Tomorrow’s networked researcher profile page: an overview (part 2 of my #dhiha6 contribution)

What will the scholarly profile page of the future look like? This is the main question of a workshop within the Digital Humanities Experiments event on 11/12 June 2015 at the German Historical Institute Paris (DHIP), led by mathematician David Chavalarias and me. This blog post is the second part (read part 1) of a contribution to DHIP’s blog carnival accompanying the whole event. Here I’ll try to give an insight into some main concepts, technology, and available data streams for scholarly profile pages today. Enjoy, and don’t hesitate to add yout thoughts and additions at the bottom of this article!

What do networked researchers’ profile pages include? Or, one ORCID iD to rule them all.

When we talk of modern approaches to the issue outlined in the opening paragraph, we have to mention ORCID. ORCID is a relatively new initiative driven by some of the largest non-profit and commercial academic publishers, national libraries, professional societies and major Open Access repositories. Their goal is to build a centralised registry of all “researchers and contributors” to academic products, allowing for unique identifiers that remove ambiguity regarding the identification of their contributions. As an example, take a look at the web representation of ORCID iD 0000-0001-5109-3700.

What does ORCID hope to achieve? First, all publishing and archiving outlets will sooner or later be able to identify all authors and contributors by their ID; second, institutions and individuals can populate their own profiles with the ORCID data collected about them, synchronising and updating between their ORCID profiles and any other profiles they may have elsewhere. But is there any need for other profiles if you can have everything in one place ‒ your ORCID profile? Let’s explore this in greater detail …

Information elements:

  • Scholarly products (articles for journal and other publications)
  • Self-assigned keywords
  • Researchers’ alternative names (to ensure disambiguation)
  • Identities in other systems, profiles on other services
  • Attribution of multiple institutions (education, former employers, etc.)
  • Attribution of grants/third party funding

Reuse factor (structured availability and reuse rights):

  • High

Kings of convenience: the rise of commercial siloed academic networks

While ORCID may be new to some readers, nearly everybody within or in the vicinity of the academic environment is now familiar with “Facebook for scientists” services such as ResearchGate. This type of service started gaining ground around 2008 – the leaders in the field being ResearchGate, academia.edu and Mendeley, with users counts allegedly in the millions. (For further analysis, cf. Nentwich and König 2014. Example of profile pages: ResearchGate, academia.edu, Mendeley.) One reason for their success must be the convenience they offer, enabling anyone to present their academic efforts in one place – a convenience that sometimes develops into rather aggressive urging of users to update their profile for better discoverability. A prime example of the strange outgrowth of this kind of service is the “ResearchGate score”, a self-acclaimed new measure for scholarly impact, an indicator based solely on activities occurring on this service’s website, possibly one of the purest offerings to scholarly vanity imaginable.

What all these Facebook-mimicking services have in common is that all of the information entered in the database of these services, from simple facts about a researcher’s work to whole papers that can be self-archived directly into these services, is owned solely by the commercial enterprises behind them. In this way, these services exemplify the “web 2.0” principle of being free (as in free beer), with the caveat that you cede control over your aggregated profile data. This is not only a matter of data-freedom principles. If you try to harvest large chunks of content from these databases for reuse elsewhere (as undertaken regularly by Google and other search engines), you soon learn that this is not permitted. Only Mendeley earns a special mention for being a kind of exception in this regard – very much like ORCID, it offers much of its data under reuse conditions.

Most common information elements:

  • Scholarly products (articles for journal and other publications)
  • Self-assigned keywords
  • Simple attribution of institution
  • Personal profile photo
  • Social graph (type of follower relation, in some services co-authorship)
  • Attention metadata from the platform itself (views, downloads, bookmarks, etc.)

Reuse factor (structured availability and reuse rights):

  • Low to non-existent (most of the larger academic networks)
  • High (Mendeley)

Authentic researcher profiles that are (almost) never meant for the public web: siloed institutional “current research information systems”

Although information systems such as ResearchGate tend to be very popular at present, and can by all means shed light on what scholars truly want ™, they have at least one enduring problem: they are never complete. However, if you define a scholarship as being attached to a certain university or other research institution, you may find “current research information systems” (CRIS) to be a possible new contender for acting as a valuable source of information about researchers and their activities. And a complete one at that, at least with regard to the institution running the respective CRIS.

What are CRIS all about? Mainly acquired by large academic publishers in recent years, contenders such as Thomson Reuters Converis, Elsevier Pure and Symplectic Elements offer CRIS database products. Research institutions run CRIS to pool data about their staff and research facilities. From a research controlling perspective, this is useful for understanding and reinforcing an institution’s assets. Although most of these systems are, technically, online databases, only a few institutions view this as an opportunity to raise public awareness of their research activities. In many cases, databases are completely hidden from public view. In contrast to “Facebook for scientists” services of the ResearchGate kind, with CRIS we have no problems with completeness and reusage rights, but with the public availability of the data in the first place. That said, there are a number of positive exceptions: as mentioned in an earlier blog post here, VIVO aims to be a research information system based on the original means of the web (like semantic ontologies), while delivering information from some universities (cf. examples) to the whole open web, usually including comprehensive reusage rights. (Disclaimer: TIB Open Science Lab runs experiments and development with VIVO ontologies and software.)

Most common information elements:

  • Scholarly products (articles for journal and other publications)
  • Detailed attribution of institutional roles and positions
  • Self-assigned keywords
  • Concepts from controlled vocabularies and/or automatically generated profiles
  • Personal profile photo
  • Social graph (co-authorship)
  • Attribution of grants/third party funding

Reuse factor (structured availability and reuse rights):

  • Low to non-existent (most CRIS implementations)
  • High (VIVO, a number of other CRIS implementations)

Impact and other ways to tell a scholar’s story: other approaches to researcher profile pages

Another very well-known type of researcher profile pages is delivered by Google’s academic search engine “Scholar”. Google Scholar is more or less comparable with huge traditional science citation indexes such as Web of Science (or WoS for short, now owned by Thomson Reuters) and its rival, Elsevier Scopus. Google radicalised competition between these huge cross-disciplinary corpora of scientific article and citation metadata: while WoS and Scopus covered a limited set of peer-reviewed academic journals, placing them all in an online database licensed by university libraries, Google Scholar takes a full-text search engine approach, undeniably covering more documents and delivering search results, including citation counts, to end users for free. In 2011, Google Scholar launched profiles, something that cannot be found in WoS or Scopus. The idea is not only to give searchers a comprehensive view of researchers, their articles and citation counts, but also to enable them to add to their profiles themselves. Unlike ResearchGate, the service does not aim to be a “full service package”. Instead of inviting researchers to self-archive their papers on the actual website, it covers self-archived versions from services such as ResearchGate as well as from traditional institutional Open Access repositories. The only data that Google Scholars may automatically give to third party services is the citation count of each document.

ImpactStory offers a service that is comparable in many ways to that of Google Scholar profiles. However, it follows a very different business model. (Example of an ImpactStory profile page.) While Google Scholar is a commercial service that searchers and profile owners can use free of charge, ImpactStory is a largely third party-funded non-profit organisation seeking to become sustainable through services paid for by profile owners. While Google Scholar draws its data from its own article and citation index, ImpactStory remains sleek by drawing from many different sources of citation data and impact metadata – from Facebook ‘likes’ to the number of forks on Github – or so-called “altmetrics”. The idea is to operate as a service for collecting and consolidating this data, and to present it on behalf of profile owners.

ImpactStory is by no means the only service that aspires to be the clearing point for this kind of data – compare, for example, Plum or Altmetric.com. In the growing landscape of citation and attention metadata, many publishers, repositories and institutional research information services have already decided not to collect impact metadata themselves, but to draw from one of these services. It is interesting to note that ImpactStory was one of the first services of its kind to offer the automated import of ORCID data. To conclude: although they appear to be similar at first glance, Google Scholar profiles are a strongly shielded island, whereas ImpactStory strives to be a useful intersection for different services and data streams.

Common information elements:

  • Scholarly products (articles for journal and other publications)
  • Self-assigned keywords
  • Personal profile photo
  • Social graph of co-authorship (Google Scholar)
  • Social graph (type of follower relation, in some services co-authorship)
  • Citation data from the platform itself (Google Scholar)
  • Citation and other impact data from different platforms (ImpactStory)

Reuse factor (structured availability and reuse rights):

  • Low to non-existent (Google Scholar)
  • High (ImpactStory)

Some conclusions

With the growing expectations of cultivating one’s own scholarship profile online completely and conveniently, things have become more interesting, and sometimes confusing. The whole area still seems to be in its infancy. A strong indicator of the ongoing development of this ecosystem is the consolidation of freely available metadata streams – besides ORCID, we now have CrossRef’s DOI event tracker pilot as a free source of impact metadata across many scholarly articles. (Disclaimer: On behalf of my employer, TIB Hannover, I work with the DOI event tracker working group.) In the area of institutional research information systems, open approaches such as VIVO ontologies and software are constantly gaining greater traction, enabling custom developments and experimentation. So, interesting times ahead!

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  1. Pingback: Impact of Social Sciences – What will the scholarly profile page of the future look like? Provision of metadata is enabling experimentation.

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