Wednesday, January 13, 2010

How to produce, publish and distribute a journal these days

Ok, on this I am less confident - having not published a journal before, but I have submitted articles enough to know something about the process. I reckon my experiences publishing textbooks bring some credibility to this idea.

I want to have a hand in creating a distributed, networked, open journal here at UC. So far I have met with enough people who seem more than just interested in the idea, that we might be able to try something out that is quite innovative (as far as journal's go).

My line of thinking is as follows:
  • Anyone can submit an article, and that article is listed on the journal website, and anyone can review the article. There is a featured article review process however, and only a few make it through that.
  • The submission, review and communication around that process is openly documented.
  • All articles are able to be edited, copied, adapted and otherwise reused in whatever way imaginable. The primary data used in the formation of an article is also openly available as above, however methods of protecting privacy of subjects would need to devised, and if possible not in such a way so as to render the data inaccessible.
I suppose this is sounding very much like the principles of free software or open education. Those familiar with editing on the large reference wikis know this process well. But there are some differences in implimentation...

How would it be done?

There is a story example further down. Skip to that if you prefer that way of imagining.

As always, I propose that we do not set up a silo type website that requires us to build a user base from scratch. Instead I propose that we think smart about how light we can make the journal's actual website, and distribute functionality widely across various publishing and communication systems that people already use and prefer. In other words, the Internet is our open journal platform, where ever you may wish it to be.

This is not to say our journal does not have a website of its own, it is necessary that it does, for the sake of recogition and usability for some. I'm imagining a very minimal, clean skinned site that simply indexes the articles with a copy of the text displayed (in html, be gone pdf!!) and the various backchannels of comment and related media are harvested and displayed along with it.

After clicking a link to an indexed article title, imagine a main central column that is the text, and a right column that is the harvested responses - such as a twitter hashtag feed, a Youtube tag feed, a Delicious tag feed, links to related wikipedia/wikibooks/wikiversity articles, etc. The point is to capture responses from people based on what time and inclination THEY have, rather than require people to sign in and leave comments based on the limited functionality WE have. Networked communicators are familiar with this form of distributed discourse, so it s a matter of making it easier for others to track.

Of course, the benefits of networking responses and discourse like this is that we attract new and wider audiences and expose our authors to a wider range of feedback (not all rosey). In doing so we are open to any sort of feedback, I am comfortable with that, I think we can set up expectations to accomodate that too.

Another aspect of this distributed and open communication, is to encourage the publishers of articles to engage in "popularising" their work. If through looking at their article they saw discussion taking place in a Wikipedia article, my hope is that would encourage them to at least monitor that, perhaps even contribute. Something less time consuming might simply be to look at a twitter stream responding to the article and be exposed to the occasional benefits of twitter. Likewise for Youtube and so on.

Not everyone has the time for all or even one of these backchannels, and that is fine - but enabling and engaging with them has tangible benefits they can take or leave.

You might have noticed the "anyone can publish, anyone can review" aspect. I've been trying to spread Russell Butson's new speak for students, calling them instead "emerging academics". The shift in thinking and behaviour that that title change brings to undergraduate study is interesting. Russell's work at the University of Otago (no link sorry) experiments with student run journals, where the emerging academics edit, review and publish their essays in their own year's journal. Russell tells me he has been doing this with much success with medical students.

This idea of emerging academics publishing their work has captured the imagination of a few lecturers here, and I would like to see it where an emerging academic's work was published on the same platform as an established or professional academic's, such as this open networked and distributed journal I am explaining.

I see no reason to separate works based on title or experience, but obviously there remains a need for a seperation based on quality. There would be an editorial process in place whereby exceptional articles are peer reviewed and featured. It is the featured articles of the month, quarter or year of the journal edition that make the front page. Articles that do not make it through this featured status are then managed through a user generated rating and tracking system. We may discover new and emerging talent through that system as well.

Finally, on the question of how to submit an article.

My preference is to encourage people to publish their work on their own channel, and then to simply provide the link. Their article would be instantly listed, and if nominated, it would enter into a peer review process toward becoming a featured article. If it succeeded in becoming a reviewed and featured article, it would be reformatted and stored on the journal site itself. Social media feedback channels and related media would be set up around the copied article. There are numerous ways we could approach this submission process including anything from straight emailing a submission, to tagging a work with a particular tag. The key here is that it should have been already published on a personal web space of some sort. The main point is to subvert the silo thinking prevalent in imagining a journal, and to encourage a distributed and networked approach for publishing and reviewing.

An example.

I write my article on Wikiversity with a finished copy on my blog. Linked to the article are pages documenting my submission, including research data, article background and editing history, discussion and other processing. When the article is complete, I send an email to the journal editor (as well as tag it in delicious with the journal's submission tag). This automatically lists my article on the journal's website (on the second page, not the featured page), where it awaits review in various forms. I can edit the information around the article such, as what it relates to in Wikipedia, as well as giving it a tag word for people to use if they wish to respond to it on Youtube or Twitter etc. Almost instantly the submission get's retweeted, and one or two people even blog about it. The journal editor contacts me to tell me my article has been nominated for featured article status, and that it will be officially peer reviewed. It undergoes that peer review process and successfully makes it through as a featured article. Now that it has official status as a peer reviewed journal article, I notice that 2 or 3 of the related Wikipedia articles have been updated with citations from my article. I correct a few minor typos on one of those articles, and occasionally notice a new tweet and youtube response to the article in the following months. 2 years later I am reminded about the article by a new blogger who has critiqued it, and I am now in the process of rewriting it with the help of that blogger and we plan to resubmit it to the journal. Over the years the journal has achieved a reasonably high rating and is now recognised as a legitimate peer reviewed journal by my employer who agrees to recognise my work and pay me lots of monetary reward for all my adventurous work... ;)


James Neill said...

Hi Leigh - thanks for progressing and sharing on this - principles sound good to me - but platform? Open Journal Systems? Google Office? Wiki(versity)? It could be good if the system at least archived the articles for when out-links break and die. Maybe you can point to somewikiwhere we can hash it out some more? I kinda like Wikipedia Signpost as a model.

Leigh Blackall said...

Gday James, its the first time I've seen WP Signpost! I like that model. Noted that there really isn't 1 platform? They have a Wikipedia presence (we'd have a Wikiversity presence), they have a blog (we'd have a blog), they encourage Twitter channels, we would too, and we'd go further.

As far as the "home" platform goes.. I reckon it may as well be Wordpress. AS far as I can tell, we don't need any of the functionality of the open journal systems. At least using wordpress won't be hard to manage.

Jodi Schneider said...

James, Please don't use OJS if you can avoid it. (I've been really disappointed, say, with the direction that First Monday has gone with OJS.) The Code4Lib Journal uses WordPress with a lot of success. Interesting to mention the Wikipedia Signpost--this isn't well-enough known, I think. (I only ran into it last week; too bad there's no RSS feed for it; do people use watchlists to subscribe?)

Leigh Blackall said...

there is a feed for Wikipedia signpost. They also use wordpress.

Peter Albion said...

Have you looked at Journal of Interactive Media in Education which has for several years been doing something similar to what I think you are suggesting.

Fat Rat said...

Really interesting Leigh.

I don't understand enough about platforms etc, but will formatting be an issue between all the potential different platforms.

In the open review process you suggest, there is likely to be a clear bias towards the articles that engage those already using social media tools. So for example a sports media article will get a lot of attention and an article on motor control in sport may get none. Will all the featured articles be related to some IT interest? Will the journal be a social media dominated journal, and not a UCNISS specific journal as a consequence?

Leigh Blackall said...

You're right FatRat, there's no escaping bias implicit in any medium - whether it be subscription based, closed reviewed PDF or prints in a library, or this technocentric mobbed medium. The important thing I guess is to be self concious of it, and work towards removing barriers to effective self correction.

As for the subject focus of the journal, I like to think this model could work in any field. At its most basic level, it still delivers the pdf like monologue that is standard in journals. But it also adds review and feedback mechanisms that are optional to use. So, this write up was imagined for UCNISS and even health generally. Obviously techno and media fields would probably utilize the model the most, but I think we can too.