable for Information Research for the simple reason that the journal is genuinely 'open', i.e., not closed at the input end through author charges, and neither I nor any of the Associate Editors, nor Lund University Libraries (which hosts the journal) receives any financial support for its publication. The notion that any commercial organization could then take the papers and use them for commercial purposes is a complete anathema to me, and I imagine, to the authors whose work would be used in such a way.

My conclusion after exploring this issue is that the present Creative Commons' licences do not properly protect scholarly work, if a BY (or 'attribution') licence is adopted. I turned to Science Commons to see what happens there, but that organization simply uses the CC licences and has not produced a separate licence for scientific works.

At present the only sensible licence for scholarly works is the "Attribution-Non Commercial-No Derivs" (or BY-NC-ND) licence, which allows open access and anyone may:
a. ...Reproduce the Work, to incorporate the Work into one or more Collections, and to Reproduce the Work as incorporated in the Collections; and,
b. ...Distribute and Publicly Perform the Work including as incorporated in Collections.

Perhaps it is time for a new 'Scholarly Commons' licence, which makes clear what a 'derivative work' is and removes the present ambiguity and uncertainty.

13 November 2007

"A First Look at the Google Phone"

A First Look at the Google Phone is the title of an article in the New York Times technology section. It has an interesting couple of videos from Google describing the kind of phone that can be built using the Android platform, using prototypes to demonstration the capacity of the system

The comments are worth reading - partly for their comic character, with Apple adherents whinging about the iPhone being 'ripped off' - what they don't seem to realise is that Google must have been working on Android for hundreds of man-months to get it working and that, rather than a phone, it is a platform for development of applications for phones. What any Android-based phone will actually look like is going to depend upon the phone manufacturers.

What success Android will have is still an open question - many manufacturers are locked into the Symbian platform and I imagine that these videos are at this moment being carefully watched by Symbian engineers - expect something from that direction in the not too distant future :-)

12 November 2007

Short versus long articles

Jakob Nielsen has an interesting little article on his Alertbox site, which discusses the advantages and disadvantages of short and long articles from a cost-benefit perspective.

Of course, a scholarly journal cannot avoid having long articles and readers come to the site expecting to find them. However, the abstracts are a summary of what is in the paper and my guess is that people read the abstract to decide whether or not the paper is for them - in effect, the abstract is the short article that leads to the long one. So I hope we are getting it right!

10 November 2007

More on Brass and Platinum

No sooner had my last comment on the topic of Green, Gold (aka Brass) and Platinum hit cyberspace than Peter Suber comes up with yet another bit of misleading information, this time from Jan Velterop, who, in his own Weblog, notes:

Applied to OA, ‘green’ and ‘gold’ are qualifiers of a different order. ‘Gold’ is straightforward: you pay for the service of being published in a peer-reviewed journal and your article is unambiguously Open Access. ‘Green’, however, is little more than an indulgence allowed by the publisher. This, for most publishers at least, is fine, as long as it doesn’t undermine their capability to make money with the work they do. But a 'green' policy is reversible.

Of course, Velterop is entirely right that the Green route of open archiving is dependent, at present, on the 'indulgence' of the publishers - I have suggested elsewhere that open archiving can only be a temporary approach to open access, since either the publishers may withdraw their permissions, or what I have called the Platinum Route, or, possibly more likely, some alternative process of scholarly communication will come to dominate.

However, Velterop conveys the same mis-information about the Gold (Brass) route as I drew attention to in that earlier post: the statement that it involves paying the publisher to open up access. This is true for commercial publishers, but not for those journals, like Information Research, that are published freely on the basis of subsidy and collaborative effort.

I can see that I am going to have to keep on plugging away at this distinction for as long as the notion of 'Gold' is used ambiguously for all OA journals, whether they author charge or not. Let's get into the entirely sensible habit of referring to Platinum for the latter.

09 November 2007

Firefox 3.0

There's news around about the imminent release of Firefox 3.0 and a nice article about it, with screenshots, on Lifehacker.

Green, Brass and Platinum - three routes to open access

Heather Morrison in a very useful post re-stating the nature of open access states:

There are two basic types of open access:

Open Access Archiving (or the green approach): the author (or someone representing the author) makes a copy of the author's work openly available, separate from the publication process. That is, the article may be published in a traditional subscription-based journal. The version of the article that is self-archived is the author's own copy of the work, reflecting changes from the peer review process (all the work that is provided for free), not the publisher's version.

Open Access Publishing (or the gold approach): the publisher makes the work open access, as part of the process of publication.

However, this is not really the whole story and is in danger of perpetuating the myth that the only form of open access publishing is that made available through the commercial publishers, by author charging. This is why I distinguish between open access through author charging, which is what the Gold Route is usually promoted as being (and which all official bodies from the NIH to the UK research councils assume as 'open'), and the Platinum Route of open access publishing which is free, open access to the publications and no author charges. In other words the Platinum Route is open at both ends of the process: submission and access, where as the Gold Route is seen as open only at the access end.

Harnad has argued that the distinction is unnecessary because at present about half of the Gold Route open access journals do not make author charges. However, if different modes exist we should categorise them clearly and not confuse them: author charging is the publishers' way of maintaining their incomes at the same level as is achieved through subscriptions - rather than being Gold from an open access point of view, we should label it as Brass (Yorkshire dialect for 'money'!), whereas the Platinum Route is the scholar's way of making his/her publications completely open.

We have three ways of achieving open access: archiving, author charging, and completely free - let's make sure the distinction is known and appreciated.

Bibliometrics and research assessment

A study for Universities UK (previously the Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals - a much better title, which actually told you who was involved!) has come to a rather predictable conclusion:

It seems extremely unlikely that research metrics, which will tend to favour some modes of research more than others (e.g. basic over applied), will prove sufficiently comprehensive and acceptable to support quality assurance benchmarking for all institutions.

However, at least that conclusion has been reached and, rather importantly, the report is mainly concerned with the potential for applying bibliometric measures to fields in science, technology, engineering and medicine (STEM) (the areas targeted by the Higher Education Funding Council). Some differences between STEM fields and the social sciences and humanites are pointed to, but there is no detailed analysis of the problems in these areas, which, of course, are even more difficult to deal with than those in STEM.

Readers outside the UK might be somewhat bemused by this post: the explanation for the concern over this matter is that the Higher Education Funding Councils have proposed the use of 'metrics' (i.e., bibliometrics) for the Research Assessment Exercise. This Exercise has taken place every four or five years for the past 20 years and is crucially important for the universities, since it is the basis upon which the research element of national funding is distributed.

07 November 2007

More on OA

Peter Suber's Open Access News drew my attention to an article in The Scientist, by Joseph Esposito. I'm publishing here the comments I made on The Scientist's site:

Joseph Esposito's article is both thought-provoking and, in parts, a little dangerous. Out the outset he notes: "Many continue to argue one side or the other of a binary choice: Either all research publishing should be open access, or only traditional publishing can maintain peer review and editorial integrity." This is a dangerous comment, since he is picking up on the 'big lie', promoted by PRISM, that OA does not involve peer review. This, of course, is nonsense: every genuinely scholarly OA journal that I know of uses peer review as part of the publishing process - it could never achieve any kind of reputation if it didn't do so. Jan Velterop also seeks to perpetuate this association in his comment on the article - yes, developing and maintaining the brand does take time and effort, as he suggests, but that time and effort is invested by the unpaid peer-reviewers and they are just as happy to work unpaid for non-commercial OA journals as for commercial publishers.

Later Esposito appears at times to conflate 'open access' with 'open archives' - confusingly both can be reduced to the same initials - when he writes of authors choosing to make their work available outside of the formal publishing process. This ignores the fact that OA journals are formally published: they have ISSNs, regular publication intervals, they are indexed by the same indexing and abstracting services as the commercial journals.

There is also the association of OA with 'author charging', and what I have called elsewhere the 'Platinum Route' of subsidised, collaborative OA publishing is ignored - and yet it is this mode that is increasingly adopted by newly-published journals. And new journals are not the exceptional case that Esposito suggests: they are appearing almost every day and many of them adopt the Platinum Route. Case studies of such journals have appeared in Information Research, which is also a Platinum Route journal. The 'one click' push that Esposito refers to is not an exceptional situation, but a common one for new open access journals and the notion that this only works at the fringe of scholarly communication is rather silly - scholarly communication consists of a multitude of 'fringes', each of little relevance to the rest of the community: like any other scholar in a specific discipline I have no interest in what is published in physics, chemistry, biology, pharmacology, Near Eastern studies, Scandinavian folklore and most of the rest of scholarship, but what is available to me openly within my own discipline is going to be central.

As another commentator has noted the costs of OA publishing are exaggerated, especially if the Platinum Route is adopted. No money at all flows in the publishing system for many OA journals, which use freely given time. That time is also given to commercial publishers, and if they had to pay true market rates for the time of editors and reviewers, the economics of scholarly publishing might be different. They would be markedly different if publishers had to pay for their raw materials - the papers - the way companies in other industries have to pay.

The suggestion of a novel OA publishing platform chimes with my suggestion that, on the analogy with music tracks and iTunes, "One future model of scholarly communication could see collaborative peer reviewing in disciplines leading to archived papers that are delivered as tracks are today - the individual (who is always going to be more interested in the paper than in the journal as a whole) downloads papers of interest, and universities provide the finance for the open archive rather than subscriptions to the now-defunct journals". I don't see such a model requiring huge additional investment - as the system changes, as it inevitably will, what is saved in subscriptions can be transferred into the development costs of the new platform.

As I note in the same Weblog entry, commercial scholarly publishing is facing the same kind of threat, brought about by technological change, as the music industry and is reacting in much the same way as the music industry has reacted up to now. Neither industry will survive simply by defending the present model - the dissemination of music and the dissemination of scholarly research are changing in analogous ways and the direction of that change is towards openness and new entrepreneurial models. Just as the old computer companies were never the leaders in change in that industry - think of the switch from mainframe to mini-computer to desktop - so it is unlikely that the giants of scholarly publishing will be at the forefront of change in their industry.

05 November 2007

Peak usage day for Information Research

I just took a look at my counter stats and discovered that 17th October, 2007 was the busiest day ever for the top page of the journal, with 3,574 hits - the previous high peak of 2,915 hits occured in July 2006.

The counter also tells me that the top page has had almost 212,000 hits so far this year, with an average of 684 page-views a day.

Turning to Google Analytics, this service tells me that the paper with most hits so far this year is Joyce Kirk's 'Information in organisations: directions for information management' from 1999, with 3,435 hits.

Odds and ends

Peter Suber's excellent Open Access news Weblog has been mentioned frequently here and recently he's had a couple of particularly interesting (to me) posts. One relates to Eric von Hippel's making available a couple of his books, with the agreement of the publishers, as open access e-books. The interesting thing is that sales exceeded expectations in both cases. As von Hippel says, this is counter-intuitive for publishers, but it simply shows that publishers have not thought through the logic. They know that, for example, for every thousand mailings of a publicity shot they're likely to get only 2% or 3% response - or even less - so they ought to understand that publicity in the form of open access, which reaches millions of people, rather than a few thousand, is going to increase sales, even if only one or two percent of the downloaders actually buy the book. I could also see benefits if publishers make books OA when the main sales have been made and the order stream is reduced to a trickle: this could give a boost to sales well beyond what would have been anticipated.

The second item is somewhat more esoteric and legalistic. Peter has been engaged in a debate on whether or not real OA includes the right to make 'derivatives' of the work in quetion - referring to the Creative Commons' licences. There are those who hold that the right to make derivative works is a required characteristic of OA works and those who protest the opposite. What is not clear for me is what constitutes a 'derivative work': if someone uses my work to create something related, using, for example, a theoretical model and quoting from my work, I don't see that as 'derivative' in any way other than all scientific work is 'derivative', in that it builds on the earlier research. To be truly 'derivative' in my book means taking my work and re-working it, using the text and the arguments, along with new insights and ideas to create something closely associated and 'derived' from my work. In that kind of work - and I know of none - I would be, in effect, a silent collaborator and I think I would be justified in claiming to be the joint author! So I think the debate may be about two different things: creating a work that simply refers, textually and otherwise, to my own, and creating a composite work, based on my ideas, but extending, etc. I would be perfectly happy with the first form of 'derived' work, but I think that for the second I would deserve a stronger form of acknowledgement than mere citation. Should I, therefore, adopt the 'no derivatives' form of the CC licence?

While pursuing this at the CC site another question occurred to me. The CC licence has a 'no commercial use' element, which simply means that, you cannot use my work for commercial gain. However, if you publish through a toll access publisher, who is in the business of making a profit, can the publisher profit from the inclusion of my work in yours? I think I shall have to watch this carefully in future, since I get numerous requests to use the diagram of my 1996 'General Model of Information Behaviour' - in the past, I've given permission without question, but now perhaps I should say - fine, if you publish in a true (Platinum Route) OA journal, but, if not, your publisher will have to pay.