31 December 2008

More on open access

Peter Suber's newsletter drew my attention to The Coming Change in Humanities Publishing (6): Open Access in Gideon Burton's Blog. Gideon draws attention to the toll access, open access distinction, but somewhat blurs the distinction, giving the impression that all OA journals charge author fees. Peter Suber picks up on this and quotes Harnad on the 'gratis'/'libre' distinction - which doesn't seem to have caught on, and which, in my opinion is unlikely to. The fact is that there is only one form of open access, that is, one that has neither subscription charges, nor author charges - and a significant number of OA journals are truly free. It is not OA that requires a distinction to be made, but Toll Access - of which there are now two types - Author Tolls, and Reader Tolls - neither of which results in truly Open Access.

21 December 2008

Google Chrome

Google's new(ish) browser Chrome was declared to be out of beta, which presumably means that Google is happy with it. True, it's very fast - partly because, compared with Firefox, it is under-featured. Also, its download feature is very clunky - I never know whether the downloaded item is going to be displayed automatically or I have to specifically open it in the relevant application. I do like the combination of address and search bar, however - saves time - and the new page feature, with its mini-versions of regularly used pages is good - but hasn't Opera had that for some time? So how's it doing in the marketplace?
Well, Information Research readers are probably a choosy lot when it comes to browsers and, over the past year, Google Analytics reports the following browser choices:

1. Internet Explorer 428,457 67.45%
2. Firefox 147,886 23.28%
3. Mozilla 31,770 5.00%
4. Safari 15,787 2.49%
5. Opera 7,283 1.15%
6. Chrome 2,245 0.35%
7. Konqueror 696 0.11%
8. Netscape 536 0.08%
9. Camino 215 0.03%
10. Mozilla Compatible Agent 95 0.01%

Down at number 6 on the basis of more than 600,000 visits - some way to go, then.

Google settles with the publishers

Readers may recall that Google raised the ire of the publishers with its Google Library Project. Now, however, given that the publishers are probably going to make some money out of it, all seems to be sweetness and light between the parties.

The result of the negotiations seems to be mainly of interest to Internet users in the USA, at least to begin with, but you can read all about it in an excellent distillation of the more than 200 pages of the agreement at LLRX.com.

20 December 2008

New from Information Age

The industry journal Information Age has some interesting items in the current issue - all of which is on the Web.

First, 'cloud computing' is on the agenda, offering potential for cost cutting in hard times. However, it's likely to be small- to medium-sized companies that adopt first, since:

Certainly, for organisations that have spent thousands of man years and millions of dollars building their own bomb-proof infrastructure to support complex, and often highly regulated systems, there is simply too much at stake for them to abandon this investment in favour of a set of shared resources that are out of their control.

Next there's an article on 'enterprise search', with a couple of interesting case studies that suggest getting the equivalent of a siimple Google search box is simply not on the cards.

Finally, something on the 'semantic Web' - that never-ending fascination with the idea that, somehow, we're going to get some meaning recorded - but don't hold your breath.

18 December 2008

Research Assessment Exercise

Well, the results are finally out for the 2008 exercise - no doubt all those involved will be glad that the waiting is over. However, what the implications may be seems to be open to question. For example, Ian Postlethwaite pro-vice-chancellor for research at the University of Leicester suggests that league tables based on the results cannot be a guide to which are the best research institutions because:

The Higher Education Statistics Agency (Hesa) made a decision in October not to publish data showing what proportion of academics who were eligible to be included in the RAE were actually entered into the exercise by each institution. But this has left a gaping hole in the information needed to produce accurate league tables.

Be that as it may - the league tables are duly being produced. The two UK institutions with which I'm affiliated are ranked joint 14th (University of Sheffield and University of Leeds - along with Durham, St. Andrews, Southampton and Bristol). Of the two departments I'm associated with, Information Studies at Sheffield scores 2.850 (the highest score in the Library and Information Management group) and the Business School at Leeds scores the same, but that makes it joint 11th in the Business and Management Studies group. Postlethwaite has a point, however, download the data, create a column to multiply the average point score by the number of staff returned and you'll get a rather different ranking :-)

There are some oddities in the category, Library and Information Management, since only eleven of the twenty-one institutions submitting staff to this panel have what we might call 'traditional' library and information management departments. Some have clearly adopted a 'strategic' approach by submitting information systems departments to this panel -
Brunel, Salford, Sheffield Hallam, for example - whereas others submit such units to computer science. Some might call this sharp practice, but then, 'all is fair...' in university financing :-) King's College, London submits a research unit on 'digital humanities', where, again, most of the research appears to be in aspects of computer science, rather than information management, and it clearly disadvantages staff who have both teaching and research responsibilities when they are assessed against staff with only research responsibilities: some weighting ought to be applied, perhaps by treating all research staff as only half of a full time teaching and research staff member.

In other words, everyone is playing games with the RAE, as they have done since the Higher Education Funding Councils adopted the process - what difference it makes to the quality of research is anyone's guess, but some have argued that the increase in the publish or perish syndrome results in a decline in quality.

It is assumed that the next RAE will adopt, at least in part, a 'metrics-driven' approach, i.e., bibliometrics. What the result may be for some can be pursued in a couple of papers in the journal - check the subject index under "Research Assessment Exercise"

17 December 2008

New Issue of Information Research

As my last entry noted - I've been too busy with the new issue of the journal to do much else. However, most of it is now available - and that means all but one of the papers for the ISIC conference, thirteen Doctoral Workshop summaries and, I think, six regular papers, plus the editorial. All now reachable through the top page.

And here's the Editorial:

Instead of concluding with my thanks to others, I shall begin with them. This, as readers will see, is an enormous issue, with the papers from the ISIC conference and summaries of Doctoral Workshop presentations, in addition to the usual clutch of papers. Once upon a time, I could say that the journal was the effort of a single individual: that is no longer the case, and this issue would not have hit cyberspace without the considerable efforts of copy-editors (Amanda Cossham, Peta Wellstead and Lauren Goodchild) and in particular (since she bore the brunt of dealing with the ISIC papers), Associate Editor Elena Macevičiūtė — my thanks to them all. In addition, of course, I have to thank my other Associate Editors for their work in seeing the regular papers through the review process.

In fact, this is probably a good time to say that if there is anyone out there who would like to join the copy-editors, I'd be interested to hear from them. You need to be something of a pedant, with an interest in good writing (able to cut through the jargon and explain to authors that an intelligible paper is best), a sound knowledge of English grammar and spelling (rather than of American English), and a willingness to get to grips with our interpretation of the APA 5th ed. rules for citations and references.

That invitation probably tells you how much care is taken with the papers we publish. The refereeing process is thorough and some submission do not pass that stage, in fact there are also some that never get as far as the Associate Editors, since I reject them on the grounds that they fall outside the scope of the journal (you'd be surprised at the things that are presented - e.g., technical papers on telecommunications!). Following revision by the author, which happens in almost 100% of the cases—sometimes involving another round of refereeing—the papers go to a copy-editor, who reviews the paper in terms of the journal style, intelligibility, readability, etc. and, then, when the xhtml version is delivered by the author, I copy-edit it again, sometimes communicating with the author about sentences that seem ill-worded or that I simply don't understand. Even at this stage, I may make suggestions for minor restructuring. Quite often, in the final preparation, tables need to be tidied up and figures may need reducing in size or otherwise editing. By the time a paper gets into the journal it has had a great deal of attention from more than one person!

In this issue
This issue is in three sections, with three separate contents pages: the regular quarterly issue; the proceedings of the ISIC Conference and the summaries of Doctoral Workshop presentations at that conference. This has created such a volume of work that not all is ready yet, but, as it is publication date, we are opening up the issue to readers. If you note that there are papers missing, don't worry, they'll be there is due course and there will be more book reviews going up, also. The author and subject indexes have not yet been updated but that, too, will happen in due course.

There are rather too many papers in the Proceedings to comment on them all, but there are a number that catch my interest and I'm sure that readers will make their own choices. The keynote paper from Bonnie Nardi is of special interest, since it is a transcription of what she said at the conference, with very little editing, and includes the pictures from her Powerpoint presentation. This makes it something closer to a conference presentation than one normally gets in a proceedings and I think the informality of it comes across.

There are also three papers that deal with the ISIC conferences (a little incestuous, pehaps?): Pertti Vakkari's keynote addresses the changes that have taken place in the nature of the papers between the first conference in 1996 and this year's. Not everyone will agree with Pertti's analysis, I'm sure, but I think it sends a 'wake-up' call to researchers: I, too, sense a kind of torpor in the field, which needs to be addressed. It seems that PhD students are too often advised to deal with the captive audiences in schools and universities to the point at which, as used to be said of psychological research, information behaviour research is becoming research into the behaviour of university students. There's a big world out there and, although research into 'everyday life information seeking' has become more significant, there are many aspects of the working world that are untouched.

The other two ISIC-oriented papers are by Lynne McKechnie and her colleagues on the failure of ISIC authors to communicate their work to practitioners in the field (something to which Pertti Vakkari also draws attention), and by Theresa Dirndorfer Anderson and Jo Orsatti on the place of the conference in information seeking research, which shows that ISIC plays a significant role for the research community.

As for the rest, there is great diversity: from Bonnie Nardi's exploration of information behaviour in the virtual world of gaming to the information barriers faced by Maori secondary school students, and from business information services in Japan to mobile information systems for police in the U.K.

The Doctoral Workshop summaries show a similar diversity: I don't think that all of the students submitted a summary, but the thirteen who did so will probably find that appearance here will make the information research world aware of their work. We have not always presented the summaries in this way, but, when we have, it is interesting how often some of them are cited.

As for the papers in the 'regular' bit of the journal: we seem, accidentally, to have a significant Latin flavour, with papers from Brazil, Mexico and Spain, as well as one from Finland. Their scope is diverse: from the connection between e-mail overload and 'burnout' to the experience of the Open Archives Initiative in Spain.

The open access movement
The open access movement seems to be gaining strength, with a number of interesting developments recently. The business model of author charging is attracting new publishers like e-Century Publishing Corporation, which charges $100 a page, leaves copyright with the authors and publishes under a Creative Commons licence. Established journals are also taking the OA route - the British Medical Journal is now a fully OA journal and many more developments are noted in Peter Suber's excellent Open Access News - if you don't know this source, make sure that you get on the mailing list.

A very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all of our readers.

09 December 2008

ISIC Proceedings

There's not been much time for blogging recently - even supposing I had something to comment upon - because the next issue of Information Research is a big one. Foolishly, I decided to have all of the papers from the ISIC Conference in one issue - instead of spreading it over two, as usual. Inevitably, there have been delays as last minute problems are tidied up with authors.

However, in order not to slow things down too much, I have uploaded the contents page for the proceedings and those papers that are ready, and they should be available sometime after 22:00 GMT tonight. The remainder will go up as and when they are ready, along with the papers for the regular issue.

01 December 2008

British vs. American English

Jakob Nielsen has an interesting little item in his Alertbox column on when it is appropriate to use British or American spelling on a Website. He makes some interesting points, such as the fact that no one buying, say, a Scottish kilt, on-line is going to be offended by the use of U.K. English, whereas no one booking into a Las Vegas hotel is going to expect the language to be other than U.S. English.

However, Nielsen misses a point and that is one relating to national culture - UK sites, it seems to me, should use British English, not U.S. English. I am offended when I find that long established British publishers publish books and journals with U.S. spelling. Our spelling might be idiosyncratic on either side of the Atlantic, but in both cases, they record the history of the language, which is part of our related but separate cultures.

This is why Information Research uses U.K. English, which is extended to ensuring that colloquialisms are converted to standard English and why jargon and allusions of individual, national relevance are removed. This may well be one of the reasons why readers frequently comment on the readability of the papers in the journal - we know that a significant proportion of our readers do not have English as their first language - or even their second - and we also know that about a third of our readers are non-academic, for whom the arcane language of a discipline would be a barrier to understanding.