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Re: Critique of OA metric

You have to have a highly metaphoric sense of the term "database" 
to consider a journal a database.

David and I have a different view of what PLOS One is up to. 
Most people see PLOS as an activist organization operating in the 
area of open access publishing.  I see it as a prominently 
branded organization that is moving away from rigorous peer 
review.  It appears that advocates of OA are seeing in PLOS One 
what they want to see.  That's their business.

As for search-engine rank, wrappers, etc., yep, you can build 
higher ranking in any number of ways, personal tagging 
("folksonomy") among them.  No quarrel there.  Nothing in my 
earlier post was meant to imply that there were not other ways to 
confer higher search-engine ranking, nor did I suggest that OA 
publications necessarily trailed traditional publications in 
ranking.  My argument is agnostic as to OA.

But to recapitulate:  what's at issue here is known as "the law 
of increasing returns," aka "the rich get richer," about which 
see the work of economist Brian Arthur.  It is possible to build 
new brands--thank the good lord for that!  It is harder to build 
them in areas that are already well established.  If someone 
wanted to build a new brand in research publishing, the best 
place to start is with an area of research that has few or no 
well-established incumbents.

Incumbency has its virtues.  I saw a surprising study a few years 
ago about the GE brand for small household appliances (toasters, 
microwave ovens, etc.).  GE sold off that business to Black & 
Decker.  Years later, after the GE brand had been fully retired 
from that segment of the marketplace, consumers responding to a 
survey reported that GE was the most trusted brand in the 

All this leads to the essential corollary:  to establish any kind 
of information service, a large sum of money, typically in the 
form of professional labor, has to be committed.  In legacy media 
this is called marketing, in new media this is called community. 
The price of scholarly communications keeps going up.

Joe Esposito

On Fri, Oct 30, 2009 at 11:46 AM, David Prosser
<david.prosser@bodley.ox.ac.uk> wrote:

> Joe
> If we disagree then perhaps it's only subtly - the 'wrapper' is
> important, but surely the 'alerting wrapper' does not have to be
> the same entity as the 'quality wrapper'.  PubMedCentral and
> arXiv are 'alerting wrappers' - search engine place results from
> them high in result lists.  However, they do not directly provide
> a quality stamp for each individual paper.  That is what the
> journal does.  But from an alerting point of view I may be less
> interested in the fact that a paper has been published in Journal
> A and more interested in the fact that my esteemed colleague Joe
> Esposito has tagged it or given it five stars.  That's what I
> mean when I talk about alerting being less in the control of the
> publishers.
> I'm less sure about the PLoS One branding point - if PLoS fulfils
> the needs of authors and readers then it will create its own
> brand (or at least mini-brand with the wider PloS brand).  From
> its success to date I would say that it is well on the way to
> doing that.
> And on Anthony's point about authors not wishing to submit their
> papers to databases?  Perhaps I'm being too reductionist, but in
> a sense aren't all online journals 'just' databases.  They all
> have peer-review but some - almost all - add a 'relevance' filter
> to limit the number of items in the database (as a hangover of
> limited space in print copies) and others - PLoS One - don't
> because they have unlimited space.(because space was limited in
> print copies and valuing journal brands is well taken.
> David
> ________________________________________
> From: owner-liblicense-l@lists.yale.edu
> [owner-liblicense-l@lists.yale.edu] On Behalf Of Joseph Esposito [
> espositoj@gmail.com]
> Sent: 29 October 2009 22:19
> To: liblicense-l@lists.yale.edu
> Subject: Re: Critique of OA metric
> David's post is an interesting one.  He is certainly correct that
> search engines (Google is simply the most prominent, but not the
> only means of discovery) "atomize" collections of papers.  This
> could lead someone to believe that the "wrapper" of an atomized
> article is no longer important, but this overlooks the mattter of
> search engine rank.  It is one thing to find an article about
> hypertension or a specific aspect of materials science, quite
> another for that article to rise to the top of a long list of
> potentially relevant Web sites.  For search engine ranking, such
> matters as brand are very important, as they collect online
> attention and links and lead to higher scoring.
> If you don't believe this, try it.  Create a Web site (it takes
> two minutes) using a blogging service such as WordPress.  Post an
> article to it.  Post another article (or the same one) to an
> established online venue.  The article in the established venue
> will show up higher in search engine rankings.
> As a footnote, I don't believe David is correct in his discussion
> of PLOS One.  PLOS One is borrowing the brand of the PLOS
> flagship journals.  This is a tricky business.  It works fine
> until it doesn't.  Readers are coming to PLOS One (presumably
> authors, too) thinking they are getting the editorial rigor of
> the PLOS flagships, but they aren't.  Can this go on forever?
> Perhaps.  But consider this:  when you buy a telephone handset
> for a landline phone that bears the AT&T brand, does it matter
> that AT&T has not manufactured handsets in years?  It matters to
> me.
> Joe Esposito
> On Wed, Oct 28, 2009 at 3:54 PM, David Prosser
> <david.prosser@bodley.ox.ac.uk> wrote:
>> It is simple to conceive of a decoupling between the journal
>> 'quality' brand (is the research correct?) and the journal
>> 'alerting' brand (here is a group of articles that may be of
>> interest to you) as described by Sally.  In the print world
>> grouping papers thematically together made perfect sense; in
>> the online world where people increasing use search engines
>> (whether specific, like Medline, or general, like Google) to
>> find papers it is perhaps less useful.
>> So, a journal table of contents e-mail may be useful, but
>> equally I may be more interested in seeing the daily digest of
>> papers with a particular tag in Connotea, say. That way the
>> community would define its own interests rather than having the
>> collection codified by an editor.  And different communities
>> could combine the content of different journals in different
>> ways.  This to me is what PLoS One has done - provide the
>> quality brand, but leave the 'what's this journal about' to the
>> readers.  It seems inevitable (and was once titles and
>> abstracts went online!) that the 'alerting' brand is going to
>> become less and less within the control of publishers and more
>> in the control of users.
>> David
>> David Prosser
>> SPARC Europe