During our time at the Triangle SCI Institute 2016 in Chapel Hill, our team (consisting of Samuel Moore, Sherri Barnes, Donna Lanclos, Stuart Lawson, Eileen Joy and Janneke Adema) primarily came together with a strong motivation to think through what a not-for-profit and non-platform based alternative to social researching sites such as Academia.edu and ResearchGate could be. This was motivated by a felt need to reduce the amount of and reliance on commercial players in scholarly communication. Yet we also wanted to avoid a ‘platform-solution’ given the recent surge of both commercial and NFP platforms in academic communication and publishing, many of which are non-interoperable, are increasingly mandatory for scholars (and highly labour intensive) and are problematic where it concerns sustainability in the long term. Instead we wanted to emphasise what is already out there, both content, collection and platform-wise in the form of a scholarly commons of materials, relations and services. How can we compose a social layer that would connect these distributed commons and make them more interoperable while allowing for more self-governance with respect to our scholarly data, networks and relationships?
During Triangle SCI our group focused on thinking through these issues, and we have kept notes of what we have been working on in a GoogleDoc here. We explored what aspects of scholarly research sharing sites we really appreciated and would like to replicate, and which ones we didn’t; we explored what the scholarly commons are and where we can find them; we looked into research on scholarly needs for social interaction around content; and we started to envisions and theorise a ‘layer’ that would connect the commons together and would ‘overlay them’.
Our thinking was very much inspired by hypothes.is, the annotation and highlighting software that creates an annotation layer over the web and allows for the bringing together of data via groups, tags, keywords and a variety of other search and filter functionalities. As a result of our knowledge sharing with the larger group and the feedback we received during the Triangle SCI institute, we decided to focus on two more case studies: HumanitiesCommons, which will be incorporating many of the positive aspects we were identifying in social researching sites (and most importantly a NFP alternative); Domain of One’s Own, which is a Reclaim Hosting project that allows scholars to get their own server space where they are able to embed a variety of tools, services and software (from WordPress to Scalar), which they can control and govern themselves. This could be one of the self-controlled nodes our layer could connect to and from where scholars could syndicate (social) data. Finally we saw a lot of overlap with the HumMetrics group, who were envisioning both more ethical and value-driven metrics as well as metrics more suitable to the humanities. Where metrics are an important aspect of the success of social research sharing websites, many of them remain incredibly useless (i.e. the ResearchGate score) and, although many people in our group remained sceptical of any kind of metrification of scholarly work, alternatives in the form of HumMetrics sound very valuable.
On the last day we tried to visualise what our social layer would look like next to drawing up a plan for what we wanted to do next in order to take things further after Triangle SCI. With our layer/system, we wanted to emphasise that whatever “it” is it not foremost or necessarily individual based or centered. The individual scholar is just one node in the network between content, software, platforms and the relationships themselves. What we would want to see developed is a layer, a ‘thing’ or a system, that via for example API would feed updates, contents (i.e. preprints) and data into an invisible layer, which can then be accessed and filtered according to keyword, tag, field, time, location, type etc.. The results of this search and filter exercise will culminate in a feed which can be turned into (live) visualisations and widgets to again upload and share in one’s own domains or websites, but also to then be published and broadcast more widely in the form of curated collections of content. As this would be an overlay tool, we would imagine that it also would be able to bring in content from one place to another place. For examples comments on an article one one’s server could be made visible on the same (or similar) PDF in a repository. This would be one of the integration aspects we would like to see.
Although this system is still very much an ideal system at the moment, many of the ideas embodied within it have already materialised in the form of NFP tools, platforms, services and practices. Finding a way to create such an overlay layer based on already existing tools would be a first step. What kind of tools are there that are already collating social media info and which are open source for example? Where are the commons located and which aspects of them could be easily integrated into such a system? What existing and past examples of similar services should we try to emulate or further explore?
For our next steps we therefore want to collaboratively write a white paper (which will simultaneously be a chapter in the liquid book The Academia.edu Files, published by Open Humanities Press here) which we would like to present to the projects that have inspired it at first (hypothes.is, hcommons and DoOO) to see whether they want to implement (parts of) it. We could then collaboratively apply for funding to hopefully bring the idea to fruition for example. In the meantime we are open to suggestions, to hear more about the tools and technologies that are already out there and to learn more about the scholarly commons and where we can find them.