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Journal publishers are pioneers of Web 2.0?

by PhilipJ on 19 February 2007

Zhigang Suo writes at iMechanica that academic publishers are pioneers of Web 2.0,

In the middle of the Web 2.0 hype, we tend to forget that journal publishers are the pioneers of Web 2.0. They fit the essential characteristic of Web 2.0: Publishers provide a platform for users to share content created by users themselves.

Emphasis mine, because I think this word in particular shows how the academic publishing community has been operating in opposite to the spirit of “Web 2.0” until very recently. Sharing is indeed part of what defines “Web 2.0”, on everything from blogs to Flickr and Youtube, but sharing doesn’t happen on all but a couple of current journals.

Here’s the difference. On a website like Flickr, I’m free to create an account and upload pictures without any cost to me or anyone who would like to view these same pictures. For an academic journal, I still have to create the content, but then only paying customers (people with access to academic libraries, or private R&D companies which shell out for journal subscriptions) are able to view anything except a paragraph or two detailing my results.

Furthermore, again on Flickr, I’m able to comment on the work that others have done, but not so on the vast majority of journals on the web. Even if I have a subscription to a journal, there is no way for me to comment, in a public forum, on individual work. Community involvement, basically the backbone of the Web 2.0 movement, is all but non-existant for science.

But, thankfully, that’s changing. With the launch of PLoS ONE, I am free to view any and all the work online, and community involvement is encouraged. I can annotate a paper, or start a discussion if there are things about the paper that I would like clarified. Anyone and everyone is able to add their own opinions and comments to an entry, and true sharing of both the primary content (the articles themselves) and the ideas that spring from these papers is possible.

I definitely agree with Zhigang’s final thought, however:

We will all eventually adjust to the new environment of the Internet.

Publishers like the Public Library of Science have realised this, and Nature has made some noise about following suite. Will the rest of the industry follow?

  1. Aaron    3832 days ago    #

    Actually, was the true pioneer of Web 2.0 in the academic world. It’s a little stale these days, especially when compared to more modern Web 2.0 applications (for instance, I wish I could use regular expressions or even simple keyword matching to build a custom daily mailing rather than be tied to the subject subclass categories), but I’m optimistic that it’ll catch up in the future.

  2. PhilipJ    3831 days ago    #

    I’m going to have to disgaree again. Other than the fact that it is user-generated content, the community aspect so crucial to Web 2.0 is missing, the strange and ill-managed trackback system they recently implemented notwithstanding.

    It was certainly a precursor to, but definitely not entirely, Web 2.0. To some degree the argument isn’t important, but I really feel the ability to comment and annotate other work is the crucial aspect missing from both academic journals on the web (PLoS One being the current exception) and the arXiv.

  3. Zhigang Suo    3830 days ago    #

    I replied your comment on iMechanica. Among other things, I said the following.

    All platform services have to serve its users. In this case, the users are principally us researchers. If we have already had means to access most what we want to, then open access will not be a high priority for many of us, no matter how morally attractive the idea is. Just ask an average researcher how much time she is willing to spend on furthering the cause of open access.

    Open access will arrive when it becomes the most economical to do so.

  4. Doug    3825 days ago    #

    A new offering from NATURE.

    Methagora: Nature Methods’s commenting forum

    “Check here regularly for discussions on methodological topics of interest to your community. If you have a question or comment for the Nature Methods team or wish to propose a discussion topic, please e-mail methagora at”

  5. Bill Tozier    3406 days ago    #

    Not all of “us researchers” work in Universities, nor are we all supported by large research firms who can afford ridiculous subscriptions.

    When I publish a paper, I typically am not allowed to read the journal in which it’s printed.