Rave tech conference 2019

A few weeks ago I was at the aannual Rave publishing technology conference. It’s always an interesting event to attend.

My main recollection from last year was the interest in blockchain.

This year, as I reflect on how I feel about the meeting, I think I have two main things that have stayed with me.

The first was the appeal from Tasha to ask us as a community and an industry to do more to think about removing barriers for early career researchers. This touches on a long held challenge that I think we have as an industry which is that our systems are creaky and a bit resistant to change.

That led to the other impression that I had from the meeting. There was a call to embrace polyglot programming, but pushback from people in the audience where there seemed to be a weary note of some slight resignation that technological transformation can be challenging to achieve.

Here are some notes on some of the presentations from the day:

David Smith - the information and the network.

Interestingly a lot of this discussion touches on topics of computational social science.

I’ll try to distill the main points here.

The gist of the talk is that the way information flows in existing networks can be highly biased. This has been demonstrated by a number of recent academic theoretical studies, as well as specific examples in the news recently.

  • Boris Bus stories
  • Boris model stories
  • Facebook allowing any content into political ads
  • The measles mumps and rubella scare, and how global dissemination of this scare has been amplified due to you tube.

David suggests that we need a vaccine for this kind of misinformation propagation. We need this to be tied to regulation. We also need to understand the world as it is, rather than hoping that things be different.

I’ll just point to SAGE Ocean here as an example of what one publisher is doing about this. (sage ocean - Google Search), and in particular our amazing talk series https://ocean.sagepub.com/events.

There are things that we could be doing better in our industry for finding fake research articles by sharing data that we have about our submissions, but that starts to cross the line into editorial decisions by fiat, and not only does that need a solid ethical background, it’s also hard and expensive.

How do Publishers and Technology Providers Need to Change to Better Serve Early Career Researchers?’ by Tasha Mellins-Cohen, Director of Publishing at Microbiology Society

Tasha points out that post-doc contracts usually last only 18 months. This leads to crazy-levels of job instability. (This is a very big problem. It can lead to significant mental health issues in the sciences.).

There is an identified lack of mentoring (reminds me of SAGE Advice, a product we tried to get off the ground that matched academics with people who could advise them on specific questions. We felt there was a market for this kind of service precisely because mentorship can be so shoddy in academia).

As publishers are we really helping early career researchers to get things done right, or we just adding to their burdens?

Tasha asks us to have an open discussion in the room about the topic of what do we do that causes a burden for ERC’s.

There is a lot of discussion around format free submissions, but Tasha puts the gauntlet down and asks if there are ways that would allow them to go from research artefact direct to publication output. She also asks us to talk to them and commit to fixing some of the burdens that they are faced with every day.

Phil Jones & Paul Mollahan - shared code and shared standards - how openess in technology enables openess in scholarship.

Digerati have been involved in some open source projects in our space.

They have worked on an open source image viewer built on top of the IIIF standard.

They have also worked with eLife on some of their platform build.

There is a discussion around where the value lies in terms of working with open source. Do you gain by giving your code away?

In terms of development practice by working in an open way with open review practices you get more opportunities to get feedback from your peers.

(My own view on this is that whether one is working open or closed source, the drive towards creating high quality software is primarily a cultural and tooling issue, but underpinning both of these there needs to be an understanding of the flows of value that is being created by that given software project. That value is what gives you the breathing space to be able to think about “building it right”. This comes down to sustainability.).

I like the comment from the floor that points out that there needs to be an intersection between technology, platform and strategy. This alignment is often missing in any discussion around these topics.

Starting the transition from words to data - publishing to services - Sharon Cooper - CDO the economist intelligence unit.

The EIU (Economist Intelligence Unit) is not a publisher, it is a forecasting unit, however they deliver this information out as reports, so they have sometimes felt like a publisher.

They are now looking at a wide transformation of their business, but that requires engaging stakeholders across the business. How do you have conversations about data with people? If you can’t talk about data lakes because of organisational immaturity you can start small and think about “data puddles”. Asking questions like the following can be good starting points:

  • Do you have data?
  • Do you have the rights to use it?
  • Is there any personal information in it?

They are very interested in geospatial data. By taking the shadow of an oil tanker from satellite data you can figure out how much oil is in a tanker. Suddenly you can predict where every drop of oil is in the world at any one time. (This is a stunning example of an accidental data source).

There is a big shift going on in EIU to go from a reporting process that is one size fits all to reports that are highly customised for the business that are interested in it. One of the interesting challenges in this space here is that they are dealing with a very large diversity of sources of information.

Instead of disseminating their analysis statically monthly they want to move towards doing nowcasting — being able to provide insight on the back of changing indicators, in close to real time.

The example of what they are doing with location based data off of mobile phones in China Is impressive. This is as much about the quality of the data as it is about how to make the data useful through UX and UI.

Nice point about things like data lakes being now available as a service.

Flexible platforms are key, clients will want data delivered, and will not want to go to your site to get that data. APIs and micro services are key here.

Data science is going to be a big part of what they do. They want to move towards augmented intelligence.

The want to create an EIU knowledge Graph based on the AI analysis of the content and data that they are ingesting. They think their customers are not buying the data they can deliver, but are buying the interpretation that they can provide.

I LOVE the idea of the minimal sellable product.

Sarah Boyd - senior product manager - Emerald publishing - update of rolling out the scaled agile framework.

The story so far is that moving towards delivery involved putting in place a scaled agile framework, but after a number of reorganisations they had still not delivered a single sprint. They tried to copy the Spotify squad model (reminds me of Joakim Sundén: You can do better than the Spotify Model #lascot on Vimeo).

They felt that they had lost sight of the purpose of what they were doing. The purpose was not to create an agile methodology.

They went back to what looks like smaller teams with planning, development and delivery more tightly aligned.

Without seeing in detail how the first structure failed to deliver its hard to infer what lessons to take from this discussion.

Heather St. Pierre Product Director - Chelsey Horstmann Dennis Product Analyst. - Prioduct Management T&F.

T&F have scaled up the PM function over the last 18 months.

Things are changing in the industry. OA has been a big change.

Most of the talk is about the problems of payment and submissions. T&F have created a submissions portal.

The submissions portal connects to information about their “transformative deals”.

They are offering format-free submissions on 340 titles, and this has allowed them to create an article transfer system.

They can give the author clarity around the location of their submission within the system.

They don’t have data yet on whether the system has led to more transfers. It was built with them and RAVE.

Astrid Engelen-Visser - the strategy of transforming a small business

This is a nice broad overview of how a small publisher has addressed the challenges of technical and product development.

Of interest to me is that they have created their own submission system for some specific journals.