Many of you will have been at the Society for Scholarly Publishing annual conference in San Francisco earlier this month. The conference seems to have taken on a new lease of life in recent years, with a growing number of delegates, and an increasingly substantial program (props to program chairs Jocelyn Dawson and Emilie Delquié for a job well done). Of course, much of the business of a conference is also transacted in the discussions that take place in, around and beyond the conference venue – at the dinners, receptions, and even (thanks to jetlag?) the surprisingly buzzy breakfast meetings. So, like all good conferences, SSP passed in something of a blur, but it’s interesting for me to take a step back a week or so later and think about the key points that have remained with me:
Closing the loop was the theme of Tim O’Reilly‘s opening keynote; I think it’s fair to paraphrase it as “using data and technologies to enrich products / services and make them work better”. He gave a myriad of examples of what he means by this, from Google’s driverless car to distributed peer review of open source software. He laid down the gauntlet for the assembled publishers – how can we reinvent some of the more dated aspects of our ecosystem (think Impact Factors, peer review) to make better use of available data and technologies? While throwing out suggestions such as Wikipedia-style revision control, Tim also made the point that scholarly publishers could make more of the opportunities offered by being closer to their markets than some other (trade) publishers (a drum TBI has been banging for a while with our talks on advocacy and relationship marketing – and indeed, I gave a talk on “getting closer to customers” at SSP the following day). He also picked up on the notion that, as we evolve to become more service-oriented, publishers begin to look more and more like societies – so we have a lot to learn from each other. In short, said Tim, publishers need to take seriously the obligation to reinvent the world of information dissemination.
Much of this reminded me of the talk given by David DeRoure at the recent ORCID–Dryad Symposium on Research Attribution, in which he talked about “the social machine” – in which big data comes together with social technologies (and people’s use of them) to overcome past obstacles in creative, intelligent, joined-up ways. If I’ve understood both speakers correctly, then “the social machines” David talked about are examples of “closing the loop”! – and both very inspirational for publishers. Check out David’s slides on Slideshare (“2066 and all that“).
Having heard Tim O’Reilly open the conference, everything else I said and heard there seemed to be shaped by or interpreted within the context of closing the loop. Talks about standards – such as that given by Ringgold‘s Jay Henry, in which he made a well-supported plea for standards such as ORCID to be better used, even mandated, by publishers – seemed to fit well with this theme. O’Reilly’s reference to Eric Ries’ “minimum viable product” also seemed to capture the zeitgeist, with many publishers seeing this as a way to make the most of (seemingly minimal) product development budgets and pursue more innovative approaches to everything from discoverability to video (O’Reilly – again – referenced Lynda.com‘s $70m video training business: “Take video seriously,” he said. “Take small units of video very seriously.” – and of course several publishers are, with Elsevier and IOPP among many who have reported significant increases in content usage driven by video abstracts).
Finally, of course, it’s not just publishers who need to / are innovating – an excellently curated panel session on MOOCs, with a set of speakers from different departments / roles at Stanford University, providing a fascinating insight into what institutions are doing to reinvent themselves and reach wider audiences. I enjoyed hearing that Stanford has appointed a Vice-Provost for Online Learning whose mission, among other things, is to “unleash creativity and innovation in online learning”. An aspiration for all of us, perhaps!