Archive for the 'interview' category

Interview with the gang at EngineerBlogs.org

Welcome to the long-awaited latest instalment in my occasional series of interviews with people in the library, publishing and scitech worlds. This time around the subjects of my first group interview are the gang at EngineerBlogs.org.

From my welcome-to-the-blogosphere post, here's a condensed bit about them:

  • Cherish The Scientist (EB)

    I am an electrical engineer with an interest in various areas of electromagnetics, including antennas and numerical simulation techniques, as well as IC packaging. I have completed a master's degree in electrical engineering and am currently pursuing a doctorate in geophysics.

  • Chris Gammell's Analog Life

    My name is Chris Gammell and I am an analog electrical engineer from Cleveland, OH. Though I grew up in Buffalo, NY, I first came to Cleveland in late 2001; I earned my bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from Case Western Reserve...This site is dedicated to teaching those who are new to the industry and continuing the conversation with those who work alongside me industry.

  • Flying Flux (EB)

    Who is Fluxor? I'm a worker bee located in the nation's capital, the nation in question being Canada, and employed at FluxCorp for the purposes of building a Flying Flux. And what is a Flying Flux? It's a mixture of analog and digital integrated circuitry designed for mass consumption, although I focus mainly on the analog side.

    So that's what I am -- an analog IC circuit designer ...

  • Design. Build. Play. (EB)

    Just another engineer, formerly of the humanities discipline, writing about cars, aerospace, economics, coffee, design, school and exciting workplace adventures at MegaCorp.

Enjoy!

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Q0. First of all, tell me a little about yourself/yourselves -- who you are and how you ended up where you all are, career & blogging-wise.

Cherish. I did my undergrad in physics and masters in electrical engineering, both at NDSU. Currently, I am a PhD candidate in geophysics at University of Minnesota. However, after I finished my coursework, I chose to go back to NDSU and work part-time as a research engineer while working on my dissertation. I started blogging while doing my MS, primarily as a means to keep in touch with friends and family. A couple years later, I found the science blogging community (primarily Science Blogs) and realized there was a lot more to it. I like to write up posts about science, technology, and education, but it's still primarily a place to talk about whatever is on my mind.

FrauTech. This is a second career for me. I went into Mechanical Design because CAD is something I really enjoy and my experience in industry led me to believe this was a discipline I wanted to pursue. So I went back to school for Mechanical Engineering and that was that. I started blogging because I had all these grand plans of things I wanted to build and showcase on a blog. I ended up being too busy between work and school to dig into these as much as I wanted and the blogging instead became a really great outlet for my frustrations, other school related projects, and a way for me to have a conversation about research and industry developments in my field.

Chris Gammell. I still feel like a student on many days of the week. I've only been in industry for 5 years, 3 of those in my current field (which was completely different from the previous field). But once I got into the field and began realizing the potential for analog (and EEs in general) in the blogging space, I jumped in to try and educate people.

Fluxor.. I'm Fluxor, the builder of the Flying Flux at FluxCorp. Someday, I'll get myself some superhero tights to match my superhero monicker. Until then, I'm just an EE that's been working close to a decade and half in analog chip design, having specialized in that area in my master's. My first blog post on flyingflux.com tells why I started blogging.

The impetus was a fairly major layoff at FluxCorp in Jan 2009 which made me go through a quick period of introspection, during which I started blogging and haven't stopped since.

Q1. How did you decide to start up EngineerBlogs.org? Were you inspired by the turmoils in the science blogging world over the last year or so, starting with Pepsigate and continuing with the mushroom-like sprouting of a whole bunch of new independent and commercial networks?

Cherish. I suggested the idea to Chris, who had tried starting an EE blogging community a couple years ago. The four of us who started EB were already actively reading and discussing each other's blogs, so I thought it would be fun to do something as a group. I was particularly hoping that it would make it easier to find blogs related to engineering.

I think that while many of us knew about Pepsi-gate, that didn't really play into our decision to start the group. Aside from the fact that it's hard to find engineering bloggers, it's also easy to get lost as a blogger with the millions of blogs that are already out there. As a
reader, it's difficult to avoid information overload. People may not find or visit our individual blogs, but I think we're making an effort to do some of our best, most relevant writing for EB, which is providing us with a good reader base. I think we all would like for our writing to be useful and interesting to people, and EB seems to be helping make some of our writing on engineering and engineering culture more visible.

Chris Gammell. I have absolutely no idea what Pepsigate is...so no, I wasn't inspired by it. I jumped at the chance as Cherish says because I HATE when people sit around talking about starting a website. It's so easy these days and it's better to start a site first and ask questions later. I like ScienceBlogs but I prefer reading about engineering type issues. And most of all, I have had a hard time finding other engineering blogs...so when I found a group, I latched on!

Fluxor. What Cherish said. Plus, I love being elitist. And I love Americans. So when they asked me to become part of this exclusive club, how can I refuse?

Q2. You have kind of a unique model, both aggregating existing blogs and getting
your bloggers to add content directly to the site. Could you explain what that's all about and what the rationale was for doing it that way?

Cherish. We talked this over a bit. All of us are pretty happy with our individual blogs and feel we've invested a lot of time and effort into them. Most of us write very regularly (and Chris has his radio show, The Amp Hour, along with other projects), so we were reluctant to try to fit all of our writing into some sort of formal engineering group context. We considered making EB a blog aggregator but felt it would be of more interest to offer some original content instead. The decision was that each of us would commit to providing a certain amount of content or support to EB. This allows us to contribute without a bunch of pressure to produce content and allows us to use our own blogs for whatever we want. Personally, I don't think I'd enjoy writing about engineering all the time. If I were to move my blog to EB, I would feel a lot of pressure to do that, and I think that would take a lot of the fun out of blogging.

FrauTech. I agree with Cherish, I enjoy blogging about engineering but I like having a blog where I can talk about my cat or whatever else. So I think our personal blogs are pictures of us as whole people and engineer blogs just filters that down to who we are as engineers for readers who are looking for that key ingredient.

Chris Gammell. I listened to the others.

Fluxor. We don't really aggregate posts in real time. We do repost our favourite posts from the past once-in-a-while. But there's a limited supply of those posts.

Q3. Blogging has really taken off in the science world but somehow not so much among engineers. What do you think the reason is for that?

Cherish
. Personally, I think scientists want to talk about their interests, and for many of them, their chosen outlet is blogging. It allows them to discuss their interests in depth, sometimes getting into the subtleties and nuances of their field, talking about what they've learned. Engineers who are really interested in their field tend to do things like participate in HAM radio or similar groups. There are a lot of very active discussion boards where people are swapping ideas, but I think engineers would rather be building things rather than talking about building them.

FrauTech. I think also most science bloggers work in academia or in science journalism and so have free reign to discuss their work specifically and either a secure academic or government funded job to where they don't have to worry about what they say online putting them out of a job. If an engineer is working in private industry he or she doesn't have the same flexibility and might be able to talk about hobbies but anything remotely like what they work on at the job could be seen as harmful or violating proprietary regulations. I think this kind of business atmosphere extends even to engineers working in academia with just a general tendency to be more secretive, careful and private.

Chris Gammell. I think the academic environment that most scientists work in really has a beneficial effect on the blogging community. Engineers obviously battle stigma and stereotypical lack of writing skills. More recently the spectrum of engineering disciplines has popped out a few engineers who enjoy writing and we're hoping to meet them all!

Fluxor. *shrug*

Q4. Related to that I guess, why do you blog?

Cherish. Personally, I blog to talk about things that I find interesting and to meet other people who share those interests. It's both an outlet and way of socializing.

FrauTech. I enjoy reading STEM related blogs and feel like having my own blog is like being a part of a larger community of like minded people who care about a lot of the same things I care about. It's also a way for me to keep working on my writing as well as force myself to keep learning new things. A blog writer to be effective I think has to be able to change and grow with time and writing about engineering helps me realize what topics I'd like to learn more about or where I can grow and improve as an engineer in a way my job is too narrow to make obvious. I think in the end it will make me a better engineer.

Chris Gammell. I blog for personal development, not monetary. Pushing myself into situations such as writing, especially about topics that I'm not completely familiar with, really forces me to learn about subjects enough to not sound like an idiot. I like the connection, especially given my former statement about feeling like a student...whereas
engineering in school is very social, engineering in the workplace is less so. I think writing and interacting with others online really helps keep connected and meet new people.

Fluxor. It's an outlet. And getting to know other bloggers online has made it more rewarding. Plus, I once entered a writing contest on a whim and won. Even got to read it on CBC radio 1. That was a surprise because I really hated English in high school and barely passed the English proficiency essay requirement in undergrad. My perception of my own writing abilities took a turn for the better after that event.

Q5. Is there a difference between science and engineering blogs?

Cherish. There can be. I think that those of us blogging at EB tend to be more like science blogs: we have a lot of interests and cover different ground. A lot of other engineering blogs I've come across, however, tend to be sponsored by magazines and focus on things like tech trends and offering information on specific technologies or advice for certain fields.

Fluxor. Don't read enough science blogs to know.

Q6. You have a good balance of bloggers so far, men vs. women, Canadians vs. Americans, different career stages. Was that planned or did it just happen?

Cherish. We're even somewhat diverse racially. The diversity just happened, but probably this is due to the fact that we started reading each others blogs because we like getting perspectives that are different than our own. We've discussed how we'd like to preserve this aspect of the group, although we've acknowledged that it's already hard to find engineering bloggers, so we're not sure how feasible that will be.

Fluxor. Serendipity. And I would drop the plural on "Canadians".

Q7. What are your plans for the future?

Cherish. We would really like to add a few more bloggers. Primarily, we feel like we're too heavy on electrical engineering and would like to find established bloggers who might be in other fields like mechanical, chemical, civil, or industrial engineering. We're playing around with ideas like themes and wondering what we can do as a community that we might not be able to do as individual bloggers.

Fluxor. Cherish said it all.

No responses yet

From the Archives: Interview with Bora Zivkovic, Crazy Uncle of the Science Blogging Community

Jul 20 2010 Published by under blogging, culture of science, interview

What with the recent blogospheric developments, I thought it would be a great idea to reprint a post from a couple of years ago where I turned the tables on Bora and interviewed him about science blogging, science and ScienceOnline. The original post is from March 13, 2008. I'd also like to point you to the interview Bora did with my son Sam after the 2009 conference.

And yes, I think "Crazy Uncle" is perfect. Science blogging is like family and I think Bora fits perfectly not as our father or our brother or our cousin, but as our uncle.

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Welcome to the latest installment in my occasional series of interviews with people in the scitech world. This time around the subject is Bora Zivkovic, Online Community Manager for the open access journal PLoS ONE. Bora is also well know as a prolific science blogger at his blog A Blog Around the Clock. In yet another persona, Bora has organized two science blogging conferences and edited two anthologies of the best of the science blogs.

One of the great things Bora did in association with the most recent North Carolina Science Blogging Conference was host a series of interviews with various attendees on his blog (myself included), all of which are well worth reading. So, I thought I'd turn the tables a little bit and get Bora to answer many of the same questions he posed to his various subjects.

I'd like to thank Bora for his enthusiastic, insightful and fun responses. Enjoy!

Welcome to the Confessions of a Science Librarian. Would you, please, tell my readers a little bit more about yourself? Who are you? What is your scientific background?

I grew up in Belgrade, Yugoslavia (now Serbia), reading books and riding horses since an early age. I majored in biochemistry and molecular biology in high school, then went to vet school with the intent to specialize in equine medicine. In 1991, I sold my horse and saddle and bought a ticket -- train to London, then plane to JFK. The war started a week later, breaking the country into several smaller pieces.

After a summer in Hendersonville, NC, working in a summer camp, and about a month in Boston and New Hampshire, I came back to North Carolina, to Raleigh, to work in a horse barn while dealing with the Immigration bureaucracy. On my first day in Raleigh I met Catharine who, a year later, became my wife. We have two kids -- a son and a daughter -- as well as a dog and three cats. We moved to Chapel Hill five years ago and love it here.

My transcripts from the vet school in Belgrade did not count for anything here, so instead of just finishing up in a year or so I would have had to start all over again. Instead, and after talking to horse vets at the barn for a couple of years, I decided that the situation here is quite different than in Yugoslavia. On one hand, the equine veterinary field is quite competitive, leaving little choice as to the location where one has to move to. On the other hand, one can actually do top science in the USA and biology was always my first love.

My interest was always in evolutionary biology, but I was often dismayed with some of the theoretical stuff that seemed to ignore the way the organisms actually work. My vet-school background, heavy on physiology, made it pretty easy for me to get into the NCSU Zoology program where I could integrate physiology, behavioral biology and evolutionary thinking into a single project. I did my MS on the physiology of circadian rhythms and photoperiodism in Japanese quail with Dr. Herbert Underwood, one of the pioneers of chronobiology, and continued with my PhD work in the same lab expanding both down to the level of the molecules and up to the evolutionary context. As you know, I have not defended my Dissertation or published any of that work yet...

After almost ten years in grad school (and after three deaths in the family in succession) I became depressed. The political situation in the USA was depressing as well. I spent more and more time online, reading and commenting on political blogs (including on the Edwards campaign blog), and less and less time writing my thesis. After the 2004 election, I got tired of political blogging and started blogging about science on a new blog instead, with immediate success (my very first post on the science blog got many thousands of hits from BoingBoing and others within the first day of the blog's existence!). In 2006, I got invited to move my blog to Seed ScienceBlogs.com. The rest is history.

What do you want to do/be when you grow up?

When I was a kid I had this great idea to be the first person to win both an Olympic medal and a Nobel prize. I am older and wiser now. Four years out of the lab, and fifteen years off the horse, the childhood dreams are over. And last time I checked, dealing with comment trolls does not qualify for the Peace prize. Jobs come and go. Passions come and go. But passion for making the world a better place for our children never goes away. I want to do whatever I can toward that goal. And, of course, be happy with my family and have lots of friends.

If Janet Stemwedel is the Cool Aunt of the science blogging community, you have to be the Crazy Uncle (only in the best way, of course). No one is a bigger supporter and cheerleader for the science blogging community. Can you explain a little the inspiration that's led you to edit an anthology series and organize a couple of conferences around this community? And what's next!?

I guess I am a gregarious type. Also, while blogging for a few years I have looked at the ways by which blogs get recognized and become popular, how top groups get entrenched and how much more difficult it is to make a break now than it was just a couple of years ago. So I feel an obligation to find and promote good new blogs as much as I can.

I have also quickly realized that I have made many good friends online and in many cases their own writing resulted in me knowing them better than many people I know in the meatspace. Meeting an online friend in person is like meeting an old childhood friend after a long break. No need to go through the rituals of "getting to know each other", you just hug and continue -- off line -- the conversation that started online. And having met in the real world, we understand each other better online afterwards (and are likely to be nicer to each other). One reinforces the other. There is something particularly strong about friendships that happen both online and off line. And this is something that Anton Zuiker has recognized a long time ago and showed us all, through meet-ups and conferences, how cool and powerful this idea is.

Thus, wanting to get my online friends, the science bloggers, together was a natural next step. And the way to do it was to organize a conference. And then another one. And we are working on the next one already. The idea is not just to have a giant meet-up where science bloggers get to share a beer, but to do something productive at the time as well -- put together people who probably would never meet otherwise: scientists, students, science bloggers, web developers, science journalists, science writers, science librarians, publishers, teachers and let the cross-fertilization of ideas produce magic!

There are still many people, scientists included, who are not very Internet savvy. Blogs have received quite a lot of bad press from threatened op-ed writers over the years as well, making people even more reluctant to check blogs out. We thought that one way to break this vicious cycle would be to present the best writing on science blogs in a medium that such people are comfortable with -- a book. The first anthology was a big hit and we hope that the second one will get even broader coverage and readership. And of course, we are already planning the third one.


Your real life job is Online Community Manager for PLoS ONE. Could you tell my readers the amazing story of how you go that job and what it consists of? Is herding cats a too gentle phrase to describe it?

My cats are marching in a perfect formation! Scientists....not yet... 😉

When PLoS ONE was launched a year ago, on the new TOPAZ platform that incorporates readers' commentary, PLoS decided to hire a manager for the online community. Liz Allen was doing the search and, among other things, she sent e-mails to people who could potentially help identifying the right person, i.e., someone with both a scientific background and an experience online. One of the recipients of her e-mail was Anton Zuiker, my friend and co-conspirator in various local blogging activities, including the Science Blogging Conference and the anthology. Anton immediately forwarded the e-mail to me insisting I apply right then and there. Well, it was Friday night, so I thought I'd spend a weekend thinking about it, talking to my wife, fixing my CV, then applying on Monday morning. But, being a blogger, I could not resist posting the job description on the blog and asking my readers to let me know if this job was right for me or if I was just fooling myself. The readers started piling up in the comments, urging me to apply and urging PLoS to hire me. One of the comments, on Saturday morning, was from Chris Surridge, the Managing Editor of PLoS ONE, who wrote: "So should we take this blog post as a formal application?" The rest, as they say is history. So yes, I got the job in the comment thread of my own blog. Who said blogging is bad for your career?

So, my job is primarily to try to get people to post comments, notes and ratings on PLoS ONE articles. This means I have to keep making friends -- online and offline -- in the scientific community, to educate about Open Access, about PLoS, about TOPAZ, etc. I also manage the PLoS Blog, use my own blog to inform my readers about news from PLoS, and I sometimes evangelize OA at meetings.

When, how and why did you become a believer in Open Access publishing? In discussions of Open Access on science blogs, at meetings, between scientists and publishers, most people talk about Gold, while sometimes we librarians seem to prefer the Green approach to Open Access. Given the recent Harvard announcements about the Green approach, what's your current feeling about the balance between Green and Gold?

Back in grad school I was a fanatical downloader and reader of scientific papers. I read papers old and new in my field, in several related fields, and in some unrelated but interesting fields. I read, carefully, several papers per day. Then, a few months after I left grad school and started science blogging, my password expired for the school library and suddenly I realized what I never thought of before -- papers are actually NOT free and available for everyone to read. And I needed my daily dose of papers, both for blogging and for my, at the time, illusion of writing a Dissertation. I had to resort to begging friends for PDFs. When I look back, even to the early days of my science blogging, more and more of my blog posts were about papers in OA journals, mainly PLoS Biology (to which e-mail I was subscribed from the very beginning of the journal's existence).

I have mixed feelings about Green approach to Open Access. On one hand, it is a Good Thing -- papers previously unavailable become available for everyone to read. This is definitely an improvement over Toll Access. On the other hand, I have two main problems with it. First one is technical/practical: papers deposited in many places are more difficult to find and papers deposited with different formats are hard to machine-mine for data. I think all the papers should be in the same format, searchable from a single place and interconnected. Second problem I have is tactical/psychological. Settling for a semi-Good solution will slow down the movement towards the Good solution. Many people will be smugly satisfied with Green and will be hard to recruit to fight for Gold.

How do science blogs fit in the entire ecosystem of scientific publishing, communication and education?

Ah, we had two conferences on this question and we are not sure we have the answer yet! Every now and then, the science bloggers do a round of navel-gazing: what is science blogging (see the discussions from 2006 and the 2008). I could probably make this interview really long by writing a treatise on this, but let me try to point just at a couple of main functions, keeping in mind that every blogger has somewhat different motivations, methods and goals for blogging.

Science blogs are an educational resource. Some are actually used as teaching tools in the classrooms, while others are open to everyone (see, for instance, the series of Basic Concepts). Google loves blogs and many science blogs have high traffic and high ranking in search engines. This brings students (and teachers and other interested people) to science blogs when they search for scientific terms and concepts. My posts with the greatest longevity (and total traffic over time) are my educational posts, e.g., my BIO101 lecture notes.

Science blogs remove filters. A scientific paper is usually dry, dense and difficult to read. Most people outside of the particular field need some level of translation from Scientese into English (or whichever other language). Traditionally, this is the job of the Press Officer at the researchers' institution, often a person who does not have the requisite background in that scientific discipline and may thus make mistakes. The press releases are then picked up by journalists who write their articles based on these. They also usually do not have scientific background and find it difficult to read and understand the actual scientific papers. Thus, they add another step in translation which may, and often does, distort the meaning of the published research. Science bloggers are scientists and they tend to write about the research in their area of expertise (as I would write about chronobiology papers and leave physics to others). They read the actual papers. They tend not to make mistakes. And, as only a small proportion of scientists write blogs, the science bloggers are self-selected for love of writing -- so, at least after a few months of doing it, they become very, very good writers, often as good (or better) as the professional science journalists. And, as they tend to point out the mistakes in press releases and media articles, they keep the journalists' feet to the fire, making journalists better at their job in the process.

Science blogs protect science. Most working scientists do not have the time, energy and inclination to actively fight against various pseudoscience and anti-science movements. Many science bloggers do. And, as blogs tend to have high search-engine rankings, their responses to such attacks on science usually show up higher than the original attacks. Every time someone says something stupid or pernicious (for personal, financial, religious or political reasons), a chorus of science blogs dissects the quasi-argument and replaces it with correct information. This is what people will find if they search the relevant terms.

Science blogs are starting to change the way science is done. The examples are few for now, but Open Notebook Science, i.e., the publication of daily lab notes on a blog or a wiki (the way, for instance, Jean-Claude Bradley does it), is slowly gaining adherents. Sooner or later, hypotheses and data published on blogs will routinely get cited -- I have published both hypotheses and data on my blog before, and I had a blog post cited as a reference in a paper. In the other direction, scientific papers (like those published in PLoS journals) enable bloggers to leave trackbacks. This will become more and more frequent in the future.

How is a scientific paper going to look in 20 years from now? How is that going to affect the way scientific research (and teaching) is done?

It is hard to make predictions (although I did before), especially with such temporal precision -- things may happen much faster or slower than I think. It depends on the state of science in 20 years -- its global size and power, its global distribution (will the US science, with its US-specific culture, still be dominant in 20 years?), the technological breakthroughs and societal/political environment.

Most scientific disciplines go through cycles. A new technology (microscope, telescope, computer, gene-sequencing machines) suddenly allows people to gather previously intractable data. A whole industry develops around this new technology and over some years or decades, mountains of data are produced, yet the analysis and understanding of data is still quite superficial and preliminary. So the field swings to the other part of the cycle -- data analysis and interpretation and construction of new theoretical scaffolds, also a time for bitter theoretical battles within the discipline...until it is settled, by which time usually there is a new technological invention that allows for collection of new kinds of data and the cycle moves on again.

Right now, some fields, e.g., astronomy and genomics, are in the data-producing phase. Much money and manpower is dedicated to the production of enormous amounts of new data, with little time to stop and think about them. So, it is in the interest of researchers to make the data available to others for analysis. Thus, they are dumped online (where else? reams of printer paper?). Is publication of a new genome a scientific paper? It is just a lot of raw data, after all, with minimal and highly formalized Introduction, Methods and Discussion sections.

My prediction, probably false, but I'll go out on the limb here, is that a scientific paper of the future will be a work in progress -- with different people with different skills and talents contributing to a body of work sequentially: one has the idea, another turns it into a hypothesis, another designs the experiments, another runs them, another analyzes the data, another visualizes them, another interprets them, another places several such pieces of work together into a historical and philosophical context and finishes writing the "paper". The bits and pieces of it are independently searchable and citable and they are all interconnected by links until the final version is put all together in one place. After all, science as the work of a lonely genius is pretty much a myth -- it has been, for the most part, a very collective endeavor. The readers of the paper then keep adding their commentary, links to subsequent "papers," etc. The unity of the paper -- a single date, journal, volume, issue, page -- will be gone. All of science will become interdisciplinary and interconnected.

Bora -- the question that everyone wants to know the answer to: how do you manage to be such a prolific blogger and still hold down a job, edit anthologies, organize conference and maintain a life outside all that stuff.

It helps that most of it is a part of my job. I love my job, I love blogging, I love learning, and I love making friends -- and all of it is interconnected in my life right now. I do not sleep enough (but I do, every night, despite rumors to the contrary), I do not go out to commune with nature enough, and, unfortunately (and that HAS to change), I do not find enough time any more to read books as much as I used to.

When and how did you discover science blogs? What are some of your favourites? Have you discovered any new cool science blogs while at the Conference?

Since I started as a political blogger, it is no surprise that the first blog I encountered was The Intersection, at the time when Chris Mooney was starting to write his material for The Republican War On Science. His blogroll then led me to Pharyngula, Deltoid and a few other science blogs. After that, by jumping from blogroll to blogroll, as well as through blog carnivals, I discovered hundreds of others.

It is impossible any more (for at least a year now) to keep up with all of them, so I tend to rotate them -- some I check daily for a few months, then move to others, while checking the others only sporadically. I'd love to have a thousand Favourites (just check my blogroll!), but it is just physically impossible. I read all of my SciBlings pretty regularly (it is easy by checking The Last 24 Hours page), visit my old friend Archy just to say Hello every morning, check Peter Suber for professional reasons, and enjoy the fresh new young voices, e.g,. that of Pondering Pikaia or Laelaps. Like most of my interviewees, I encountered the delightful Inverse Square Blog at the Conference, as well as The INFO Project blog, the OpenHelix blog and will keep an eye to see how Space Cadet develops over time.

Is there anything that happened at this Conference -- a session, something someone said or did or wrote -- that will change the way you think about science communication, or something that you will take with you to your job, blog-reading and blog-writing?

It's hard, when you are the organizer, to quit worrying about the organization, choose a session and settle down with a full focus on the conversation. I actually had to watch the videos and read the blog posts afterwards for most of the sessions. In my mind, the most important development is the realization, reached by both sides I think, that former adversaries, the professional science journalists on one side and the science bloggers on the other, are really on the same side and need to find ways to collaborate.

Another focus for me, during the entire year of organization as well as during the meeting, was finding the ways to fully include people who traditionally were not invited to the table when scientists talk -- not only concerning gender and race, which are important, but also age and formal qualifications, e.g., undergraduate and high school students, writers, journalists, amateur naturalists, middle school teachers, elected officials and parents. I think that the Conference was quite successful in those goals, but I am already concocting plans for making the ScienceOnline09 even more inclusive if I can.

It was so nice to finally meet you and thank you for the interview.

It was great meeting you, too. It was a pleasure. See you next year at the conference.

No responses yet

The American Astronomical Society responds to "Scholarly Societies: Why Bother?"

A month or so ago I posted on Scholarly Societies: Why Bother?, basically on the challenges that scholarly societies face in the digital age. I got a few good comments, getting a nice discussion going.

I also posed a few questions directly to scholarly societies but unfortunately didn't get any comments from any of the various societies themselves. I did find that a bit disappointing in that the public conversation seemed to be happening without them. Never a good thing in the digital age.

Today, however, Kevin Marvel of the American Astronomical Society added a comment to my original post. And a great comment it is -- thanks! With Kevin's permission, I'm reprinting it here on it's own.

The call is still open to all the other societies out there: Send me your answers to these questions and I'll post them right here. Or contact me (jdupuis at yorku dot ca) and we'll arrange an email interview with more customized questions.

The rest is from Kevin.

Enjoy!

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I'm the Executive Officer for the American Astronomical Society and will answer your questions for Scholarly Societies:

Does your society subsidize member programs with profits from it's publications program?

No. Our journals have always been budgeted to cover the cost of peer review, production, dissemination, preservation and administration. We view our journals as a key component of the scholarly process in astronomy, not as a money-maker for the Society.

What kind of outreach do you do to the next generation of scholars?

We work hard to draw astronomy students at the undergraduate and graduate levels to our meetings and to become members. Primarily this is done through communication with their professors and advisors. We provide substantial career enhancing opportunities at our annual meetings as well as discounted membership rates for early-career members.

What do you tell them is the "value proposition" for joining your society?

The value proposition centers around community and communication. Being a member provides access to colleagues, especially through meetings, working in similar fields. We also have an active public policy program that works to enhance astronomy funding in the US. Recognition of accomplishments, through prizes and awards, also play an important role.

Do you facilitate your members online networking and professional development?

We certainly facilitate professional development through workshops at our meetings, especially of note are sessions on project management and negotiation. We are exploring the best way to efficiently (read cheaply) facilitate online networking.

What are your thoughts on an Open Access business model for scholarly society publishing?

We are not opposed to open access, in fact, our journals have a delayed open access of 24 months right now. We have urged the government to proceed carefully as they develop any policies or rules in this area. Our journals business model includes both author charges and
subscriptions. Author charges cover the expenses of peer review, copyediting, production and so on, items directly tied to dealing with manuscripts, while the subscriptions cover the costs of online hosting, printing, indexing, cross-linking (and other similar expenses) and preservation. Both share the administrative expense. The subscriptions (and author charges) are set as low as possible to cover the costs involved. A sudden open access mandate would mean our authors would have to shoulder all costs, increasing our author fees somewhat. A sudden shift could have negative ramifications for scholarship in our field. It has taken many decades for our system to develop and it serves our community very well at low cost to authors and subscribers.

Do your members often mumble your name under their breath with the words to the effect of "just don't get it" or "waste of money?"

No. We work very hard to ensure our members are happy, including a substantial investment in answering their questions via phone and email as they arise.

Do librarians often mention your name in the same sentence as Elsevier?

No. The AAS is well-liked by librarians. Our pricing increases are moderate and only when necessary (we had 3 years of flat subscription rates from 2007-2010). We involve librarian representatives in our publications board.

Do you have a librarian advisory group to work on issues of mutual interest?

Yes. See previous answer. The SLA has an astronomy-focused roundtable that we regularly reach out and communicate with.

What's your biggest competition?

We operate the world's leading scholarly journals in astronomy and astrophysics. We organize the world's largest astronomy meetings (our most recent DC meeting had 3500 attendees...we have 7500 members). Our biggest competition is clearly the growing power of the Internet to connect and enable our members to build their own communities. We will continue to work with and for astronomers in North America to enhance and share humanity's scientific understanding of the Universe.

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Q&A with NRC-CISTI about their new public-private partnership with Infotrieve

As I mentioned in my previous post, I did a little Q&A about the new outsourcing arrangement that CISTI has negotiated with Infotrieve.

Q1. What's the effect on jobs at CISTI from this move?

As you may know, NRC-CISTI is transforming itself to be well positioned to serve the needs of Canadian knowledge workers now and in the future. This transformation is a major undertaking for the organization and will require a significant transition for NRC-CISTI's workforce.

NRC is working to mitigate the effect on employees by seeking to place as many of the affected employees as possible within the new NRC-CISTI or elsewhere within the NRC or the federal government. The NRC is working closely with its bargaining agents throughout the process of transformation to ensure that employees are supported to the fullest extent possible.

Q2. What will happen with CISTI's physical collections? Are they staying in Canada?

The holdings of the NRC-CISTI will remain the property of the National Research Council. NRC-CISTI is home to the National Science Library Collection, with more than 50,000 serial titles, 800,000 books and conference proceedings and over 2 million technical reports and indexed journals.

Q3. What's the focus for CISTI in the future? Data curation, research support? Does CISTI have library & institutional partners for these activities?

This transformation will focus NRC-CISTI's activities on high-value information and services that advance research and innovation in the areas of science, technology and health. This will include new models for delivering services which may include partners for these activities, but the overall transformation will take time to implement and it is still too soon to speculate about future partners.

Q4. Where do you see CISTI in 5-10 years?

NRC-CISTI will continue to be Canada's national science library. Our mission continues to be to contribute to an innovative, knowledge-based economy by providing high-value information and services in STM. And, our core value of delivering quality STM information services remains unchanged.

As Canada's national science library, CISTI will continue to provide information discovery and access services to Canadians and researchers from around the world. And as the NRC library, will continue to offer licensed access to information content and in-depth information services to the NRC.

We will also be continuing with our national strategic initiatives, which are a part of our national science library, including building access vehicles to showcase Canada's scientific output, for example:

  • NPArC - also known as the NRC publications archive
    CISTI has built a searchable web-based gateway to NRC-authored publications that will increase access to NRC's research output, and serve as a valuable resource for NRC researchers, collaborators and the public.

    NRC researchers author about 3,700 peer-reviewed publications each year (articles, proceedings, books, book chapters) as well as technical reports. NRC has mandated that these NRC-authored publications be deposited on NPArC. NPArC is increasing the visibility and impact of NRC research and helping researchers collaborate and innovate. NPArC uses the CISTI digital repository as its technology platform. Publications are ingested, stored, indexed, preserved and made accessible from this platform.

    CISTI will also continue to partner with other organizations to fulfill its core role as part of Canada's national innovation infrastructure:

  • Research Data Canada

    This is a national initiative addressing issues surrounding the access and preservation of data arising from Canadian research and NRC-CISTI is playing a coordination role and has launched a gateway web site that provides access to Canadian scientific data sets and other important data repositories to support this initiative

  • PubMed Central Canada or PMC Canada

    A national digital repository of peer-reviewed health science research that will provide free and open access to CIHR-funded research. CIHR has passed an Open Access mandate requiring scientists to make research funded by CIHR freely available.

    NRC-CISTI, CIHR and the US National Library of Medicine (NLM) have completed the first step in the creation of PMC Canada - a three-way agreement to partner on creating the e-repository. CIHR is funding and CISTI is providing the technology platform and tools.

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From the Archives: Interview with Timo Hannay, Head of Web Publishing, Nature Publishing Group

During my summer blogging break, I thought I'd repost of few of my "greatest hits" from my old blog, just so you all wouldn't miss me so much. This one is from July 3, 2007. It's one of the most popular posts I've done, and it was linked quite widely in the science blogosphere. The interview series has lapsed a bit this year, but that's mostly due to a couple of the people I was approaching just not working out. I will definitely relaunch the series in the fall and try to do one every other month or so.

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Welcome to the most recent installment in my occasional series of interviews with people in the scitech world. This time around the subject is Timo Hannay, Head of Web Publishing at Nature Publishing Group, publishers of Nature and other associated journals as well as web products such as Connotea, Nature Reports, Nature Network, Scintilla, PostGenomic, Nature Precedings and others. Way back in May I was contacted by Natasha Ighodaro of Nature to see if I would be interested in interviewing someone to talk about some of their new web products. Eventually, she put me in touch with Timo. As it happened, Nature was in the middle of rolling out a bunch of web products, so it took a while to actually get the interview down on pixels. In any case, I'm very happy with the results and very grateful to Timo for submitting to such a long interview and for responding with such Candor. Enjoy!

Q0. Timo, please tell us a little about yourself, your background and how you ended up as Head of Web Publishing at Nature.

It's quite a long story, so here's a slightly abridged version: I'm a scientist with an undergraduate degree in biochemistry from Imperial College, London and an doctorate in neurophysiology from the University of Oxford. (My specialty was synaptic plasticity.) I finished my doctorate in 1994, followed by a year of postdoctoral research at Waseda University in Tokyo in 1994-5. Back in those days I was also a freelancer for The Economist, and through a colleague at their Tokyo office I got to know the people at Nature Japan too.

I'd always been a big fan of Nature -- my dad bought me a subscription when I was about 18 (which I'll admit is pretty geeky) and when I was at Oxford my first paper was published in the journal. When I met the people at Nature they were just launching Nature Medicine, and in my spare time I started covering medical research stories for them from Japan. I then lost touch for a bit when I went back to London to join McKinsey & Co.

I worked as a consultant in the UK and Japan for about three years, which was an intense and brilliant introduction to the world of business. But too many of the companies we were serving were in sectors that didn't especially interest me. So, through a series of happy accidents, I ended up joining Nature's Tokyo office, working full-time on business development. I had been into computers since I was a kid, and by then I was especially interested in the web. It also happened to be the case that doing more stuff online, and doing it better, was the biggest business develop opportunity for Nature in the Asia-Pacific region at that time. So that's what I focused on: developing their Japanese website, and adding Chinese and Korean sites. In late 2000 I moved to Nature's London office to work on the main site, Nature.com. As part of that move, Howard Ratner, Nature's CTO, put me in charge of a new team (of about 3 people) called New Technology.

We experimented internally with things like RSS, SVG, RDF and other three-letter acronyms, but as a technical team the scope for us to turn these into new services or businesses was somewhat limited. Sometime around late 2004 or early 2005 Annette Thomas, Nature's managing director and now my boss, decided to create a Web Publishing department with a remit to experiment with the web in a much more user-facing way. Since then the team has grown to something over 20 people. I love what I do because it's at the intersection of my main interests: science, technology and business. I'm only sad that I don't have much opportunity use my Japanese any more. 😉

Q1. Some of Nature's recent journal publishing decisions have been quite controversial among librarians. Nature Physics is a good example. Do we really need another Physics journal?

I have very little to do directly with our journals because my focus is explicitly on non-traditional online products and services. So I can only give my personal option, which is that if there wasn't a need for any of our new journals then people wouldn't submit their papers or subscribe to them. I honestly believe that we do a much better job than most other scientific publishers, and that we create better products. That's why they're successful. The Nature Reviews series is a great example. Until they came out, the typical editorial and production standards for review journals were, in my opinion, very low. Nature Reviews set a new standard. Our other titles do the same in their respective fields, and considering how heavily read and impactful they are, they're also extremely good value. Cynics may think that I'm only saying this because I work at Nature and they pay my salary, but in truth it's the other way round: I choose to work here because I believe that Nature does great things (and I certainly didn't move from management consulting to scholarly publishing in order to improve my bank balance ;-).

Q2. First Connotea, Nature Network, the Nature Blog, Second Nature (Nature in Second Life): you seem to be getting into Web 2.0/social software in a big way. What's Nature's strategy for these types of initiatives in the longer term?

I think it's important to realise that we don't just work on participative "Web 2.0"-type services. We also do a lot in the area of scientific databases (see http://www.nature.com/databases) and podcasts (http://www.nature.com/podcast). But to concentrate on the Web 2.0 stuff: we're basically trying to identify ways in which scientists can use the web as a collaborative environment. The web isn't just a broadcast channel or a convenient way to ship PDFs around , it's a completely new kind of medium in which our "readers" can connect with each other.

Since our job is facilitating scientific communication, if we can't help scientists to make the most of the web -- the most powerful communication medium that humans have ever known -- then we're not merely missing opportunities, we're simply not doing our job. So at Nature we're trying a bunch of different things, often inspired by interesting ideas we see outside science (Connotea is clearly based on del.icio.us, and Nature Network on things like LinkedIn and Facebook), but always tailored to what we think will be of most use to professional researchers and clinicians. We're trying to test the boundaries of what we can do, and we're not afraid to fail, though of course we always do our best to succeed.

In line with many web-based companies, but in contrast to the scholarly journals business, our services typically launch in a fairly basic form, then we develop them in response to usage patterns and feedback. Now that we have quite a few different services, you can also expect to see them start connecting together more.

Second Nature is a bit different. We've been following Second Life for two or three years now, and I think it has the same kind of disruptive potential that the web had in the mid-90s. (Whether it realizes that potential depends on a lot of things, so it's far from certain.) It could become a profoundly important medium for scientific communication and education, and we want to be there early, understanding its strengths and limitations, and working with early adopters among researchers and educators to find out how we can add value. So far it's been a positive and eye-opening experience; I'm optimistic about the long-term prospects.

Q3. How has the uptake been for Connotea, Nature Network and Second Nature? Is there a critical mass yet to make these social environments compelling to scientists and others? How will these social networks tie into the core journal publishing business?

Connotea has a user base somewhere in the tens of thousands (the exact number depends on how active a person has to be to qualify as a "user"). Nature Network is much newer so is still in the thousands. I don't know the visitor numbers for Second Nature, but in terms of active contributors I guess we have a couple of dozen people engaged in creating things on our virtual land, which now extends over three islands. Connotea has enough usage to create interesting second-order effects. For example, it can do quite a good job at recommending things to you based in what you've bookmarked. Nature Network activity has grown extremely rapidly in the 4 or 5 months since launch and is approaching a level at which we would expect see that virtuous circle in which usage (e.g., in the form of forum posts) drives yet more usage (e.g., other people coming in to read the posts). There are numerous ways in which these could tie into our journals -- Connotea-generated lists of recommended reading, links to articles authored by people in your personal network, etc. -- but we're much more focused in making these services useful in their own right.

If we achieve that then we should also be able to turn them into successful standalone businesses, even though that usually won't be through the traditional route of selling subscriptions. We're also trying to open up these services for others to use. For example, Connotea has an API (application programming interface) that we've used to create tagging and "related article" functionality for the institutional repository software, EPrints. Other people have used it to do similar things with their own web and desktop applications. The Connotea code is also open-source, so there are quite a few private instances, for example behind institutional firewalls. Some of those people have also contributed code back to the open-source code, which is great because we can't possibly develop all the requested features on our own.

Q4. And speaking of Web 2.0, peer review is a core value in science. There's a lot of experimentation going on out there with alternatives to peer review, even Nature has stuck it's toe into the water. Where do you think this is headed -- no big deal or long-awaited revolution?

My personal view is that peer review is headed for a revolution at some point, but the timing is extremely difficult to predict because it depends mainly not on technology but on various interdependent and imponderable social factors. It could be in a year or in twenty years. Having said that, there are many people at Nature who are much more knowledgeable than me about these things and who think we're going to keep more or less the current model of peer review for the foreseeable future.

The reason I think they may be wrong is that I basically buy the "wisdom of crowds" argument: there are plenty of examples of the web causing new, open and collaborative approaches to replace traditional, closed and proprietary ones -- from open-source software to Wikipedia. You don't always get a better result to begin with, which is why skeptics find it easy to be dismissive (as they were with both open-source software and Wikipedia in the early days). But as they evolve, and particularly as more people join in, they get better until the results match or even exceed the traditional approaches, often at much lower cost. (Anyone who's read Clay Christensen's work will recognize this as an important part of his "innovator's dilemma" argument).

I also believe that the web is particularly well suited to a "publish then filter" approach rather than the traditional "filter then publish" approach that was required when publishing was necessarily a physical-world process. As you can tell, my belief is based on rather abstract reasoning, and by looking for analogies outside science, so even I'm not completely convinced by it. But I'm convinced enough to know that we ought to be pushing the boundaries, because peer review is completely central to what we do, and if there's a better way to do it then we ought to be the ones to find it. But at least in science, no one has found it yet.

Q5. Tell us a little about your new product Nature Reports, how it was developed and what need you see it filling in the scientific information marketplace. Who do you see as its main audience?

I can't take any personal credit for the Nature Reports series, but I can tell you a bit about it. It consists of three sites -- on Avian Flu, Climate Change and Stem Cells -- that aim to serve a couple of purposes. First, they provide sources of scientific information on topics that affect us all, and that are all too often the subjects of spin or misinformation. We want to provide a place for non-experts to go where they know that the information is scientifically up-to-date and unbiased. They go into more depth than the mainstream media, but not so much that any interested and intelligent person can't follow.

Secondly, we want the Nature Reports sites to become places where scientists, policy-makers, business people, and other interested parties can come together to learn from each other. Particularly in the three areas currently covered by Nature Reports, science does not and cannot operate in a vacuum. It must be willing to give and receive information in a way that will help us all -- together -- to make wise decisions on questions that could affect our world for generations to come. For example, there's no way that scientists can decide on their own what we should and shouldn't be doing with stem cells, because those decisions are ultimately social and moral ones, but science needs to inform, and be informed by, the debate.

Q6. What do you think the future of print journal publishing is in 5 years? 10 years?

The vast majority of journals are already accessed mainly online. Many forward-thinking organizations are morphing their libraries into places to work and meet, not primarily places where documents are stored. Some libraries are even becoming entirely virtual. And that's even before you consider the rise of scientific databases, which are just as important as journals in many fields and are all online. So I think we're already in a world where scientific information is primarily digital. Within 10 years, I think most journals won't any longer exist in paper form because there won't be any point. (Though people will continue to print individual items for reading.) Nature and one or two other journals will be exceptions because they are effectively also magazines that contain news and commentary as well as research. Many people (including me) still prefer to read the "front half" of these publications in print, but eventually they too will migrate to e-readers of some sort. However, predicting the timing of that development has already caught out a lot of people who are much cleverer than me, so I won't try here. 😉

Q7. How about journal publishing itself? In 5 or 10 years will we be able to recognize whatever it is that journals have evolved into? Is the very nature of scientific publishing headed for some sort of transformation?

I think the concept of the scientific "paper" will remain intact (even if that name will seem increasingly anachronistic). There's real value in this unit of publication, which tells a story by explaining how something previously unknown has become know through a particular set of experiments. But beyond that, there's a lot of potential for change. Smaller units of discovery will be published -- whether through blogs or databases or whatever -- because the barriers to publishing them are now so low. This, in turn, will create the need for new services to find and collate this information, preferably in a personalized way, and new measures of scientific impact that take into account such contributions, which will be much smaller and more numerous than published papers.

Journals will become better linked, easier to search, and more dynamic. Many databases will take more seriously the need for curation, peer review, citability and archiving. In this way, journals and databases will be harder and harder to tell apart, and I think the distinction between them will ultimately become meaningless. In cases where journals don't add much editorial value -- whether through filtering or otherwise improving the content -- the concept of the journal itself may start to erode as readers become ever more concerned with the paper they are reading rather than where it came from.

Q8. Can you tell us a little about Science Foo? It looks like a lot of fun -- not something we normally associate with science publishing.

Science Foo Camp is certainly one of the most fun and cool things I've ever done at work. It's based on a meeting format invented about 5 years ago by O'Reilly Media, the influential technical book publisher run by Tim O'Reilly. They run an annual event for techno-geeks called Foo Camp. ("Foo" is a word computer programmers use to denote some arbitrary value or name -- like "x" in algebra -- but in this case also stands for "Friends of O'Reilly".) Basically, Tim and his colleagues invite 200-300 interesting people to their HQ in Sebastopol, CA for a weekend of self-organised demos, presentations, brainstorming, contraption-building and musical jamming (basically whatever people find interesting).

The great thing about it is the quality and variety of people there: software billionaires, technically precocious teenagers, engineers, scientists, writers -- you name it. The only criteria are that O'Reilly consider them to be doing interesting stuff, and they want to introduce them to others. So it's a bit like a giant, manic, weekend-long dinner party for geeks. They've become something of a legend in techno-land. Anyway, I attend a lot of O'Reilly conferences (it's where I steal most of my best ideas 😉 and have known Tim for several years. Last spring, at his Emerging Technology Conference in San Diego, following a conversation he had had with Linda Stone (a brilliant ex-Apple and -Microsoft person with a keen interest in science and medicine), Tim suggested to me that we organize a Science Foo Camp. I thought it was a great idea.

We then spent a few weeks looking for a suitable venue, during which time Tim asked Eric Schmidt at Google, who loved the idea too. That was in late May or early June last year, and we decided to hold the event in August, so we had only two months to get lots of interesting scientific people to the Googleplex. We were really worried that it would be too short notice to get the kind of people we were seeking. We were also worried that scientists from diverse fields might not have as much to discuss with each other as people from the technical realm. We needn't have been concerned: it was a great success. Attendees raved about it and several went away with not just new ideas but new collaborations. One thing that worked really well -- aside from the great venue and format -- is that we included some non-scientists in the mix. These ranged from technology people with a strong interest in science to sci-fi writers and others with cultural links to science but from outside research. I think those people helped to foster a truly interdisciplinary mindset. We're doing the same again this year, though this time we have had a bit more time to plan it. I really hope that we'll be able to do this every year from now on.

Q9. Who do you think your biggest competitor is? Open Access journals, other society or commercial publishers or even just the notion that everything is available for free on the web?

None of the above. 😉 To be honest, I don't spend much time thinking about any of those. Open access will come about mainly through funder-mandated self-archiving, not author- or sponsor-funded journals. Of course we compete with other established publishers too, but they are a relatively known quantity. Your point about everything being free is related to an issue that I think is critical for publishers of all stripes: how to create viable business models that don't involve charging for content (whether readers or authors). That's not because I believe it's necessarily going to become impossible to do charge readers, but it won't always be the optimal (or even a viable) business model, especially for collaborative online services, so we need other options. In short, we need to get much better at monetizing traffic.

But to answer your question, I think our biggest competitor is the unknown grad student in his (or her) dorm room hatching a plan to turn scientific communication upside down in the same way that Napster, Google and Wikipedia disrupted other industries. Such people are a threat precisely because of their obscurity and lack of any historical baggage. You no longer need a lot of money, or even necessarily a strong brand, to succeed online. Good ideas and implementation are much more important. That drives almost everything we do. I hope that we'll come up with the best ideas and implementations first, not mainly because of a commercial desire to out-compete others, but because that's how we can best support scientific discovery.

I see myself less as a scientific publisher and more as a scientist who happens to work in publishing, helping information about ideas and discoveries make their way as quickly and efficiently as possible from their originators to those who can put them to use. If I ever thought I wasn't being effective in that role, I'd find some other way to spend my time, probably outside publishing, but almost certainly connected with science.

Q10. Nature Precedings almost seems like the boldest of Nature's recent web offerings, nudging the larger scientific community into the same direction as, say, the physicists. What was the rationale behind introducing the service, and what do you see as it's place in the Nature suite of web products?

The basic rationale is that it's in the interests of science for researchers to share their findings with each other as early and openly as possible. As you say, this already happens in physics through arXiv.org (and Paul Ginsparg, who runs that service, has very kindly offered his advice as we've been setting up Nature Precedings).

There are all sorts of theories about why it doesn't happen so much in biology and other fields, but we thought the time was right to try and kick-start it. For one thing, there seems to be an increasing acceptance and understanding of the power and value of the web in enabling open collaboration, whether through domain-specific scientific databases or much more general services like Wikipedia. We were also able to get public support from some outstanding partners: the British Library, the European Bioinformatics Institute, Science Commons, and the Wellcome Trust (with more to come, I anticipate). This is key because the barriers to adoption are much more social than technical, and no one organisation has the right mix of skills and influence to pull this off on its own.

For the same reason, we're also reaching out to other publishers. I expect a few of them will be cautious at first, but many of them clearly appreciate what we're doing, which is about complementing the journal system, not competing with it, and about building an open federated system, not a closed proprietary one. For our own part, Nature Precedings helps us to engage with scientists at an earlier stage of the research process, which supports our traditional journal activities.

Also, by moving early we hope to be among the first to work out how best to make this kind of service economically self-sustaining. We've already made clear that that won't involve charging for access -- and we're working with some of our partners to set up open mirror sites to guarantee that.

Q11. Scintilla, PostGenomic, Nature Reports, even Connotea, all seem closely related to me, all about organizing information and bringing it all together. Are all these services coming together eventually or are they going to get more differentiated?

To be completely honest, that's not yet certain because it depends on how people use those services, and what they tell us about their needs. But my expectation, and our current intention, is to steadily integrate them in a way that will allow information from one application to be used within another, and for users to hop between them seamlessly. Ultimately the distinction between these different services should therefore become less and less pronounced.

I think that's a good thing because people just want help with their scientific information needs, they don't want to have to work out whether Connotea or Scintilla (or whatever) is the answer, and they certainly don't want to have to visit several different sites to conduct a single task. That doesn't mean they will all turn into one monolithic application, but it should become easier for (say) Connotea users to access Scintilla functionality, and vice versa. We've certainly put a lot of thought into making that kind of integration possible, but to what extent we pursue it ultimately depends not on us but our users.

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