Nov 21 2011
In 1990, Tim Berners-Lee created the Web as a tool for scholarly communication at CERN. In the two decades since, his creation has gone on to transform practically every enterprise imaginable, except somehow, scholarly communication. Here, instead, we lurch ponderously through the time-sanctified dance of dissemination, 17th-century style. The article reigns. Scholars continue to wad the vibrant, diverse results of their creativity and expertise – figures, datasets, programs, abstracts, annotations, claims, reviews, comments, collections, workflows, discussions, arguments and programs – into publishers’ slow moulds to be cast into articles: static, leaden information ingots.
Growing numbers of scholars, though, are realizing that this approach is no longer the best we can do. We’re defrosting our digital libraries, moving over a million personal reference collections online to services like Zotero and Mendeley (and in the process making the open reference list a new kind of publication). Scholars are flocking to scholarly blogs to post ideas, collaborate with colleagues, and discuss literature, often creating a sort of peer-review after publication. Emboldened by national mandates and notable successes, we’re beginning to publish reusable datasets as first-class citizens in the scholarly conversation. We’re sharing our software as publications and on the Web. The journal was the first revolution in scholarly communication; we’re on the brink of a second, driven by the new diversity, speed, and accessibility of the Web.
The poster child for this Scholcomm Spring is Twitter. There’s been terrific interest in scholars using Twitter to discuss and cite literature, for teaching, to enrich conferences, or less formally as a “global faculty lounge.” We recently finished a large study to get better data on these uses.
Instead of asking for self-identified scholars on Twitter, we started out with a list of around 9,000 scholars from five US and UK universities and searched for their names on the Twitter API. After manually confirming all the matches, we downloaded all the tweets each scholar had made and coded the content of these. The graphic below has some details of our findings, but here’s a summary:
Results like these are encouraging for those of us who see social media and related environments as the natural next frontier for communicating scholarship. It seems that scholars, without waiting for approval from the mandarins of the publishing industry, are beginning to explore and colonize the Web’s wide-open spaces.
But perhaps the most exciting thing about this nascent scholarly great migration is that the new, online tools of scholarship begin to give public substance to the formally ephemeral roots of scholarship: the discussions never transcribed, the annotations never shared, the introductions never acknowledged, the manuscripts saved and reread but never cited. These backstage activities are now increasingly tagged, catalogued, and archived on blogs, Mendeley, Twitter, and elsewhere.
As more scholars move more of their workflows to the public Web, we are assembling a vast registry of intellectual transactions – a web of ideas and their uses whose timeliness, speed, and precision make the traditional citation network look primitive.
I’ve been involved in early efforts to understand and use these new data sources to inform alternative metrics of impact, or “altmetrics.” Altmetrics could be used in evaluating scholars or institutions, complementing unidimensional citation counts with a rich array of indicators revealing diverse impacts on multiple populations. They could also inform new, real-time filters for scholars burdened by information overload: imagine a system that gathers and analyses the bookmarks, pageviews, tweets, and blog posts from your online networks, using your interactions with them to learn and display each day’s most important articles or posts.
Even better, what if every scholar in the world had such a system? We might do away with journals entirely. The Web can disseminate and archive products for almost nothing. The slow, back-room machinations of closed peer review could be replaced by an open, accountable, distributed system that simply listens in to expert communities’ natural reactions to new work – the same way Google efficiently ranks the Web by listening in to the crowdsourced ‘review’ of the hyperlink network.
Of course, this particular vision may not pan out. And although the current signs point toward more growth, scholars might get tired of Twitter. But to hang our hopes on a particular vision or tool is to miss what’s truly revolutionary about this moment. The journal monoculture, long the only viable approach to scholarly communication, is beginning to yield at its fringes to a more diverse, vibrant, online ecosystem of scholarly expression. This new ecosystem promises to change not only the way we express scholarship, but the way we measure, assess, and consume it.
Jan 9 2012
A few weeks back, the LSE Impact of Social Sciences blog published a piece on the use of twitter by academics, written by Jason Priem, that suggested peer review journals might become a thing of the past. Austin Frakt and I wrote a brief post noting that as much as we love the microblog service, the role of peer review journals cannot be replaced by Twitter, blogs, or anything else (and we really believe in blogs!). We need the slow deliberative process that emphasizes trying to get it right, as opposed to doing it quickly. We concluded:
We absolutely need the slow, peer review system as the foundation of thoughtful, careful scholarship. Twitter and other social media are important additions that can give scholarly content “reach” and “relevancy”. However, it’s a both/and, not an either/or proposition. Traditional peer review journals should remain the bedrock of the research evidence that can be brought to bear on health policy.
However, I think the peer review process often is too slow and could be sped up without losing precision. In addition, I think there is too much secrecy in the process and a bit more disclosure would likely be good (though there are likely plusses and minuses).
Following are a few personal thoughts about changes I would like to see in the peer review process used by journals that are based on my personal experience and preferences (I have published 70 peer review papers and reviewed dozens of manuscripts for journals). Others will likely have different thoughts, and I would be interested to know them. This is not meant to be a definitive word, just my personal thoughts.
Making the identify of all parties public and how long they have had to review a manuscript or complete revisions should provide some “speed” to process. More information about the give and take leading up to the publication would provide a fuller context for the paper. And a big issue going forward is the financial model by which journals survive, not to mention the question of who should pay for them and how much?
Tweet about each new publication, website update or new blog that the project completes. To gauge feedback, you could send a tweet that links to your research blog and ask your followers for their feedback and comments.
For tweeting to work well, always make sure that an open-web full version or summary of every publication, conference presentation or talk at an event is available online. Summarize every article published in closed-web journal on a blog, or lodge an extended summary on your university’s online research depository. In addition, sites like www.scribd.com are useful for depositing open web versions.
Tweet about new developments of interest from the project’s point of view, for instance, relevant government policy changes, think tank reports, or journal articles.
Use hashtags (#) to make your materials more visible – e.g. #phdchat. Don’t be afraid to start your own.
Use your tweets to cover developments at other related research sites, retweeting interesting new material that they produce. This may appear to some as ‘helping the competition’, but in most research areas the key problem is to get more attention for the area as a whole. Building up a Twitter network of reciprocating research projects can help everyone to keep up to date more easily, improve the standard and pace of debate, and so attract more attention (and funding) into the research area.
Twitter provides many opportunities for ‘crowd sourcing’ research activities across the sciences, social sciences, history and literature – by getting people to help with gathering information, making observations, undertaking data analysis, transcribing and editing documents – all done just for the love of it. Some researchers have also used Twitter to help ‘crowdsource’ research funding from interested public bodies. You can read more about crowdsourcing in Alastair Dunning’s post for the blog.
Reaching out to external audiences is something that Twitter is exceptionally good for. Making links with practitioners in business, government, and public policy can happen easily. Twitter’s brevity, accessibility and immediacy are all very appealing to non-academics. At the end of each month, Twitter can be used as a painless metric to assess how your tweeting is working for you and your project.
Showing the growth in your followers and the number of people who read your research blog can also be helpful for funding applications. You could make short notes on the following:
• The number of followers you have
• The names of those who could be useful for future collaboration
• Invitations to write blog posts or speak at events, which have come via Twitter
• Number of hits to your own blog posts via Twitter
Read more about creating an impacts file in our handbook for social scientists.
Sep 29 2011
Following on from the lists of academic tweeters published earlier this month, we have put together a short guide to using Twitter in university research, teaching, and impact activities, available to download as a PDF or view on Issuu.
How can Twitter, which limits users to 140 characters per tweet, have any relevance to universities and academia, where journal articles are 3,000 to 8,000 words long, and where books contain 80,000 words? Can anything of academic value ever be said in just 140 characters?
We have put together a short guide answering these questions, showing new users how to get started on Twitter and hone their tweeting style, as well as offering advice to more experienced users on how to use Twitter for research projects, alongside blogging, and for use in teaching.
Download the PDF for more on:
Very telling instructions, that amount to using social media to generate "metrics" and thus voluntarily putting yourself under surveillance, as well as instructions on "watch what you say," tantamount to instilling fear and encouraging self-censorship.