Bringing Things Together

Since it hasn’t been talked about enough already…

Posted by Greg on March 24, 2008

So, why should LaunchPad (Malone) be open sourced?*

I’m not going to say because other groups need to use the bug tracking/code hosting/question answering/multi-project-resource unifying features. No, I do believe that it wouldn’t make much sense for there to be multiple Launchpads out there dealing with bugs/code/etc (maybe a little of sense, but not much).

That market is already taken by and others (bugzilla, trac, savannah, et. al.)

Ok, so what market am I looking at? Scholarly communication <BORING!>

Not really boring actually. If you haven’t been paying attention to the scholarly communication world lately, let me tell you, a lot is changing. University libraries are spending more and more money every year on electronic journals. The rate of increase for the same product is higher than that of inflation, for a product which doesn’t improve (can we say monopoly/oligopoly?). In response many institutions (university libraries) are beginning to provide competing services. Full disclosure, my current employer is the Scholarly Publishing Office at the University of Michigan where we publish scholarly journals in an online and Open Access fashion. So, we are providing an alternative to the current commercial publisher vendor lock-in.

What does this have to do with LaunchPad and Open Source Software? Well, we are now in a global situation where there are many many many many open access journals and publications out there. There are some services out there than can help you navigate them, like the Directory of Open Access Journals. But, that service only indexes Open Access journals. Plus, there are now these things called Institutional Repositories, which are collections of preprints and articles and data from the “scholars” in a given “institution” (university, research lab, etc).

Then you have the commercial vendors. They don’t like people looking at their stuff, they don’t play nice with others unless they think they will lose money if they don’t. Libraries are getting better and better at letting their patrons search both sets of journals in one place, but the interface ALWAYS is hideous and creates MANY hoops the user has to jump through. In a word, it is LAME.

I haven’t answered what LP has to do with this yet. I’m getting there, I promise.

What does LaunchPad do really well? Linking various bugtrackers so that people can work together more efficiently to solve problems, right? That was the whole goal of Launchpad, otherwise Ubuntu would have stayed with bugzilla. What is the analogue for the scholarly publishing/communication world? You have those many distinct collections of articles (Open Access journals, Institutional Repositories, and commercial vendors) that do not talk to each other, ever. Yes, there are groups out there trying to improve this situation like the Open Archives Initiative where they are setting metadata standards and standards for transferring that information to others. That is a great thing, but it is only a start.

<The Answer, Finally> If we created a LaunchPad for scholarly works, we could solve many of the beginning access issues associated with this crappy situation. Here’s the idea:

Think of a bug, that is the article in this case. The article (bug) can have a published status like draft version or published in a journal (New, Incomplete, Fix Committed). But for it to even be an article in this Scholar’s LP it needs to have a reference to where it is, physically. So instead of a bug originating in LP and then being linked to other trackers as time goes on, the article needs to have an initial link to some place (OA journal, IR, or Comm. Vendor) using some standard like Digital Object Identifier or (which assigns a unique id to object online that can point to any address, so the changing of URLs won’t effect findability).

Then, this article (bug) can also have different versions linked to it. So, example: I publish an article in a prestigious journal, Nature, and I’m proud of it. So, I go to the Scholar’s LP and submit a new article. I give it the DOI or id and it automagically retrieves the metadata from the article’s current place of residence (that is if the provide it, if it is a commercial vendor, I might have to fill it in myself). Then it shows up as a new article in the system. My advisor, who thinks the work I did was cool, thinks that my previous drafts before publication are also pretty good. Since the version in Nature is not available to everyone for free, he links the preprint version that resides in my University’s Institutional Repository to my article. That is just like linking to an upstream bug in LP.

Of course, all the metadata is editable and updatable with information like author(s), publication data, place, copyright status (license), etc etc. Plus, if we wanted, we could limit certain metadata elements (like copyright status) to only the article’s author(s), we can do that by verifying emails with respect to what is in the actual article’s author list.

This Scholar’s LP could provide a wonderful unified interface so that “scholars” (define that however you want) can navigate this crazy mess of publishing easily (or at least easier). The “killer app” part of this is the ability to link a published article which is under crappy copyright restrictions to other versions which are available for everyone via institutional repositories or other places, in one place.

There are plenty of fancy cool things which could be done with this model, and I will talk about those later. One example is automatically linking to works cited to another Scholar’s LP or to an external link. But for now, I just wanted to get this idea out there and see if anyone has any comments.

* yes, you are right, we don’t need LaunchPad to be opensourced to do this, it was just a way to get you to read this, sorry.


10 Responses to “Since it hasn’t been talked about enough already…”

  1. matt lee said

    Free software users and developers should not have to give up a piece of their liberty in order to develop better free software.

  2. gouki said

    I’m with Matt on this one.

  3. Greg said

    Matt- Just wondering, did you read my post? This post wasn’t really about Launchpad being open sourced but more about a new way of organizing scholarly works online.

    I’m really interested in getting people’s responses to this idea. I may not have expressed my ideas as well as I could (I was in class at the time) so I would love for people to ask questions, Challenge my idea. Nit pick it. Compliment it if you have to. But, please, challenge my idea, not some perpendicular topic.

  4. HoellP said

    Hi Greg
    Maybe I’m not hitting the point as well, but I just wanted to let you know, that I love the idea of using LP for similar project-oriented work done by larger groups of people over the web.
    What directly came to my mind, apart from your great idea, is music, and what grand addition such a community that could be to the worldwide market.
    So, in the end it comes down again to the opening of LP, not for other bugwork or coding in general, but for the other communties out there that lack a stable framework to share, or cooperate on their work.
    PPAs for music anyone?

  5. Greg said

    HoellP –

    I’m curious, what sorts of things do you see a music community doing with a Launchpad-like service? Would it be simply hosting of the music files by individuals/groups (users and “teams” on LP)?

    The main idea I was trying to harp on was how well LP communicates with upstream bug trackers (it can always be improved, but it is doing it better than any other system I know of). Because of that ability we can do work across many different open source projects efficiently and make sure that the fixes are disseminated quickly. In the Scholarly Communication/Publishing world I equated “upstream” with different archives of the work: Institutional Repositories, Open Access Journals, Commercial Journals, or I guess even authors’ websites, which I forgot before.

    Other than the linking to upstream bug trackers (and PPAs) there isn’t a whole lot that is different about Launchpad.* But it is that ability to link things which are the same or very similar in one spot which would “revolutionize” the scholarly communication arena, in my opinion.

    * The build system is great, the answer tracker is a neat idea, the translations are awesome; I’m just focusing on a specific part of LP for my idea. I guess the others could be a part of the Scholar’s LaunchPad (like translations) but I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t be used as much.

    Oh, and I’m still not certain that open sourcing LP is the only option here. The backend stuff is very very specific to the job is does now (code hosting, building code, others things with code) and probably not very “map-able” to other types of content. The interface is what I was mainly using as my example. The interface and the ability to link to other places intelligently

    Thanks for your comments!

  6. Larry said

    I did read this article, for me the side benefits of learning about open access of academic papers, with all of the related websites, was highly useful. Thanx much.


  7. Greg said

    Larry- Glad it was informational for you!

  8. This sounds a lot like Scientific Commons.

  9. Greg said

    Gavin – Yes, it does.

    I have looked at Scientific Commons before, but to be honest, I had completely forgot about it. The only thing I noticed when looking at how Scientific Commons works is that they do not index non-Open Access publications. And I understand the reasons they chose that, especially since they are locally caching the articles on their servers.

    However, what I feel would be a wonderful addition is to make use of all the Institutional Repositories out there with preprints available for download but the commercial publisher retains full copyright protections on the published material. Creating an interface, similar to Scientific Commons but more robust, allowing the linking of those two versions in one place could be a powerful tool.

    The net effect is that if there is an Institutional Repository version of an article in a closed journal, then the knowledge contained is still available for anyone interested.

    Granted, the user-base of something like this isn’t necessarily huge because the vast majority of users of scholarly works don’t pay anything for access (the out of sight out of mind thought for those academics in Universities). I see the user base as being those who want unified access to scholarly work, in general, not just Open Access and not just Commercial.

  10. Glad that you guys recognizing our work. Unfortunately we do not offer access to non-Open Access publications. There are a couple of technical and non-technical reasons. First we wanted to cache the documents locally for extracting references and other information. Having these files “locally” available means just a big performance advantage in processing these documents. Furthermore a lot of papers just disappearing in case web pages are taken down. Therefore we wanted to address the challenge to provide some archiving functionality for future research generations. Its even more important to have these documents available as the drafts and working papers are usually not stored by the commercial publishers. We think that they are an invaluable source and part of the research community. But we will take your thoughts and ideas into our redesign plans for the next release of ScientificCommons this year. So stay tuned for whats coming up later this year.

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