Academic Publishing in the Digital Age

Welcome to the forum on Academic Publishing in the Digital Age!  Building from an illuminating dialogue about Fair Use hosted by Veronica Paredes, our conversation will focus on the burgeoning field of electronic academic publication and the ways it is impacting established models of scholarship.  We hope that this discussion will allow participants to share their own experiences with digital publishing as writers and readers and to learn more about the possibilities and pitfalls of putting academic work online.  As such, we encourage contributions from those who have published electronically as well as those who have not, those who work with electronic journals and those who work with print journals or university presses; our goal is to facilitate a venue in which we may all ask and answer questions about the present and future of digital scholarship.

Your hosts are HASTAC Scholars Julie Levin Russo and Chris Hanson, who have worked respectively on the electronic journals Transformative Works and Cultures (TWC) and Vectors.  We will be joined by members of the editorial and creative staff of these publications, including TWC co-editors Kristina Busse and Karen Hellekson, Vectors co-editors Tara McPherson and Steve Anderson, and Erik Loyer, a creative director for Vectors.  We put forward these ventures as case studies for the larger issues at hand.

Transformative Works and Cultures (TWC) is an online journal that comprises the scholarly arm of the new fan advocacy nonprofit Organization for Transformative Works.  It supports the OTW's mission to promote the legitimacy and sustainability of non-commercial fan creativity by providing a forum for innovative criticism in fan studies, broadly conceived.  TWC is a Gold Open Access journal according to the standards established by the Bethesda Statement on Open Access Publishing of June 2003, offering free, immediate, permanent, full-text, online postprint archiving with access for any web user, complete with unrestricted license to link, download, store, copy, distribute, display, use, and transform the works published therein.  Open digital publishing is integral to TWC's objectives in a practical sense: the journal aims to encourage dialogue between academic and fan communities, and thus cannot assume that its target audience has access to journal subscriptions through a university.  Sharing works freely is also fundamental to the philosophy of TWC and its parent organization, which value the creative and intellectual potential of circulation and transformation in opposition to the constricted framework of proprietary ownership on which the corporate-copyright complex rests.  TWC also provides a haven for scholarship in non-traditional and multimedia formats, inviting embedded citation of its objects (especially fan artifacts that may have dubious legal status) while the technology and copyright policies of print publication typically make this impossible.  TWC conducts all of its editorial activity through its website, which is built on the open source software package Open Journal Systems, an initiative of the federally funded Public Knowledge Project (Canada).  You can review the CFP for TWC's upcoming special issue on "games as transformative works" at (submission deadline: November 15).

Launched in 2005, Vectors explores the intersection of technology and culture by bringing together visionary scholars with cutting-edge designers and technologists to propose a thorough rethinking of the dynamic relationship of form to content in academic research.  Rather than merely supplementing conventional modes of scholarship such as papers and articles with multimedia, Vectors publishes works which expand traditional text-based paradigms and may only be expressed in an immersive and experiential fashion, mobilizing computational and interactive structures to examine emerging scholarly vernaculars across a variety of media platforms.  Each issue of Vectors utilizes a theme that highlights the cultural, social and political stakes of our increasingly technologically-mediated existence by exploring key debates across varied disciplines.  The journal has been supported by the University of Southern California's Institute for Multimedia Literacy, HASTAC and Digital Promise.

To begin the conversation with our guests and the HASTAC community, we propose the following questions for consideration.  In addition to your responses, we invite forum participants to post your own questions, as well as any other links that might complement the discussion. Please feel free to post your comments and questions below via text or as part of the Seesmic thread.


  1. How are traditional methods of academic publishing being changed by digital and online avenues?  What advantages or disadvantages do these new forms of publication have over conventional means?
  2. What are some of the challenges involved in translating academic research into interactive digital platforms?  What new possibilities for intellectual and creative work are made possible by such platforms?
  3. Should published scholarship be freely available, or is restricting access a necessary evil?
  4. How might we increase the academic credibility of emergent forms of scholarship and publication?
  5. How do you envision digital platforms transforming academic research in the coming years?

We look forward to this discussion and thank Erik, Kristina, Steve, Tara, and all the contributors for their time and insight.  And thanks to Erin for her support and assistance!

Julie & Chris



What an extremely pregnant topic and one which, as someone more than a
little turned off by the traditional academic publishing model, I have
a lot I could say. But I'll try to keep this post manageable as I'm
really looking forward to what others have to say.

publishing is a medium that excels by leaps and bounds at allowing for
feedback over traditional print media. Our participation in these
forums is a testament to that, but this isn't just limited to open
ended forums and discussion groups. With digital publishing even full
fledged articles can have comments sections as I've seen over at TWC,
Vectors, and other great journals I've learned about through HASTAC
such as Harlot.
So this is one of the areas I'd like to see explored here -
particularly the downsides becuase not many come to mind at the moment.

will admit to having a fair degree of academic ADD when it comes to
getting feedback on my ideas. The traditional publishing route doesn't
give you much opportunity for immediate feedback at all. Most comments
come from shopping your paper around at conferences long before you
even attempt to publish it. To me this is the where the real heart of
academic construction lies, where immediate feedback is possible.
Publishing is more of the end result when really it should be the
starting point - not everyone gets a chance to attend the conferences
where the ideas relevant to their work are being fine tuned and have a
chance to offer their input.

Call me a cynic, but most of the
time it seems that the end result of being published in traditional
print media is a line on the CV. You may get to engage occasionally
with others over what you've written if someone you meet in academic
circles happens to have read it. If you're extremely fortunate then
some one may take enough of an interest in your ideas to write and
publish a response to it, but you're most likely going to be waiting a
full year to see those results (unless they are sincere enough to
engage with you directly while writing their piece). By that point I've
moved on to other ideas and rarely feel the excitiment about the old
idea that I did when it was new. All in all as a mode of advancing the
ideas of the discipline, traditional print publishing is an arduously
slow process.

Digital publishing speeds things up dramatically.
Granted if we're still following a peer review model (which I won't go
into here) then the process will still be time consuming, but articles
will get from the publisher to the reader more quickly. More
importantly, readers can instantly make comments without being forced
to write a fully realized paper in response. Brief responses can
inspire a more conversational style interaction with the audience of
one's ideas that I and I imagine many others prefer over developing a
time-consuming critique, articulated in the appropriate disciplinary
style, that one then feels obligated to defend despite any possible

To really inspire feedback, of course, the results
of digital publishing would have to be open to all who are interested
and not just academic subscription holders. I'm sure there is plenty to
discuss on the logistics of such a possibility but the question for
feedback becomes one of quality. Is there necessarily an inverse
relationship between the quantity of access and the quality of
feedback? In many other online endeavors this hasn't necessarily been
the case (Wikipedia, for example). Assuming there is an audience out
there that consists of people interested in reading and responding to
academic work that do not happen to have access to university
subscription services (i.e. who aren't academics), and I hope there are
such people, would they be capable of participating in a way that is
meaningful to the authors?

Trolling aside (because I doubt there
are many who would get a kick out of inciting flame wars among
generally stoic academics) the real question is whether the, for lack
of a better term, "casual reader" would be equipped with the necessary
background to engage with the discussion without rehashing old
material? (Though that material can sometimes use a good rehashing and
it's often this casual reader - our (non-major) students - who make us
aware of that IMHO.) Here digital publishing writ large comes to our
rescue. Assuming answers to some of the other facets of this larger
discussion, older ideas, links, citations, and sources can be readily
available online for those who may not be familiar with it but aren't
opposed to taking themselves on a little in-depth historical survey
mission. Hyperlinks beat footnotes and bibliographies any day of the
week, especially for the casual reader!

I find myself doing just
this in a weekly column I write about video games and philosophy. The
readership consists of gamers, not philosophers, so when I make
reference to philosophical concepts or writers I'll offer a very brief
explanation and a link to further information should the reader desire
it. Unfortunately I am forced most often to link to a book listing on
Amazon or to a Wikipedia entry as actual full text is rarely available
online. While it requires a pretty severe paradigm shift, if open
academic publishing becomes the norm then the problem of uninformed
readership resolves itself as most if not all of the information and
ideas a non-academic (or an academic from outside the article's
discipline) would need are easily accessible.


I have little personal experience on this topic, but have discussed it over the years with my father, Jim Gentry, a professor of Marketing at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. He is the North American editor of the print Journal of Consumer Behavior, and was the managing editor for the online Academy of Marketing Science Review before its sponsorship was withdrawn earlier this year. Here are some words of explanation from him before I pose the questions his experience has raised for me:


    The Academy of Marketing Science Review (AMSR) was founded 12 years ago as the Journal of Consumer and Marketing Research. Its founding editor tried to get it sanctioned by the Association for Consumer Research, but failed. Then he got support from the Academy of Marketing Science for the journal, so AMSR became a poor step-sister to this organization's somewhat mediocre print journal, the Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science (JAMS). We were limited in our mission, in that we were not to publish empirical work. The founding editor chose to go the traditional journal route in terms of the review process. He solicited a strong review board and early articles from leaders in the field. He also solicited non-traditional formats. But the quality standards were reasonably high. In 11 years, we published less than 80 articles and two videos. Everything was done on the cheap, with the authors and the editor doing the final editing of the papers.

    The journal still has global access at and we did what we could by creating an international review board, with regional assistant editors. Our goal was a global journal that could be accessed by anyone free (a big issue given the limited journal coverage in libraries in the developing world) and that received contributions from the developing world as well. The latter goal was being met in the final years of the journal, but the editor spent a lot of time sending track changes to early drafts as non-Western trained scholars in India and elsewhere do not always write well in American English, the language of the journal. In January 2008 the AMS board decided to withdraw its sponsorship of the journal, and the last paper was uploaded around April 1. The review board supports the journal and it may be revived under the sponsorship of another society, the International Society of Markets and Development.

    The journal made it to lists as a B journal, and work from it was being cited (infrequently) in A journals. But it did not count much for tenure and promotion decisions in the developed world and there is virtually no way for an electronic journal to be profitable. The AMS board wanted a second print journal instead. I see print journals as dinosaurs but they will last a few more years.

I'm guessing (hoping?) some of you may disagree with his assessment that "there is virtually no way for an electronic journal to be profitable." As someone with no real knowledge of this field, I'd be interested in learning more both about how profitable e-journals can be, and how profitable similiar print journals actually are. Sponsorship also seems to be an integral issue and I would be interested to hear from organizations that sponsor or publish traditional print journals why they are or are not branching out into all-electronic journals.

I am also interested in how electronic journals may be particularly accessible to scholars in the developing world. As my father points out, subscription access to journals may be limited in the developing world, and thus e-journals (that make their content freely available) may provide an essential venue both for access to research and as a place to publish. But are there many "A" journals that are entirely electronic? What forces determine whether a journal is an "A" journal, a "B" journal or something else and are all those forces transferable to an electronic platform?

I look forward to learning more! Thank you Chris & Julie for facilitating this forum!


This is Kristina, one of the founding editors of TWC. When we started conceiving of the project last year, we encountered again and again a peculiar dichotomy: everyone loved the idea of online publishing, including, ease of access, speed of publication, low publication cost, and ability to include multimedia and link. Karen and I both work as independent scholars, so that Open Access is central for us. In particular in fan studies, where the audience often can include those that may not have access to libraries who subscribe to a particular journal (whether as are international academics or fan scholars), it is crucial that anyone can access the journal.

Likewise, speed of publication is crucial in a field whose subject works at Internet (not academic) speed. Given that we are affiliated with and supported by the nonprofit Organization for Transformative Works (rather than a university), cost was important for us. Finally, given that our subject area includes transformative works such as videos, drawings, icons, etc., the online format allowed us to both include and reference the material discussed (rather than trying to describe a fan-created text that might have limited circulation and thus might not be accessible to readers in the same way more mainstream/canonical texts would be).

And yet, in early discussions we quickly realized that most people thought of online publications as second rate and less valuable in terms of academic promotions. In other words, online publishing was something everyone supported in theory but didn't really want to "waste an essay" on. As frustrating as that was, it wasn't all that surprising. My experience in academia had often been that while trendsetters were encouraged, they were often not rewarded in a system that at its base tended to be quite traditional and hierarchical. [And I should acknowledge that my degree's in English, but my experiences of the past few years in media studies have not really altered my opinions all that much.]

Moreover, the very features that made our journal exciting as a tool that might bridge the gap between academics and fans, namely the Symposium, were also the aspects that made the journal less scholarly sophisticated. After all, that section isn't blind peer reviewed, and we invite non-academics to contribute and engage. Again, this is a concept much lauded within academia but one that at the same time is looked at with a certain amount of suspicion.

We've been lucky so far. Our editorial board believed in our project and supported us. Enough contributors have taken a chance on us and submitted their excellent work. Our first issue was strong and diverse and, I think, managed to reach both academics and fans (judging from page access numbers and delicious links at least some of the essays were heavily read and recommended by non academics as well).

But the question remains on how to bridge that dichotomy. How do you get a tenure committee to judge an online journal as equal to a print one? How do you even submit your essay when the journal (as have we) has chosen to not provide PDFs so as not to encourage/privilege print publication? Now, some of these issues will resolve themselves as TWC continues to exist, i.e., some of the problems I?m describing are launch-related rather than online-only ones. Also, the way online journals are regarded can differ from department to department, discipline to discipline.

It remains true, however, that in general online only publications still have a slightly more difficult time to be seen as equals in terms of rigor and reputation. We all tend to idealistically embrace alternative forms of knowledge and dissemination, but the academy can be very slow in accepting change, and I fear online publications will have to deal with those prejudices for a while to come.


As I know very little about academic publishing in digital contexts, I'll keep my comment short. Nevertheless, expanding on Kylie's fascinating post about the pace and quality of paper feedback, I wonder about the ways that online publications might encourage better (or simply different) forms of collaboration. Certainly Vectors promotes interactions between writers and designers. As these sorts of journals hopefully proliferate over time, I wonder whether a digital format, or more foundationally the type of connection that goes with online composition, might increasingly disrupt an individualistic academic culture. In other words, I wonder if online journals, which plenty of scholars certainly still view with skepticism, could someday challenge a culture that celebrates lone researchers gathering archival materials and producing scholarship that is primarily shared with others once it is in a state of virtual completion.

Since my direct experience with online publishing is so minimal, I'd like to extend my questions to other participants. Have those of you who have experimented with online publishing discovered types of collaboration that you hadn't experienced previously? What forms of intellectual partnerships or communities have you seen established through this route of production and publication?

Patrick Jagoda (Duke)


One of the questions I have for participants in this discussion is how broadly we want to define academic publishing, and whether the editorial and peer review processes as we currently know them are essential to our definition. Is this forum itself, for example, a form of academic publishing?

I think a big part of how we still imagine the world of publishing has to do with a time when it was expensive to produce, distribute, store, find, and get access to the written word. As all of these things become cheaper to do in the digital world, to the point where we almost don't think of the associated costs anymore, one of the key values added by the publishing process (and one of the most expensive ones) is high quality filtering. "Content" (how I hate that term) is abundant, and it's our time to read that's limited. So we rely on peer review and editing processes to be a filter for us before publication, and these form the basis of the brand of the publishers and publications we trust. And to a certain extent in universities we rely on our libraries to be another layer of filtering - if something was deemed worth purchasing and cataloging and storing and circulating in a library we can have some assurance that it was vetted by a librarian.

But how about all the good stuff that's "published" through more informal venues - blogs, discussion forums like this, pre-print archives, course web sites, mailing lists, services like Seesmic or SlideShare, or library digital collections? These aren't so much edited as they are curated, and the peer review, if any, is done by the community of readers who contribute their thoughts in comment forms, by responding in discussion threads, or by writing about it in their own blogs. There's also a form of commentary that can be implied by links, citations, and other references to items in these informal spaces - this is what Google and others aggregate to form the basis of their relevance ranking. By looking for patterns in links and citations on the web or in journal literature and books, Google surfaces a kind of collaborative filter, and by data-mining co-occurrences of references in personal citation libraries like Delicious or CiteULike, or in the profiles we build in services like Amazon or Netflix, one can begin to see latent communities and networks of "peers" emerge. These are filters too, and their strengths lie where traditional publishing leaves off - they scale better (and in fact only work well at a very large scale), and do their filtering only after publication, and only after the "publications" themselves been read and commented on by enough members of the community to begin to detect patterns.

So if we start to broaden our definition of academic publishing (and I think we should) then we have to start thinking about what filtering mechanisms we'll need to help separate the signal from the noise. And if we want to help develop collaborative filters as described above, some other things need to be in place.

First, we need to have references that are persistent. A lot of what's exciting on the web these days is being rendered dynamically out of databases, and the URLs for these resources are full of query strings and other non-human-readable gobbledygook that only a computer can love, and that make it difficult to cite something with the confidence that it will be the same the next time you go back to it (or if you go back to it 10 years from now). Looking at the two electronic journals cited in this thread, one (TWC) has URLs that are slightly more readable than the other (Vectors), which at least makes it easier for a human to cite. But TWC also has (in the HTML view of each article) a DOI (digital object identifier - such as doi:10.3983/twc.2008.0059 which points to the link ) that acts as a persistent actionable link to digital objects, independent of the current hosting platform and namespace. So if TWC moves to a different server or URL in a few years, the DOIs can be redirected to the new locations and will still work, and if readers cited the DOI rather than the potentially ephemeral URL in the namespace, citation mining systems will know that the items in both the new and the old location are in fact the same item. In the blogosphere, permalinks perform a similar function, though only within the namespace of the blog itself.

Second, we need the resources to be open, or at least for the references to be able to be cited openly and mined for patterns, so that we can detect places where networks of citations are forming. In addition to arguments about open access generally being in the public good, it's also important for the purely practical reason that resources that are openly available can also be more easily linked and then be mined for patterns of links. If you can make your reference an actionable link, then the target of the link can know where the reference came from, and services like Google, Technorati, or even the New York Times can aggregate these references and use them to surface patterns in resources that are the most frequently cited around particular terms, in particular contexts, or in particular timeframes. Tools like these make it easier to judge impact, but if the citations are inconsistent or not actionable on the open web, then the resources will likely be less visible and less discussed. Again, the blogosphere is ahead of the academic journal world in the extensive use of trackbacks and linkbacks (based on permalinks, as mentioned above). The vibrant discussions that happen in the blogosphere are in part, I think, based on the connections that are surfaced by these two-way links and the openness of the material on both sides of them, and I think we need to do more in the academic publishing world to promote these same effects.

I'll conclude with a tentative answer to the question raised in the introductory post about how we might increase the academic credibility of emergent forms of scholarship and publication. I think it has to do with being able to show the impact that publications in these new forms are actually having. Server logs with hit counts and download counts are not enough because they're just raw numbers with only tenuous value judgements that can be implied from them. But if you could show with confidence how many times a work is being cited or discussed or even just bookmarked, which individuals or communities are citing and discussing and bookmarking it, and continue to track these over time, you potentially have something much more powerful than the number of monographs or subscriptions sold. And these effects might provide a stronger stimulus for us to rethink and reformulate the economics of academic publishing...


It seems that one of the major arcs of resistance offered by alternative forms of publishing is the possibility for resistance to assessment/evaluative devices like impact factors and bibliometrics. How do we as academics who *need* to publish in order to achieve things like promotion, tenure, and in the case of some graduate programs, graduate, resist the inclination to publish in 'top-ranked journals' (most of which are mainstream journals) without placing our livelihood in the balance? How do we resist the creation of alternative forms of assessment/evaluation for our alternative forms of publishing?


Ejournals are definitely profitable.  Look at the profits recorded by the consolidating publishing industry in recent years, e.g. Elsevier, Kluwer, Springer, etc.

So let me raise a pedantic point about terminology.  An EJournal is not necessarily an Open Access publication.  The Open Access publishing movement has a couple of viable models in play:

  • Open access self-archiving is the posting of an author?s work on a personal web page or the deposition of that work in an institutional or subject-focused repository.  That deposition may be done by the author or by others acting on the author?s behalf.
  • Open access publishing is the publication of content where access is free to all, without subscription or other charges to the reader.  In the case of open access journals, instead of the use of subscription revenues, publication is supported in any of a number of ways, including direct subsidy from a funding agency, philanthropic organization, university/department/library, etc, or by charging authors a publishing fee (commonly called an author fee) which can be covered by the author or by any of the varied funding sources listed above.

You can learn more about both/either from your college/university library who may be developing an institutional repository or otherwise supporting open access publishing initiatives.

To reply to Jim Gentry's question, is profitibility necessary in the open access environment? Is self-sustaining sufficient in order to provide the added benefits of timely production, interactive feedback, and global access?  Are authors willing to subsidize the production of their own work to maintain the traditional peer reviewed format in a new, more accessible format?  If not, how to address MW Wilson's comments re: publishing and rewards in a tenure environment?

Additional resources on Open Access include:



Thanks for noting that TWC's URLs are sort of meaningful?they are generated automatically by the software, so we can't take any credit. We chose the software because it's the only game in town for our needs. We liked the online peer review function and the ability to comment. The latter was particularly important to our audience.

DOIs are not used much in the humanities, but they are used so often in the sciences that there are tools out there to automatically look up and find the DOI so it can be added to the citation. It was important to me that TWC's URLs persist, and I think everyone's experience shows that...they just don't, so the DOI is the perfect answer.

Regarding citation of online content and their impact: research has shown that Open Access items are cited more often. Check out The effect of open access and downloads ('hits') on citation impact: a bibliography of studies.

?Karen Hellekson, TWC coeditor


I think the humanities could learn a thing or two from the scientific, technical, and medical (STM) market, even though their imperatives are different. Both want to get ideas out there, but the sciences are all about timeliness. They print received/accepted dates on articles to prove it. (As someone who works in the field of STM publishing, I actually scoff at journals that don't come out weekly. What wimps!) You can tell what's important to each discipline merely by checking out their citation styles. The sciences use numerical or author-year styles, the latter in particular highlighting the recentness of the work. The humanities use author?short title styles, because it's all about who said what, and the when, although pertinent, may not always be that important.

Let's be honest here. The sciences have all kinds of money that the humanities don't. In the STM market, the authors pay page charges for their articles to appear. The journals published by the Public Library of Science (PLos), which are all Open Access, pay for peer review, journal production, and online availability by charging the authors. As an example, the fee to publish your rigorously peer-reviewed, accepted article in PLoS Biology is, for 2007?2008, $2,850. In my work, I've seen print color reproduction fees exceeding $30,000. Authors write the cost into their grants, because, and I really believe this, publication is the last step of research. I don't know about you, but I've never been charged to have an essay appear in a humanities journal.

Further, many organizations that publish journals outsource the editing and production to professionals. They don't rely, as the humanities all too often do, on talented amateurs. Buying that expertise, so important to timely and professional-looking publication, also costs. I'd say that cost may be worth bearing: I joined a humanities organization last year that publishes a journal, only it hasn't appeared for the last 3 years. I didn't renew. Another humanities organization I am a member of is 2 years behind in their journal and is trying to catch up. Neither of these cases is unusual. It is very unprofessional to not print your journal, if you ask me.

Let's also talk about timeliness. In the sciences, two versions of each document are prepared: the online version, which will appear asap, and the print version. All these dates are logged and published to show the timeliness of the work, because in the sciences, timeliness is the watchword. The articles I'm copyediting right now were accepted in early October, and they'll be out in December, which includes copyediting, author approval, and SGML/XML tagging/typesetting (usually done by a vendor in India from the same file). This makes wait times of a year or more in the humanities seem utterly ridiculous.

Big publishers like Elsevier and Springer (disclaimer: both are on my client list) can do what they want and charge what they want because they have such a lock on the content, even though that cost is subsidized by authors via page fees. One way journals make money is to charge for reprints; this is an especially big deal in the medical field because applications for, say, new drug submissions to the FDA must include official offprints of supporting research. At $30 to $120 a pop for each article, that's some major money. If you're Open Access, you can probably forget using reprints as a source of income.

Realistically speaking, for journals in the humanities, constraining availability of content is probably the only way to permit it to serve as a source of income. One way to do this is to lock content so only paid subscribers can obtain access to the most recent research. However, this will adversely affect citation of cutting-edge work, which is related to prestige (the higher the quality, the more rigorous the peer review, and the more cited, the more prestigious). I currently see no way to avoid having to rely on the kindness of supporting institutions?support that, as Erin Gentry Lamb points out, may be withdrawn at any time.

Regarding the general prestige of online versus print: this is far less an issue in the sciences than in the humanities, and I am confident, despite my coeditor Kristina Busse's general pessimism about the issue, that as journals move online to save costs, online will become far less of a stigma, as long as the quality is good and the peer review rigorous. Give it a few years and let's revisit this issue, because by then, the landscape will have changed radically. Right now we're working against hidebound deans who sit on promotion and tenure committees. The question shouldn't be online or print, but peer reviewed versus non?peer reviewed. And the more (young?) scholars who appear in and cite online publications, the more there won't be a stigma.

Content appearing online does not give us carte blanche to sidestep the tenets of academic rigor. Peer review provides all sorts of credibility. Blog posts, even by thinky scholars, are just blog posts, but they have their place in academic discourse as sources. It's up to us, as scholars, to assess and use content in appropriate ways?and ultimately, we decide what is appropriate.


Kylie, thanks for pointing us to this vital dimension of online spaces. I was pondering the significance of feedback myself while putting together this post, because the commenting function is so central to TWC. I feel very privileged to have landed in a field (fan studies) where I can take advantage of a highly developed community of interlocutors. I've gotten sustained feedback on my work over the course of its development from my livejournal "friends" and the larger acafan network, and I imagine that's a rare thing in academic life. The comment feature is a key aspect of the OJS software for us at TWC, because we are hoping that some of that dynamism will translate through the familiar interface.

Of course, it remains to be seen how well our experiment in mediating between academic and fan communities will work in practice. As you also suggest, the barriers to access are not only technical. Scholarship incorporates terms and concepts that are highly specialized, and I, for one, don't think that's a bad thing. I do disapprove of the ways academia sometimes rewards unnecessary obfuscation, but there are occasions when speaking to an audience who is familiar with the complex traditions of a field is entirely appropriate. While lay readers can struggle along or self-educate, in an attention economy who has time?? Fandom represents an unusually rich tradition of vernacular criticism that is inclusive of plenty of folks who are not (or not yet) professional academics, and even here there is plenty of tension, with all factions feeling marginalized at times. There are certainly voices who find TWC totally alienating.

I'm wondering what you and others think about the possibilities of digital platforms in terms of addressing these intellectual (rather than technical) barriers. One thing many electronic journals are trying to open up is the format of academic writing -- you have a weekly column, TWC has the short-form Symposium section, and brief informal articles are a larger trend. It seems to me that diversifying the expressions of our work is a good thing, because it enables us to reach different audiences -- and this is not a phenomenon that's necessarily limited to the internet. We still have a lot of inertia in terms of academic training and recognition standing in the way of these developments, though.


I think this is a great expansion of Kylie's points about feedback, and I'd just like to add that rethinking copyright is part of the challenge to an "individualistic academic culture." The notion of the "lone researcher" producing ex nihilo goes hand in hand with the notion of "intellectual property" as a scarce resource that must be protected by legal walled gardens. If we reorient our ideas about ownership we can also reorient our ideas about the scholarly process (and vice versa). I hope that Creative Commons can itself encourage a climate of collaboration through licenses that explicitly allow derivative works, for example.

Of course, issues of professionalization rear their head again here. We're all under pressure to do work that we can take sole credit for because of metrics for career advancement (at least in the Humanities, where co-authorship is rare). How would collaborations be evaluated under traditional rubrics? Shifts in institutional culture may thus also be called for.


The question of professional advancement is definitely a hurdle that haunts the whole discussion. It's something danah boyd addresses in her influential post on Open Access. The unfortunate reality is that we may largely depend on tenured senior faculty to use their security and influence to increase the legitimacy of non-traditional publishing. Until that happens, or until the generation of digital scholars reaches a more established point in our careers, the print hegemony is going to be difficult to dislodge.

Above, Paolo Mangiafico suggests an alternate angle of attack, which is to develop technologies that leverage the internet's tracking capabilities to demonstrate the reach of electronic publications. Having numbers to point to certainly couldn't hurt when it comes to bolstering their legitimacy!


Karen, thanks for this fascinating insight into the world of STM publishing ? as a humanities scholar, I never fully appreciated how profoundly different the two models are until reading your post.  While I certainly agree with your contention that things will be quite different in a few years? time, we seem to be at a particularly tricky moment in which online journals (even those which are peer-reviewed) are often not viewed as having the same academic ?cred? as traditional print-based ones, and yet potentially will considerably supplement ? and perhaps ultimately transform ? today?s forms of academic publication.

As such, I often feel that newer scholars are a bit damned if we do and damned if we don?t at this moment ? while many of us are more than ready to embrace digital forms of publication, we know that many of those who are essential to our career advancement (i.e. those on job search committees) may not share our enthusiasm for online publishing.  At the same time, it seems foolish not to fully support these outlets (i.e. ?holding back an essay?, as Kristina Busse comments above), knowing the essential role they will play in shaping in future forms of scholarship, as well as our own research.  As you suggest, the real question should be an issue of whether the piece is peer-reviewed, and not the form in which it is published.  While the perceived stigma attached to online peer-reviewed publication may subside within a few short years (and I certainly hope it does so even sooner) as the reputation of specific digital journals increases, the academic marketplace into which younger scholars are entering still seems to value traditional publication far more highly that digital counterparts.

I am curious to hear about how other HASTAC scholars feel on the matter ? do you consider online peer-reviewed publication to be on par with traditional journals in terms of rigor and perceived academic quality?  How do your opinions about the relative merits of traditional and online peer-reviewed journals and your sense of how they are perceived by others affect your decisions about submitting research to them?


As with previous conversations, this one is fantastically interesting. It is clear HASTAC Scholars and our other friends are taking this moment's challenges and opportunities to heart. One thing I think will emerge from this moment is a RANGE of different ways of credentialing. For example, a brilliant new media scholar such as danah boyd has just defended her dissertation, doesn't yet have a book, and yet I turn to her first for insights on so many occasions. She has been refereed by her peers in a way that counts even if it counts differently than the refereeing of a book. Getting past either/or may be the key here as it is with so many Web 2.0/Humanities 2.0 institutions. For example, I also go to Wikipedia early in my searches because it tends to break paradigms and expand areas of inquiry, especially beyond Western ones. Yet I read more scholarly articles and buy more books than I ever have in my life, often fed from my Wikipedia searches.
It may mean that the "long tail" will apply to future modes of publishing on all levels, with blogs and forums like this one supplying one kind of audience and public and published books another, and scholarship in the future existing in these different venues, with different kinds of filters, different forms of address, and different voice. As an author who used to be HASTAC's primary (lonely!) blogger, I was often approached by journals asking me to "turn my recent posting" into an article. Guess what? It never works. It was always easier to start over from scratch in my journal voice than to try to retailor the particular blogging voice contextualized by a discussion thread such as this one, a place such as the HASTAC website, a presumed audience. All those are part of the circuit of authorship and publishing and all differ, going from blog to print.
Thanks for provoking these thoughts with your own. Great discussion. And a great way to keep your mind off obsessive poll watching today . . . . that said, everyone, remember to VOTE, if you are in a rainy state bring umbrellas for those in line, drive people to the polls, do everything you can to get out the vote!


I would actually say many your choices of venue are selected for you. If you are finishing up a PhD, good luck getting those articles published before you go on the market; wait times of a year or more are not unusual (even with online journals, alas), and that's just to get through peer review.

Further, if you have an article that requires stills, vids, or other multimedia, your venues are even further limited. Some journals and book publishers won't even permit plot summaries of TV shows or films, much less quoting from dialogue or printing still images from these sources. Even if they're allowed, you may have to pay fees and provide paperwork proving that you obtained permission, plus provide an image file appropriate for print. JPG are too poor quality for print; you'll need TIFF. (That's another reason TWC is online only: we can use lower-quality images. Plus we think screencaps are like quoting, so it's within fair use. That's a generous reading of fair use not shared by many others.)

I would hate it if someone chose not to write a useful paper that she really wanted to write because she knew she could never get it published, because it's too something: too multimedia, too reliant on derivative artworks, too permissions-messy, too expensive. And yet this happens all the time.

I really do think that the choice isn't really all much of a choice. Everyone will send content to journals in some ranked, perceived order of quality, timeliness, and responsiveness to your topic, going down the list. Of course send to PMLA first. Many print humanities journals are beefing up their online presences, so they will lead the way during the transition.

But meanwhile, I would worry less about online versus not online and more about rigor, because in a few years' time, the same article that got you an interview may get you tenure, and the journal may be thought of far differently. Focusing on quality rather than venue when you make choices is just a smart way to protect youself. In any case, I've been going to panels at conferences in the STM market about how online content will affect publishing since 1998, and the publishing field still has no idea.


It's good that your e-journal software at least makes the links familiar URL slash paths rather than query strings. It would be better if it could convert them to something even more human intelligible, like WordPress (and I presume other blog software) does fairly easily (you just check a box in the admin interface indicating how you want the permalink structured).

For example, this article

could be something like this

Also, with respect to the DOI not being used much in the humanities, it might be helpful to prepend the DOI link in your journal with a note that tells people to cite that link rather than the one the page happens to be at now. Maybe just have it say somethink like "Use this DOI permalink for any citations:" before the actual DOI link. I've seen some digital repository software do this. Not sure if this will make it more likely that people will actually use it, but it can't hurt. Ideally, more humanists will begin to use citation tools like the scientists do, which often detect embedded DOIs automatically and insert them into the reference field.


Indeed, the range of venues for what constitutes digital ?publication? which have blossomed in recent years is truly remarkable, and it may be some time before these modes of expression settle into a stable, ranked hierarchy of perceived status and rigor across the academy, if they ever do.  These emergent modes of digital academic publication often confound and challenge conventional notions of ?academic? and ?publication,? often because no utile equivalent or analogous form within traditional scholarship exists.  For instance, where might a post on a class wiki or a response on an academic blog fit within the traditional hierarchical model of valuation?  I am curious to see if micro-blogging technologies such as Twitter find their way into academia, both in terms of they will be put into practice if such abbreviated modes will ever be given any degree of scholarly endorsement. To me, your example of the degree to which danah boyd?s work has been refereed by her peers clearly evinces the possibilities afforded by online publication not just as a space for collaboration but also as a powerful means of getting original research out into the community rapidly and directly, while traditional forms of print might take months or years to be published, as Kathleen?s above post reminds us.

These new forms of refereeing strongly support Paolo?s above suggestion for the need within academia for a metrics which could potentially dynamically track the impact and influence of a given digital publication through a system not unlike the system of linkbacks, trackbacks and backlinks employed by blogs and search engines.  As I understand it, engines such as Google assign a numerical value to a page based on the number of other pages which refer to it (Google uses the term ?PageRank? for this value).  Similarly, an academic publication?s valuation could be determined in part by the number of other publications which cite it, in a similar fashion to Scopus, Google Scholar, or Web of Knowledge.  While I would be extremely hesitant to let such forms of automated assessment to have the last say in dictating the value of a given journal or publication (or supplant traditional notions of peer review), they might provide a supplemental form of evaluative measurement as well as a useful tool for efficiently navigating an increasingly overwhelming amount of online academic content.

Right, back to obsessive poll watching?


it might be helpful to prepend the DOI link in your journal with a note that tells people to cite that link

We actually don't anticipate that people will include the DOI because style guides do not illustrate DOIs; they'll just cite the existing URL and maybe a date accessed. That's why I placed the DOI with the rest of the citation info: in hopes that people would just cut and paste the suggested citation format into their bibliography, so the DOI would go along with it.

citation tools like the scientists do, which often detect embedded DOIs automatically and insert them into the reference field

Automatically, in the sense that they have sophisticated software that does this during the typesetting process?software they pay for, because they basically hotlink all the references to the source during typesetting. In the humanities, those tools are too expensive and are out of our reach. We'll be entering those by hand.


I suppose there's a fine line we need to walk if we want strict markers between what does and doesn't count for hiring and promotion. What so many new forms of communication enable is conversation tracking and recording, but should they all be considered part of the "record" of one's academic career? Historically published work was all that was considered because it was the only record that survived - both formal and informal conversations with colleagues, regardless of how valuable they may be in the production of knowledge, could not be officially recognized as anything more than a footnoted "I am grateful to. . ."

Now that a good majority of the background conversation that enables knowledge production is permanently accessible, how much do we use? As several people have mentioned above, how do we separate the wheat from the chaff? Perhaps authors themselves need to take responsibility for crediting the forums, twitter feeds, and (archived) IM conversations that inform their work by providing links to these records. Is this really any different than what the historian of [insert discipline here] does when she scours an author's personal correspondence to note the origins of their ideas in conversation with others? This would just be a more or less "real-time" form of that sort of scholarship, with the potential effect of allowing extra-publication academic valuation.

While this may not necessarily be an affect of digital publishing itself (these recordable conversations happen just as much with print publication these days, I imagine - for a good example check out the meta narrative embedded in a recent wired article on Charlie Kaufman) digital publishing makes these links more immediately accessible.




I don't have a provocative question for the forum, but I do have some experience with issues of academic publishing and open access that I hope might help think about these issues generally. I have written a book, called Two Bits about Free/Open Source Software and its cultural significance. Some of the fieldwork in that book is derived from my experience with Connexions a FOSS-inspired platform for freely available, collaboratively authored teaching materials, which has also been adopted as the back-end for the recently resurrected Rice University Press which will publish all its books as open access, freely re-configurable texts.

All of these experiences have convinced me that there is a lot of complexity involved in achieving true open access, and that only a very small part of it is the digital, or technical, component. Much more difficult is navigating the legal issues, bending the organizational will, and maintaining a sense of enthusiasm and purpose amongst people who have far too little time to devote to such things.

On that subject, I have also engaged in extensive advocacy concerning Open Access Anthropology, in particular, our attempts to get our scholarly society, the American Anthropological Association, to open up access to the publications they own (which constitute a very large portion of the most important journals in the field). This has been disheartening, at best, not only because the AAA has recently sold itself to Wiley-Blackwell, but also because it has brought home the really harsh reality of the fragility of scholarly societies these days, especially in the humanities and social sciences (you can read more of my thoughts about this in a dialogue we recently published in Cultural Anthropology).

Above, khellekson suggests adopting an STM model for humanities publishing, and I agree with many aspects of that proposal... but the reality is that our own scholarly societies stand in the way, in the name of "protecting us" from such models. Nonetheless, I think such advocacy and direct engagement with publishers and scholarly societies is essential, and I'm always curious to hear experiences from other disciplines with powerful societies (College Art Association, and MLA in particular, are opaque to me in this respect, so I would love to hear others' thoughts).

I've also tried hard to get various senior academics interested both in promoting open access, and in taking advantage of the digital ecology more generally for conducting research (e.g. The Anthropology of the Contemporary project, which is an attempt to find new ways to create collaborative research spaces amongst far-flung researchers sharing a common interest). This experience has taught me a certain brand of patience--which is hard to stomach in the face of speedy technical change and short attention spans--especially patience for the necessarily slow labor of thinking, which even in the best cases of collaborative, rich and technically sophisticated engagement, can take a long time.

Finally, I've also trained a lot of students in anthropology to use digital media not as a platform, but as a kind of diagnostic of our own research practices. I've already started getting a bit crotchety about new media, despite my enthusiasm for it, but it is in part because I don't like it when we academics focus on the newest, latest technology, as if it is finally the one that will radically transform our practice (which is very seductive, especially when corporations and research labs are eager to support us in this thinking). Rather, I think that by exploring these new technologies carefully, we can use them sort of as templates to discover how we have done research for decades, or centuries, and which parts of that research tradition remain valuable and viable. The promise of text mining, for instance, is an incredibly powerful one, but it won't mean anything until we can actually define, methodologically and theoretically, what it reveals and what it doesn't (something that I think is currently happening in the Digital Humanities).

Through all of this, I would say that I have moved farther and farther away from the technology and closer to the problem of convincing people and organizing, and coming up with money to do so.  I have to say, learning to program in LISP was much, much easier.


Excellent discussion!! This idea -- that conversations like this forum can become part of one's career "record" -- interests me most, because it requires not just a change in institutional models, but in how we read what others write, and how we think about our conversations online (it's much different than, for instance, a conversation at a conference!). We all know how to read a traditionally-published article; but how would you cite/read/evaluate incomplete research presented over the span of a year on a blog?

Even given the fact that most academic bloggers now know to set limits on what they blog (not a good idea to post an angry letter to your ex), there's a certain nakedness involved in writing about your work before it reaches a point of closure. It took me a long time to get over the feeling of being exposed when writing on blogs -- partly because academics in the humanities (to go back to a previous thread) aren't accustomed to sharing unfinished work, and therefore don't really know how to read and react to it! (I've noticed this in the comments on many academic blogs..) It demands a new kind of literacy -- students need to be taught not only how to critically read traditionally-published articles, but how to read work-in-progress -- how to read ideas that aren't fixed, that have the potential to change. Along with this new literacy comes a whole host of institutional changes, from citation styles to, as has been pointed out many times already, criteria for tenure, etc.


I guess the question that necessarily rears its ugly head is one of purpose. What is the goal of such "extra-institutional" conversational crossovers? Are we mining the non-academic community for ideas? Attempting to shape their ideas? Legitimizing our interest by drawing more to our ranks?

Is there a relationship (and/or should there be) between these forms of conversation that digital platforms make available and knowledge production within the institution? Or must it be regulated to non-professional "community outreach"?

How we answer these questions makes in important difference. On the one hand we could be just packaging old ideas from our disciplines into a user friendly format in an attempt to show their relevance to and possibly inspire those outside of the discipline. But what if these more open conversations generate new ideas? Do they get gobbled up and repackaged in a more traditional way?

I can see a process happening by which authors use digital and open access publishing for their "minor" ideas that get refined over the course of the comment roll until eventually they can frame them in a way that gets accepted by a traditional top-tier journal. But is this the best use of these resources? Doesn't it seem a bit exploitative? Isn't there a way for knowledge production that happens "on the street" to stay on the street and yet be recognized within the academy?

Sorry, there are more questions here than answers (it's written in my disciplinary DNA!).


One of the ways I see digital publishing as having a direct influence on increasing collaborative output would be through an associated updating and editing function to accompany the digital publication. Collaboration itself doesn't need digital publishing of course, but what began as a single author work can evolve if it's not only published online but the author is allowed to go back and make changes later. This would allow them to incorporate feedback from commenters.

There are obvious drawbacks to this though. First there would need to be a limit on what sort of content could be changed so as not to turn the work into some sort of single-player wiki. Perhaps only point that others found particularly objectionable or requested more detail on. But aren't these things the peer review process is supposed to check for anyway? How would peer review even work in this instance? Another option would be peer-reviewed changes to existing digitally
published peer-reviewed material. But further exacerbates the problem
of funding.

Second it involves a lot more commitment to the work by the author. As I mentioned in my first post it seems that generally publishing is the last part of the process after which it is considered finished. Who wants to have to re-edit old material constantly?

Thirdly this wouldn't be all that collaborative in the sense that there is still a primary author doing the lion's share of the work. It's more of an extended editing conversation.

Yet we see something that looks very similar to this when the work of a living author becomes canonical, thereby exhorting 10th, 20th, 30th anniversary editions with new forwards and in-text updates to correct and acknowledge scholarship about the work that has happened in the interim. Making these changes to a digital publication would just be faster.


While Elsevier and other for-profit publication repositories make money by charging subscriptions, I want to mention that there are some alternatives to locking everything down and charging an annual fee, or charging your authors to publish.

First, consider partial subscriptions. Offering access only to recent articles or giving additional features for subscribers like access to category RSS feeds or search-specific RSS (both ways that make it easier to receive content updates without consistent visits) can help boost paying users, while also maintaining an open-access philosophy. 

Second, consider burn-on-demand. In many cases, visitors still purchase materials freely provided online in order to 1) obtain a higher quality version 2)obtain a customized collection 3)retain a digital copy to use without an internet connection.

While neither method will necessarily lead quickly to instant profitability, it's important to consider creative options that don't necessarily lock down content, but still provide tools users will pay to use ( keep in mind that audiences are not just readers, but also departments and libraries). Considering what resources you provide and which ones individuals might be willing to pay for can be helpful for long-term sustainability.

Sarah Toton

Southern Spaces Managing Editor

Emory University

Atlanta, GA 


I've been working on an online journal, Southern Spaces, for about five years.  Shortly after our launch we played with a versioning process, where authors could submit revisions and readers could see multiple versions and track changes between them. While it was a useful exercise, we did quickly run into the question, "why publish a new version instead of publishing something new?" We've opted (fingers crossed) in our redesign to scrap the versioning feature. 

But, to go back to Kylie's earlier thoughts on scholarly collaboration and scholarly legitimacy (i.e. those lines on your CV): you highlight the tricky path of online publishing to build up the publishing portfolio. While digital scholarship is "new," in terms of how we access it, it's not really that different in some cases from the traditional print press. One thing I keep saying and now hear from tenured faculty is that publishing online means that the delivery mode is changing, but not necessarily the publication process. Many online journals still incorporate blind peer-review into the publishing process, while forgoing print-based necessities like issue-based collections.

More importantly, the medium has challenged how we do peer-review, offering up room for experimentation through peer-review blogging like "In the Library with a Lead Pipe" and the more established "Grand Text Auto." These new methods of peer-review not only can encourage vetted scholarship, but they foster the development of  new scholarly communities.

Sarah Toton

Southern Spaces Managing Editor

Emory University

Atlanta, GA 


We installed Google Analytics over a year ago after using Sawmill for three years. It helped tremendously with SEO and with quarterly reports. More importantly, in about 2 hours we generated publication stats to send to each Southern Spaces author for their professional files. 


Sarah Toton

Southern Spaces Managing Editor

Emory University

Atlanta, GA 


Hi all,
I've been enjoying this discussion in between watching election results (bittersweet: hurray for Obama; boo on Prop 8). Much of what you're saying corresponds with conversations I've been having over the past few years with both humanities academics and with members of the library and archival communities. While the conversations about credentialing/promotion continue, such issues do seem to be losing their hold as more and more work is produced digitally. Some of this is due to the model of the sciences and some is due to an emerging willingness of folks at presses to partner in various ways to produce electronic work. Of course, grad students might be the most at risk for taking on new forms, but our experience at USC seems to suggest otherwise. The grad students who can in some ways cross the digital theory/practice divide seem to be the ones hired most quickly. 

Peer review of some type still remains important but what precisely that means seems to be shifting (as much of the conversation above suggests.) Questions about open access continue and are very important to work through. For one take on these issues, see the website of the Open Humanities Press. Their strategy is to create a power house board that 'sanctions' open access online journals, certifying their worth. It's more or less an umbrella organization, and both Vectors and TWC are part of it.

I also found Patrick Jagoda's comment about the ways scholars currently work  in archives to be very interesting. I'm actually collaborating with scholars from Brown, NYU, Rochester and UC-San Diego on a Mellon planning grant to imagine new ways of collaborating in digital archives. We imagine a platform or tool through which a group of scholars could curate their own paths through a digital archive (in our case likely video in the first instance), linking their analyses integrally to their objects of study via annotation, commentary and database structure. And then the work would be 'published' by university presses as digital editions (a "soup to nuts" pipeline of sorts.) We're close to lining up both test archives and press partners. The published outcomes would likely resemble the video-driven pieces in Vectors, and the publishing 'templates' would allow some customization. Basically, we'd begin to work out a way for more scholars to publish in rich-media without the expense of working individually with designers as in the current Vectors' model.

Of course, the one benefit of that model (and, to a degree, the model we're proposing in the Mellon work) is that is pushes far beyond porting text (and sometimes images) online, retaining allegiance to the article and the book as the privileged modes for scholarly practice. Rather than simply using electronic technology to port print to cyberspace, I'm especially interested in what database-driven, richly computational, and aesthetically challenging modes of digital publishing achieve. I suspect that deep engagements with computation and aesthetics can actually change the kinds of research questions we ask and also point us toward new modes of collaboration. It seems to me that's where the real excitement is.

(editor of Vectors) 


We've been experimenting with a number of these approaches (Vectors' next issue will include a deep-linkable Flash piece, another with commented source code, and a variety of XML data feeds for projects), but from a practical standpoint, and given that different works will lend themselves more readily to certain types of citation, are any of the modes listed above preferable to the others? Are there additional categories not listed that need to be considered? Is all of this just overkill? What level of resolution in citation should we be supporting?


Hi, all. I've thoroughly enjoyed the discussion that you've been having thus far, and I look forward to getting to read more from you all. The subject of digital scholarly publishing is one that I've been working on for a while now, in part through MediaCommons (which is, alas, temporarily offline, but [insert video of me knocking madly on my wooden desk] should be back soon, better than ever!), and in part through a book-length manuscript I'm working on, tentatively entitled "Planned Obsolescence: Publishing, Technology, and the Future of the Academy." The book proposal is posted at my blog, but the executive summary runs like this: academic publishing as we currently know it is broken, for a whole lot of reasons, and digital networks have a key role to play in helping us fix it -- but in order to make digital publishing a reality, we first need to propagate a whole series of social, intellectual, and institutional changes within the academy. We need to think in a profoundly different fashion about the purposes and structures of peer review, about our understandings of authorship, about what it means to publish, about how we distribute and preserve texts, and about the structures of our institutions, how they relate to one another, and how they relate to the broader culture. As Julie noted above, until we seriously rethink and renovate the broader structures within which we as scholars work, digital publishing runs the risk of being undervalued and, worse, prone to many of the same problems that are threatening more traditional academic publishing models. (If any of you are going to be at MSA next week, I'll be talking more about this project then.)

Thanks for inviting the comment, and again, I'll look forward to the conversation as it continues.

Kathleen Fitzpatrick


I have been experimenting with trying to do academic writing and teaching on YouTube: I'll be giving a talk on "Video/Writing" tomorrow at Irvine at their Future of Writing Conference, You can watch the "talk" (clunkily) on my youtube page (via playlists), or read it (with videos attached) on my blog: I am trying to think about (by making and then writing) academic publishing (or work really) in non-traditional corporate (or open-source) environments not meant, built, or owned for such uses.
It has been hard to "publish" these finding about and using video, networking, convergence, self-reflexivity, virality etc. on paper (a form that does not do these things so well, while doing others steadfastly and proficiently). But, look, even here the written word reigns. Why? It's nearly impossible and certainly unpleasant to read, scrolling down this too-long list of smart and important written responses.
Why are we in a line on a page typing?...Of course, my academic videos are equally problematic.

Interestingly (small world), two of the people who are currently helping me have answered above. Tara's got (foundation) money to get some able designers/programmers to help me "publish" the YouTube writing through a format that will better hold and link video and writing; Kathleen is helping me "publish" (with University backing) my ages-old once-book now-web project of theoretically informed political media (in beta, I'm teaching with it, at This is to say, we all seem to be figuring this out as we go, and together, using funding and people-power structures to begin to build and experiment with possibilities. You can't do multi-media alone (where perhaps you might have done so with a journal article).


Thanks for telling us about this fabulous project, Kathleen! I think the discussion here demonstrates that a more extensive intervention is past due. I'm sorry that I didn't know about your work in progress beforehand so that I could invite you to participate in a more official capacity. Your proposal is very exciting, and I'm especially taken with your notion of "peer-to-peer review" -- it seems peer review often carries over from print as the scaffold of academic legitimacy for online journals, but working on TWC I'm witnessing how ineffective it often is (as I also comment above). It would be valuable to see this system reconsidered along with the other dimensions of the shifting publishing landscape, rather than taken for granted as the axis of continuity.

I'm a big fan of MediaCommons, particularly In Media Res which is one of the most unique experiments in building a scholarly vernacular (for those who don't know, IMR invites contributors to submit a short video along with a curator's note of a few hundred words). I eagerly await its triumphant return! Thank you for your service to TWC -- it's a pleasure to (virtually) meet you!


Alex, hearing about your experiments in teaching YouTube was one of the highlights of last Spring's 24/7 DIY video summit for me, and I'm happy to see you bring it up here as an alternate route to issues of publishing. I wish I had more time to spend with this semester's videos from you and your class! Video blogging and production as an intellectual practice is a topic near and dear to my heart, but we have a long way to go before it becomes institutionalized. Certainly problems of interface are one hurdle -- YouTube is atrocious as a platform in terms of policies and usability, but I'm willing to make sacrifices in functionality for the sake of audience. In an attention economy, there is tremendous value in YouTube's one-stop shopping (which is precisely their business model). I do think it's interesting how different video portals develop emergent brands, like vidders adopting or lefties accumulating on I doubt that YouTube is practicable in the long term as a site for scholarly video, so it would be interesting to think through the alternatives.

I agree that the vertical threads of text here become unwieldy quickly, but a provocation: why not reply by video through seesmic, then? Writing is very entrenched as THE medium of academia, and it's difficult enough to master this competency that I'm not sure it's feasible to ask scholars to learn others as well. On the other hand, a loosening of the strictures of scholarly form might open not only publishing but academia as a whole to different ways of working. This is a tendency we may already be seeing as blogs and other kinds of self-publishing allow junior scholars to be visible and connected along new pathways (as Cathy mentions above).

Finally, the experiences you describe would seem to be a thought-provoking response to the previous question about collaboration. You make a great point that the challenges of multimedia can be a positive impetus to rich forms of collaboration, as Vectors (among others) demonstrates. Let's keep experimenting!


I'm thrilled to hear about this project, Tara -- it sounds delightfully like Vannevar Bush's Memex! One thing that's clear from this pocket of interconnected comments (Kathleen's In Media Res and Alex's YouTube experiments) is that we're sorely in need of new architectures for multimedia scholarship, particularly video. If your archive is anything like the work you've done with Vectors I know it will knock our socks off.

I suppose my next question would be: how can these types of "richly computational and aesthetically challenging" ventures, which seem to be led by the forces of media studies, forge alliances with digital humanities or otherwise be relevant to scholars in more traditional fields?

The grad students who can in some ways cross the digital theory/practice divide seem to be the ones hired most quickly.

I'm crossing my fingers... ;)


Thanks for your contributions, Sarah! I'm struck by the possibilities you raise here in terms of updating peer review. It often seems to serve as the hinge that allows the turn to online publishing, but in practice it can be unwieldy, especially when contrasted with the evolving models at hand. The quality of reviews is hit or miss, and reviewers often have only a nominal sense of the profile of the journal. Plus it's additional unpaid labor that must be sourced in a climate where we're all already stretched thin. I'd like to see us take a long hard look at peer review with the same consideration we're giving to the other dimensions of publishing, rather than assuming it's the sole route to scholarly rigor and legitimacy. There are alternatives in the print world as well: I've been working with Camera Obscura, a highly regarded journal where an editorial collective rather than peer reviewers select articles.


These are excellent questions ? proper citation of digital scholarship is something with which I have personally struggled for some time now. While some forms of online publication more readily lend themselves to citation, others have proved quite a challenge in my experience.  This is often compounded when attempting to save references into bibliography management software such as EndNote and EndNoteWeb, as the pre-programmed fields for reference details are often far too limited to properly articulate the specificities (i.e. the content vs. raw data vs. source code) to which one is attempting refer in a given work.  The necessary elements to proper citation will need to evolve along with modes of digital scholarship, but the need for more clear-cut standards which should be designed with adaptability is increasing apparent.  Open source alternatives such as Zotero will almost certainly adapt more rapidly to these shifting requirements.  Of course, the recent injunction filed by Thompson Reuters against the Commonwealth of Virginia due to the development by George Mason University?s Center for History and New Media is hardly encouraging ? which serves to remind us of many of the issues with Fair Use brought in the conversation in Veronica?s earlier forum.

While we wait for the dust to settle and citation formats to crystallize, part of me wonders if online journals might include a page which suggests methods by which to refer to differing levels of content on the site in more commonly used formats (i.e. MLA or Chicago).  But another part wonders if present practices of citation will ultimately be replaced by more portable and flexible means (i.e. something more akin to an XML approach).

To me, the issue of citation is central to digital scholarship ? for it to gain the reputation and status that it is long overdue, it must not only be accessible but easily cited in both other online research but also in traditional forms.  Truly exceptional and ground-breaking journals such as Vectors are pushing scholarship forward, and proper citation means are not doing a sufficient job keeping up.  I know Vectors is actively working hard on addressing many of these issues, and I hope others are doing the same.  I would strongly advocate journals, scholars and presses work closely to address this issue ? have others found tools or solutions to problems such as these?


Kylie, I'm glad you made room in your thinking for the "casual" reader. I also think that patronizing term sells short the audience that digital tools could inject into otherwise inbred academic conversations.

In my case, for the literature I'm most qualified to read, I am usually a "casual" reader--not because I lack credentials but because I lack the interest or time to engage with it. And as a result I'm not of much use to that literature as a reader.

The hyperlink is undoubtedly a tremendous upgrade over the scholarly footnote, but in my experience it tends to attract a couple of engaged experts and an excess of "casual" experts. The virtue of hyperlinks--that they are manually created by people--is also their limitation. A networked of linked pages may still be as circumscribed as the social circle frequented by the linkers.

A third audience, which has so far eluded most academics online and off, is the "serious amateurs." These smart folks may have PhDs or life experience in some other field, but they would never thumb through your microdiscipline's journal in a library, and neither would they subscribe to the email lists or blog feeds by which your electronic tribe talks to itself. But their otherwise inbred thinking might get a shot in the arm by reading an article from your field that connects, even in some loose way, to themes in their research. This has happened before in the humanities--the impact of post-structuralist literary theory on art history or geography comes to mind--but that influence has typically been movement-to-movement rather than author-to-author.

I think we can design our publishing tools to lure that third audience into the conversation, to use serendipity and convection to bust open the solipsism that plagues both the blogosphere and the deadtreeosphere. The Vectors project ThoughtMesh, for example, helps authors find related articles; mesh one of your essays and the software autogenerates a tag cloud as well as a list of related articles from elsewhere on the Web.

The results are less random than Google but more inclusive than most disciplinary journals. As a new media artist, I never would have read anthropologist James Leach's essay on intellectual property in Papua New Guinea, except that we shared the common tag combination "art" + "ownership."

ThoughtMesh recently launched a commenting system built by Still Water's John Bell and Craig Dietrich. In a deliberate effort to make room for more than the usual suspects, this feature asks commenters to gauge their expertise on the subject. The highest level of expertise gets an academic "mortarboard" cap; the lowest gets a hat with a propeller on top.

As you might expect, a review by someone claiming expertise will have more effect on the overall rating of the essay than by someone who claims none.  However, those who claim expertise have to live up to it. If you make exaggerated claims and are then trashed by your peers, your credibility will plummet *faster* than if you claimed no expertise in the first place. So I can feel comfortable commenting on Leach's essay as a non-anthropologist because I know I won't be burned by stretching beyond my disciplinary comfort zone. And maybe he'll get something out of a comment by a "serious amateur" like me that he wouldn't out of his anthropologist colleagues.

So I think one of the design priorities of any new form of academic publishing should be to stimulate crosstalk among disciplines--not just via "interdisciplinary" projects, but by making serendipitous connections from author to author. Opening the door to more comments out of left field might just breathe some fresh air into academia's musty hallways.


As a co-developer of ThoughtMesh (mentioned above in a response to the first post), I have worked with collaborators Craig Dietrich and John Bell to produce an online peer review system similar to the process you describe above. Just launched this fall, ThoughtMesh's review feature includes the ability to review and rate articles as well as other reviews, and offers a sophisticated trust metric based on the expertise claimed by the reviewer (also described above).

You can see this system in action in the debate over anthropologist Robin Boast's critique of the Cross-Cultural Partnership. (Click on the provocatively titled "peer review" tab.) You won't see the reviewers' names, because the review system's architect, John Bell, followed the prevailing academic practice of blind review. (We couldn't do a double-blind review process, because we wanted to let people continue to add reviews after an essay was published.)

To our surprise, the initial reaction from ThoughtMesh authors and reviewers alike--many tenured professors in prestigious universities--has been that they want us to show the names of the reviewers. There are obvious reasons: they wanted to know their accusers, know how much knowledge they can assume in responding, and so forth. But I was surprised that such a venerable standard of "objectivity" would be so quickly overturned when translated from print journals to the digital sphere.

Maybe the brain trust collected on this forum can help us understand this reaction. Has the Internet conditioned us to expect a more personal, if equally disembodied, dialogue about serious matters? And should we change the ThoughtMesh review system to accommodate the call for outing names?


Hi All!
Thank you for yet another fantastic discussion. As an emerging scholar in the beginning stages of writing my dissertation on fan culture, I am more than thrilled to learn about TWC. I find myself working within conventional modes and expectations (right down to the actual formatting guidelines handed down by a graduate school that does not yet recognize the value of including transformative texts), and so conversations like this one give me hope that we're asking good questions and making good progress on these very important issues.
In response to Chris Hanson's question, yes, I would definitely submit material to a digital publication--and I think my committee would support me, knowing that there are quality online journals (like Kairos, for instance, which is respected journal in the field of composition) that would, moreover, allow me to get published sooner. But I do feel some motivation to submit to print and digital journals--to demonstrate, I think, that my work can fit in both.
I wonder if anyone read "Journals May Soon Use Antiplagiarism Software on Their Authors," an article that appeared in The Chronicle of Higher Education last April: Given the concerns articulated in our discussion regarding the rigor of online journals, blogs, etc. and the questions concerning copyright and citations, I wonder what impact this effort to "catch" plagiarism will have on digital publications, where embedding transformative texts complicates notions of originality, privacy, collaboration, and so forth. Such interesting issues to consider!


One of the criticisms that has been leveled at Vectors since the beginning is our decision to design most of our projects in Flash, which, in addition to not being able to be indexed by web search engines, is a proprietary format based on commercial software. As Erik Loyer mentions above, however, we are working on strategies for opening up the black-box of a Flash project and are increasingly working in the free open source platform of Flex. Since virtually all Vectors projects are database-driven, the majority of content (images, text, video, audio), can be accessed independent of the primary interface. Most in-house produced Vectors projects now launch with an alternate indexing system driven by the Flex component SpringGraph. In addition to providing a revealing visualization of the contents of a given project's database, the alternate index  demonstrates the potential of creating works of scholarship that are architected to be modular and therefore easily indexable, remixable and reconfigurable. 

I'm glad this forum has already addressed the importance of open access for online journals, but I think we can push this discussion even further to include the openness not just of access protocols, but of formats and tools. Another tool that hasn't been mentioned thus far is the electronic book software Sophie, developed by the Institute for the Future of the Book. Created using all open source software, Sophie aims to lower the barriers to design so that scholars may readily include rich media and networked functionality in their work. 

At the same time, powerful tools are emerging to challenge the dominance of proprietary tools and formats at every level. The Xiph foundation has just released Theora, a free, open source video codec, while video creation and sharing platforms such as Kaltura and Miro offer open source alternatives to nearly all aspects of online video. Also of potential usefulness for digital research and publishing is  Annodex and the Zotero plug-in Vertov, both of which allow the annotating and indexing of networked content, thus breaking up the black box syndrome of video files as well.

The lesson in all of this? Scholarly electronic publishing has an opportunity (if not a responsibility) to align itself with open source movements in all fields, both as part of an ethical commitment to the proliferation of knowledge and as a practical matter in the interests of long-term archivability and access.



Thanks for your comment, Staci ? I clearly share your support of digital journals, but as a junior scholar, I also sense the unfortunate necessity of ?balancing? one?s CV with traditional output (moderation in all things, and all that).  Plagiarism and proper citation/attribution have long remained matters central to scholarship, and digital modes of research undoubtedly place pressures both broad and acute upon traditional methods of regulation.  Improper acknowledgment of sources on websites certainly breaks both the social contract of the web as well as raises legal and copyright issues (i.e. see Danny O?Brien?s post on his blog).

But the stakes are certainly quite different in academia, and justifiably so ? and all of have no doubt witnessed the improperly cited use of both online and traditional sources by our students. Sadly antiplagiarism software and other tools will likely have to become part of instructional repertoire moving forward. But as scholars working increasingly in digital forms, we must strive to ensure that we the research of academics and students remain rigorous while recognizing that our models for proper citation and attribution must simultaneously remain as adaptable and flexible as the sources to which they refer.


Thanks for sharing your experiences and uniquely informed perspective on open access scholarship ? a mode of research which will play an increasingly central role in future iterations of both publication and the classroom.  In my field (film/media/critical studies), I have noticed that collaborative learning tools such as wikis have slowly begun move beyond initial implementations in courses more disposed to the adoption of emerging technologies (namely those dedicated to the explicit study of such practices and their related technologies, such as courses on new media and networked cultures).  As these tools gradually creep out of such incubational classroom environments and into more historically rigidly structured courses, the benefits are readily apparent to instructors and students alike.  For instance, wikis allow students to collaboratively build a shared knowledgebase around course material, continuing the discussion outside the classroom and in turn facilitating in-class exchanges through their continued engagement with the course and one another.  While individual posts generally have a clear singular author, the knowledge produced collectively by the contributions and edits of the course (and perhaps a larger community with access to course wiki) are less readily attributable to one or two sources.

Open access models will no doubt ultimately supply a similarly (if not more so) transformative impact upon scholarship, but I know that those less accustomed to its practices and benefits have previously raised concerns about issues of authorship.  In conversations with peers and more senior scholars, the specter of primary authorship occasionally haunts discussions of open scholarship ? but thankfully these anxieties seem to be subsiding (as well they should). There seems to be an underlying tension with the notion of knowledge as a social product and the academic currency of publication (sadly of particular concern to younger and less prolific scholars).  As a programmer, I strongly value open-source code and software, sharing the fervent appreciation exemplified by your own work and I remain hopeful that academia will adopt its readily applicable models of collaboration. But current standards of valuation for academic scholarship and authorship frustratingly present their own challenges, as you are well aware. Again, STM models of authorial attribution may become a progressively more utile paradigm in humanities scholarship.  STM research has long required a far greater degree of collaborative research, and the list of authors for a given article are generally considerably longer than those for an equivalent work in the humanities.  While the precise ordering of the sequence of listed authors for a given work is rarely as simple as an alphabetical or merit-based listing and often the product of a number of factors (actual work-time contribution, seniority of researchers/political considerations, and so on), as the number of contributors to and collaborators on publications in humanities expands, so too must our forms and conceptions of authorial attribution.


If you're an academic, what is your motivation in publishing?

This question fundamentally drives much of what we need to consider. If you are publishing because you need to to get tenure, you're incentivized to fall in line with those in power. Sure, you can hope that they'll think better of open-access or online-only journals, but you know they won't so you aim to publish for "top tier" journals. And, run by publishers, those journals are incentivized to maximize profits by whatever means necessary. As with most industries, next quarter's profits are more critical than sustainability. Thus, the top tier journals are incentivized to stay top tier AND incentivized to lock-down and overcharge for access.

If you are publishing to be read, your goal should be to maximize visibility. Top tier journals may get your article into the hands of the academic elite in your field, but that might not matter to you. Either way, even the academic elite have email. If you want them to read your article, send it to them. I would argue that anyone invested in visibility should be super invested in open-access journals that have an online component. eJournals that are uber locked down are even worse than print journals that will at least be skimmed before being tossed.

This isn't just abstract. I pushed an article with First Monday and asked them to track the unique views. In the first six months, my article was downloaded by 72,627 unique IP addresses. Tell me one journal with a subscription rate that high. Is First Monday "top tier"? No. Why? Because the "top tier" academics don't try to publish there and they haven't been able to get that selective. But the more people who publish articles in open journals, the more selective and valued those journals become.

Many of us in this forum are disciplinary mutts. Why are you trying to seek status from disciplinary journals? Why are you not publishing in alternative journals and convincing your cohort to do so? Help build a journal's reputation by guest editing for it and getting damn good articles published there.

I would argue that we would all benefit from a shift in status quo. The top tier journals should be those that are most accessible, most widely read, and most visible. To do this requires collective action, a collective commitment to making open-access, online journals top notch.

But the question still stands... What motivates you to publish? What do you want to get from publishing? If we map out the topology of incentives and desires across different disciplines, perhaps we can get at what kinds of publishing are best suited to different segments.


Thanks for pointing us to these excellent resources, Steve.  I strongly agree that academics should strive to adopt open source/access practices not only in terms of publication and collaboration, but also via the utilization of open source software and tools.  While aspects of software usage may be institutionally mandated for some of us, the many advantages of open source tools to academia are readily apparent.  While there are occasional challenges associated with the use of early iterations of open source software which may lack the stability or features to which we may be accustomed (of course, bugs and crashes can also be common in for-profit software as well), the adaptability, flexibility, modularity and of open source software is unparalleled by corresponding commercial products (consider that Zotero is an extension for Firefox and not Internet Explorer, for example) ? and the collaborative support for open source tools is one of the strongest traits of the open source community.  The growing availability of stable tools which are increasingly equivalent feature-wise to for-profit counterparts (if not surpassing them) makes their adoption easier.  For instance, open sources projects such as OpenOffice (an alternative to Microsoft?s Office suite (Word, Excel, Powerpoint, etc.) and GIMP (a image manipulation and editing tool comparable to Adobe?s Photoshop) give users access to free and powerful software which does away with proprietary formats and all but eliminates issues of portability to other formats for purposes such as archiving.  While I have occasionally struggled with minor annoyances or bugs when using such software, the long-term benefits for academia are undeniable.  And, as your closing remark suggests, the decision to use and support open source software is not merely one of practicality and utility.


I've been reading along but I'm late to the discussion, largely because others have been expressing the points I was thinking of with much more eloquence. I work on TWC with Julie, coediting the 'Symposium' section of less formal, shorter, non-peer-reviewed essays and opinion pieces.

Zephoria's question is the really important one, of course: where do we want academic work to circulate? It does seem worth remarking that academic writing circulates outside its disciplinary audiences all the time, whether it's through someone lending a book, sharing a pdf or explaining why a particular argument mattered to them. Especially when it's work with an activist component of some kind and/or work that speaks to issues that extend beyond the academy. Online publication lets work be seen by more people, of course, but (in addition to all the other things it does, as per all the thought-provoking comments above) it also lets scholars see traffic that may (or may not) have been happening anyway.

TWC and Vectors seem to me to map two different sides of what online academic publishing makes possible in terms of circulation beyond a narrow disciplinary audience: Vectors through the prospects media other than the printed page make available for intellectual work, and TWC the extension of audience beyond a strictly scholarly one--since we publish into an online sphere of intensive nonacademic intellectual engagement as well as an emerging subdisciplinary grouping and tend to blur the boundary between scholars and 'objects' of study.

Also, both the difficulty of citing a Vectors project (or reading one within the terms of conventional scholarship because of the ways they combine archive and analysis, form and content) and the noninstitutional nature of TWC speak to the ways place and style of publication shapes more than who will read our work. It also shapes what our work will be like. If something like Vectors, where the form of scholarship is made dynamic, were to become the 'top tier,' would we be able to think about our work as 'material' that could be 'placed' more or less anywhere? Not that I think that's about to happen, but it's interesting to contemplate; one of the most intellectually formative experiences I've had in graduate school has been taking a class inspired by Vectors where I was required to make a work of scholarship that was not an essay. (I made an academic fan video, which I recently got around to linking here at my blog.)

As I've been reading this discussion, I've also been wondering what constitutes academic work--if blogging and other informal digital engagements are forms of academic activity that could be institutionally recognized, as some have suggested, are there activities that should *not* count as part of our work? (What relationship does my link above have to 'publication,' for example, and how would it differ from a post sharing the same video with the fanvidding community, or posting it on YouTube?) What does academic work gain and lose when it circulates widely outside the discursive communities in which it originated? What about nonacademic work that circulates in academia? And is it that easy to tell the difference?


I'm intrigued by the forum thread related to digital publishing peer review.   Certainly, there are two competing principles in regards to peer review of dynamic or web content.  The traditional approach requires that a text document be complete enough to be reviewed, but the review occurs before publication.  Digital technology, however, values the free sharing of information not bounded, perhaps, by formal publication dates, formats, or time allocated to review.  In many cases review occurs after the first public release of a document or project, thus relegating it to the "not truly reviewed."

Jon Ippolito mentions the Vectors project ThoughtMesh as a publication model that recently incorporated a Peer Response mechanism.  The system includes a rating feature whereby a user may rate reviews or the articles themselves on a number scale and write responses.  I had a bit of a crisis when Jon, John Bell, and I implemented this aspect of ThoughtMesh: is ranking--numerically--appropriate?  After thinking, I began to remember that traditional peer review floats good ideas to the top and badly formed ideas to the bottom of the pool ("ready to publish!", "needs work").  Internet forums incorporate "democratic" ideals such as quick, community feedback.  Could a rating system that floats good ideas and weighs down bad ideas be the happy medium?  As I begin to use Youtube more, I'm actually becoming aware that their 5-star rating system is useful in gauging the "importance" of a video.  ThoughtMesh executes this as well, converting user ratings to color (red, orange, green), but it also includes accountability, as the expertise that you claim is balanced against the reviews you receive.  In a sense, you are rated as a reviewer as well as an author.

It may seem discordant to consider numerical reviews in academic settings.  Though, if we design our tools and websites with the goal of creating a nuanced grammar for the Internet, we will have the foundation to accept new paradigms of scholarship and review.


The idea of applying anti-plagiarism software to peer-reviewed journal articles has got to be one of worst ideas to come out of academia in 2008. This unholy union yokes together two of the most effective instruments against shared knowledge in the world today: copyright and closed access. Both instruments profit an elite few at the expense of circulating creativity and criticism to the broader public.

Of course publishers would want to know if a researcher's work is original. That's why they have reviewers. And if the reviewers fail, there's always Google Print/Scholar, Yahoo, et al.

Search engines spider texts in libraries and the Web, and they expose publicly everything they find, together with some ads. Anti-plagiarism companies like TurnItIn or iParadigms gobble up essays written by students and professors, shut them in private databases, and report matching text-snippets only to institutions that can afford them. Mind you, these companies don't offer research discovery a la LexusNexus; they only dole out content in the minimum possible smidgens required to keep money and texts flowing back to the company.

Both Google and TurnItIn / iParadigms make money off other peoples' intellectual property without their explicit consent. If you really don't want Google to see your Web page, you can hide it using robots.txt. Unfortunately, authors are sucked into TurnItIn / iParadigms databases via the fine print in their university handbooks or journal clickwraps. More important than how texts get into the system is how they get out--or, in the case of anti-plagiarism software, don't. If Google is a glass house, anti-plagiarism software is a black box.

Want a more reliable check on originality than closed-door reviews and anti-plagiarism software? Try posting your stuff on the Web in a format that encourages *open* reviews. Hwang Woo-suk's famously fake stem cell data was first exposed by colleagues who found inconsistencies in his pre-prints on the Web. And TurnItIn wouldn't have found those defects anyway, as it can only index text snippets and not data. (Funny that publishers who expect human reviewers to work for free would consider shelling out five figures for a software license that doesn't do as good a job.)

I'm always suspicious of industries whose business model depends on the continued success of their supposed nemesis. If you are considering boycotting closed-access journals, then I would encourage you to start with the first wave to adopt this anti-social software.


Excellent points, Jon, and thanks for illuminating the unmistakable problems with the use of anti-plagiarism software by peer-reviewed journals.  I have long been leery of products such as TurnItIn, and your comments have confirmed my misgivings ? and similar tools in many ways undermine the whole point of peer review.  I am extremely uncomfortable with the idea of turning my or my students? work over to a proprietary database which will only then turn around to charge me/my institution for access to searches.  (That said, and slightly off topic, are there viable and open source alternative tools for screening large quantities of student work for plagiarism?  I know that the improper/uncited use of online content in student papers has skyrocketed in recent years, and I wonder if anyone has found useful strategies or tools to limit/contain/prevent its propagation.)

While I fully agree with your suggestion that the posting of research on the web in formats which encourage open review is a far more preferable means of determining originality and obtaining feedback, I also wonder what the best method and venue in which to do this might be ? one?s own website/domain or a community-based clearinghouse?  I personally have significant reservations about the current model of search and access on the web largely being dictated by Google and other less-popular webcrawlers.

I sometimes find myself daydreaming about an open source database supported by a co-op/consortium of universities, institutions and individuals which could serve as an academic clearinghouse equivalent to LexusNexus/Google Scholar etc. Scholars, students, and independent researchers could contribute articles to this database to allow others open access and review while maintaining their own copyright.  While such a platform should be quite feasible in technical terms, I wonder if it would be institutionally viable and/or practical.


This really is the essential question ? one which cuts to the heart of the discussion here.  Seeking feedback, refinement, visibility, career advancement, to pad one?s CV or any other host of motivations may be what push us to put our work out into the world.  While the idealistic side of me would like to believe that younger scholars would be more interested in former, the latter motivations certainly lurk.  Why we want to publish also is directly linked to the question what exactly ?publishing? is in this moment ? the rapidly shifting modes of research and scholarship in which many of us are invested are often better suited to digital platforms and more immediate forms of publication.  As khellekson?s posts above clearly articulate, wait times of a year or more between submission and publication in traditional peer-reviewed print-based forms of publication are not uncommon.  While I would argue vigorously in favor of maintaining (but updating) practices of peer-review for journals and other scholarship, the pace of publication in purely print-based journals is of concern.  The rapidly shifting terrain of the digital humanities means that the particular texts, technologies or cultural movements considered in a given print-based publication may well be less relevant or downright obsolete by the time it is printed.  As such, time-to-print and its impact on the timeliness of research may also shape individual motivation of what and where to publish.

But regardless of motivation, if we are participating in or just reading this forum, then we undoubtedly share a desire to expand both the forms and institutional acceptance/valuation of digital scholarship.  Precisely as you suggest, the best way to accomplish these goals is to actively participate in the processes which will engender our shared goals.  Hopefully without sounding too trite, I would argue that younger scholars (such as myself) are particularly fortunate to be well-positioned for the transformation of academic publication, given that we are often well versed in digital tools and technologies simply because we began to use them at a young age.  I also think that the most established and highly regarded academics in our fields are similarly situated to accelerate the process through their direct support, as well as by leveraging their institutional and academic capital to initiate and validate such measures.  That said, I do wonder if more junior faculty (i.e. those in between the other two categories) are the ones for whom this transitional moment is the most challenging, as they are perhaps most bound to the rigidity of traditional and increasingly archaic models of tenure review which privilege long-established requirements for print and other conventional forms of scholarly publication.  But I suppose that is all the more reason for all of us to be agents of change to push along the process of not only instigating new modes of scholarship, but also by assisting conventional and still valuable practices of publication to transform and evolve.


I don't think your wish to mesh openness and attribution is extravagant at all--on the contrary, creative people are already achieving this "daydream" online.

My preferred cure for plagiarism is to open things up instead of locking them down. PerfectTermPapers and EZWrite are black boxes like TurnItIn; Googling a suspicious passage from a student paper won't find an essay if it's hidden in one of their proprietary databases. However, when you encourage your students to write online, you improve the chances for Google--and therefore everyone--to catch ensuing plagiarism. And there are other benefits of outing student work. As soon as I asked undergraduates to post their reviews of new media definitions to a blog instead of our university's private intranet, theorists like Henry Jenkins and Vin Crosbie came out of the webwork to respond with lengthy comments on the students' blogs. The fact that they responded within 48 hours testifies to the efficacy of blog trackbacks (and sadly made the response time for my own comments seem glacial by comparison).

An even better solution than stopping student plagiarism, I think, is to encourage it--by altering our pedagogy to reward sharing rather than hoarding. I once assigned a tedious video to a class working in groups, leaving it to each group to decide which of its members would watch the video and which would cheat by asking their groupmates what it was about. I then interviewed each group in turn. If I could tell which students cheated in every group, the class as a whole failed. If I could tell the cheaters only for certain groups, then all the members of the unsuccessful groups received a C but all the members of the successful ones received a B. If I couldn't tell for any group, then the entire class got an A.

You don't have to be that complicated, of course. It's not hard to come up with unrepeatable topics for assignments in today's world of accelerating change: is Invisible Man still relevant now that Obama won? Does US states' action on climate change pose a threat to Federalism? And software like The Pool makes crowdsourcing education easier than vainly soldiering on in the role of an authoritative professor broadcasting knowledge to the unenlightened.

Ignoring the educational value of collaboration in the age of the Internet is like ignoring the value of literacy in the age of Gutenberg. As Joline Blais says, if you can cheat on something, it isn't worth testing.

Perhaps a bit more on-topic for this forum is your question of where to publish online besides journals. A number of universities and libraries already use open source software like DSpace to create their own institutional repositories. These feature some nifty metadata hooks, but as far as I know are not built to accommodate the sort of dialogue we've come to expect from Internet conversation.

Not to sound like a broken record, but you might want to take a look at ThoughtMesh, a Vectors project built to help individuals post essays regardless of institutional affiliation. Once you mesh your essay, you can put it anywhere you want and it will still be connected to other essays across the Web via tag lookups. If you prefer the collective approach, you can invite other authors to contribute to a Mesh--an online journal you make for yourself or for a community or organization. It only takes 5 minutes to start a Mesh, but some are already pretty involved; the National Poetry Foundation's Mesh has over 40 articles. And as mentioned above ThoughtMesh has a sophisticated peer review feature that enables authors to evaluate each others' work.


I blogged on this topic some time ago and I thought it might be useful here to share that link, to a posting called "Should Digital Scholarship 'Count' for Tenure."
One issue for me is the word "count" and what that means. Tenure is usually based on three criteria: scholarship, teaching, and service. In the piece above, I argue that blogging about relevant academic subjects should most certainly "count" as service. In some situations, it might even bleed into teaching and scholarship. In any case, I won't repeat that other discussion but provide the link for anyone who wants to follow it out. (This discussion, by the way, is fantastic, so rich and so many interesting new ideas and turns. Thank you!)


Last year the New Media Department of the University of Maine tenured its first permanent faculty, which required a sea-change in the way academics recognize scholarship. Having survived this transition, our department decided to circulate our new promotion and tenure guidelines to help tenure-track faculty at other universities surmount the same hurdle. Since then we've received a half-dozen emails from folks at well-placed institutions commenting on how useful it was to have this extra ammo in the battle to redraw the lines of academic recognition.

This coming year, the foresighted folks at Leonardo magazine--a peer-reviewed journal out of MIT that is the eminence grise of new media scholarship--will publish these guidelines along with a white paper called "New Criteria for New Media." You can get an advance look at them here:

"New Criteria for New Media" (white paper)

"Promotion and Tenure Guidelines" (sample redefined criteria)

These documents speak to many concerns of networked scholars, including collaboration, online publishing, and alternative recognition metrics. To tackle three that you have raised:

* In "New Criteria for New Media," we deliberately tried to frame creative acts of community participation as research rather than service. Don't get me wrong: I think academics should spend more of their time on real-world issues. It's just that many tenure committees don't agree.

* In your thoughtful piece on digital scholarship, you question whether blogging should count as scholarship. It's clear to me that most blogs shouldn't, but that many should. I would advise scholars who think theirs should count to make the case to their tenure committee, using criteria suggested in the white paper or some of their own. Networked scholars can unearth much more data on the impact of their work than dead-tree authors--use this to your advantage.

* You're exactly right that the worst time to make the case for digital scholarship is when you're submitting your final tenure documents. So get criteria like ours under your faculty's noses (and your dean's and provost's) early on. It's a pain to justify your job at the same time that you have to do it, but at least you don't have to reinvent the entire wheel. And if your university decides to come up with criteria of their own, post them to discussions like this and we'll all have more ammo.


Erik Loyer suggests that we use screengrabs, raw data, or source code as a method of citing "born digital" works online, and mentions that we've been experimenting with this in the new issue of Vectors.  Rather than pick one approach (screengrabs, RSS feeds, etc), we've kludged them together creating a dynamic visual display.  I'm not sure we would have settled on the current look without the different elements represented.  (You may see one of the new pages in "sneak preview mode" here:, with an additional database visualizer on its way for other upcoming projects.)  

There's importance to what Erik is proposing extending beyond the Web.  Why not place screengrabs in print footnotes and bibliographies?  Perhaps the argument against this would be the preservation of "pure text"—a document living without the burden of images or rich content on the pages of a journal.  But documents are passed around in MS-Word and PDFs, not lithographs, and these programs wouldn't know the difference.  

Not limited to citation, in this forum we're describing a "born digital" grammar.  The syntax is the nuances of digital tools and Internet protocol.  As discussed in this thread, some things--such as screengrabs, source code, and human-readable URLs--are not seen for their potential benefits.  Like a well formed paragraph maybe we should focus on the small parts that make up the whole, a burden shared between the archivist and digital author.

There are many nuances, but one mentioned here by Paolo Mangiafico is clean URLs, and I agree.  And, while some URL decisions are functional (a numerical ID passed in the URL is more sustainable than a title, which could be renamed), going with a URL like over|2&projectId=57 is a small concession and provides a clearer picture of what the link goes to--like a book title and page number.  And, I think, placed on a resume this string and the information it contains holds its ground against any other:


My playful experiments in digital publishing and pedagogy are a direct consequence of being a Full Professor. While I certainly worked and played with motivations intellectual, political and personal before tenure (I did some of my scholarly work as activist videos, for instance), freedom was not truly mine until I rose up the ranks.


That's a good question. At Vectors, we purposely decided not to focus on media studies or digital media theory because we wanted to explore the transformative effect of new forms of writing/publishing across the interpretative humanities. I think some of the most successful projects to date are not 'media studies' per se. I also think we're seeing a shift from old-school humanities computing (with a good 30-40 years of practice) toward more fully multimodal humanities scholarship, even if a slow one!
If you want to learn more about the work we're doing on video templates, sign up at Vectors for our newsletter. We'll be using that as one channel for getting the word out.


Hi, John, This is fantastic! Would you mind reblogging these on the main HASTAC page (or I or Jonathan can), so that it isn't embedded in the HASTAC Scholars forum? It's very easy and I know it will be of interest and that will give it a second chance at visibility. Thanks so much, Cathy


I've enjoyed the discussion. For those of you interested in empirical work around academic values and scholarly communication in research universities, we are, with generous Mellon Foundation funding, conducting in-depth analyses of faculty attitudes about the entire lifecycle of scholarly communication, which includes not only final archival publication, but also more fluid "in-progress" publication.

Our current work, based primarily on interviews, includes seven disciplines that span the physical and life sciences, social sciences, and the humanities. Our planning work included five other disciplinary case studies. It's a complex terrain, and there are no easy formulae. Advancing a field and advancing a career are entwined. A snippet from our interim report abstract is below. You can find out more from our website: The Future of Scholarly Communication.

I also recommend Don Water's piece on open access publishing: Open Access Publishing and the Emerging Infrastructure for 21st-Century Scholarship in JEP.;view=text;rgn=main;idno=3336451.0011.106

Don is the program officer at Mellon and his anayses are always insightful.

Excerpt from: Interim Report: Assessing the Future Landscape of Scholarly Communication "Our work to date has confirmed the important impact of disciplinary culture and tradition on many scholarly communication habits. These traditions may override the perceived ?opportunities? afforded by new technologies, including those falling into the Web 2.0 category. As we have listened to our diverse informants, as well as followed closely the prognostications about the likely future of scholarly communication, we note that it is absolutely imperative to be precise about terms. That includes being clear about what is meant by ?open access? publishing (i.e., using preprint or postprint servers for work published in prestigious outlets, versus publishing in new, untested open access journals, or the more casual individual posting of working papers, blogs, and other non-peer-reviewed work). Our work suggests that enthusiasm for technology development and adoption should not be conflated with the hard reality of tenure and promotion requirements (including the needs and goals of final archival publication) in highly competitive professional environments."


Thanks for these insights and links, Alex, Diane, Jon and Tara ? it is tremendously encouraging to see concrete and documented progress toward shifting some of the paradigms of academic assessments of digital scholarship and tenure consideration. And while I am sorry that I had not seen your blog post when you first wrote it, Cathy, I am grateful for your inclusion of it here ? its consideration of the many challenges associated with the implementing the institutional changes of ?what counts for tenure? is an excellent supplement to this discussion. It also clearly and candidly engages not only some of the issues that we have openly addressed here, but many of the thornier problems to which the conversation has thus far indirectly referred.

Given its many possible meanings, forms and implications, it is evident from this forum that determining what exactly constitutes ?digital scholarship? will be perhaps the most important question to consider as we devise methods to properly assess its valuation. As modes of scholarship transform and multiply, our methods of valuation and assessment must similarly evolve; it seems apparent to me that encouraging, supporting, and learning from open source models and practices will among the most productive means by which we can maintain ? and ideally improve ? existing standards of rigor and review.

I would like to thank everyone who participated in this excellent discussion, particularly our guests from the staffs of TWC and Vectors, my co-host Julie, as well as Erin and the support staff at HASTAC.  I have learned a great deal from this exchange (and hope that others have done the same) and am hopeful that we may implement an increasing number of some of the brilliant suggestions and models proposed here in own institutions and journals. Here?s to continuing the dialogue.