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Initiative aims to help research reach further

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Melinda Kenneway reports on a new initiative that aims to help authors and institutions increase the visibility and impact of their research

There’s a growing problem of volume in research. In the world today there are some 50 million published articles and this number continues to escalate but people’s time to find and read them remains a constant.

The ease with which we can publish material online encourages us to publish more – and the growth in article output doesn’t include the many other channels that researchers now have at their fingertips to communicate their work, from blogs and wikis through to multimedia.

Perhaps this avalanche of content explains why academics continue to value personal recommendations and contacts so much. In Ithaka’s recently published US Faculty Survey 2012, two of the highest scoring tactics employed to keep up with current research were attending conferences/workshops and reading materials suggested by other scholars.

No doubt technology will come charging to the fore here to help solve this problem with more advanced semantic filtering and the introduction of sophisticated metrics that can be applied at a granular level of content. However there is still something very powerful about personal recommendations. When a colleague sends you an email to let you know they’ve published an article, the chances are you’re more likely to read it than receiving the same information from a publisher. When a respected member of your network posts a link on Twitter to an article of interest, you are more likely to read it than if it is buried in a long list of search results. And yet when it comes to published articles, researchers have little in the way of systematic or structured support to help them alert their network to its availability.

As article-level metrics rise in prominence, there’s likely to be a significant growth in interest from researchers and their funders in the broad ‘performance’ of each and every article, bringing new attention to how researchers might better use their expertise and personal networks to increase the prominence of their work.

Researchers – particularly the more successful ones – are often great promoters of their work. From presenting talks and posters at conferences through to active networking to explore new collaborations, the research community is well versed in the importance of visibility and connections. As well as being important for building their careers and securing further funding, these ‘marketing’ activities are also essential for the progress of knowledge – building on author expertise and networks to ensure their work gets the attention of those who might benefit from and apply it.

There are good examples of how this kind of authors’ expertise in explaining their work has already been used to help readers evaluate and filter articles. These include eLife’s “digests”, or the impact / novelty statements captured by many journals during the submission process. However, this “plain language metadata” is not consistently captured or used across current publishers and processes. Similarly, several journals have experimented with video abstracts and other multimedia objects that help explain and contextualise published research. Case studies have shown that these materials can significantly increase usage – but again, they are not systematically created or disseminated.

There are also many examples of researchers combining their expertise and connections with informal communication channels such as social media to increase the discoverability and readership of published work.  At the moment, these activities are somewhat experimental and ad hoc, but some have seen startling results. For example, Melissa Terras in an article published last year was able to show the potential power of social media on usage of her published research articles. She showed a direct correlation between tweeting and blogging about her work and subsequent dramatic increases in usage.

Kudos: a new cross-publisher ‘author impact’ service

It is with these factors in mind that Kudos has been developed. Kudos is a new service for researchers and their institutions, which provides a set of tools that helps them maximise the visibility and impact of their published articles.

We see Kudos as a service that supplements the discoverability work that publishers already do. For us, authors are the missing link in helping raise awareness of their work effectively. Although some researchers are hugely successful at doing this, we are finding that many are unsure how to share the results of their research in a way that isn’t seen as just self-promotion. The driving force behind Kudos is to help researchers explain the context of their work and make sure it gets into the hands of those who can best apply it. This will naturally result in more people reading, talking about and citing their articles – all measures of impact that their institutions and funders are taking an increased interest in.

‘In effect, we’re creating a level playing field,’ said Charlie Rapple, who, alongside David Sommer and me, is a co-founder of Kudos. ‘We think the potential of an article should be based on its content rather than the journal it’s published in or the marketing saviness of the author. Our tools will enable any researcher anywhere in the world – free of charge – to give their articles the best possible chance of being found and used.’

Key elements of the Kudos service include: a) standardising the collection and presentation of contextual and plain language metadata; b) standardising links between related multimedia content and published articles to give broader context to an individual article; and c) provision of simple tools and guidelines to help authors share their research via traditional and social media.
Although initially aimed directly at the research community itself, Kudos will also be offering tools that can be used by large research groups and institutions to undertake this work on behalf of their author communities.

Kudos is currently in a pre-pilot research phase, working with AIP Publishing, the Royal Society of Chemistry, Taylor & Francis and their authors to gather data about the impact of additional metadata, multimedia and social media on usage. The service is designed to be highly automated, and will ultimately be integrated into existing publishing workflows so that additional effort for authors is kept to a minimum. It will incorporate metric-based dashboards that will enable authors (and their institutions, publishers, societies and funders) to evaluate current “performance” of their work, compare this to peers, set targets for improvement, and monitor the effect of Kudos activities on their article’s performance.

It is early days for Kudos, but there are already indicators that the service will be welcomed by the research community. In a survey completed by over 3,600 researchers across a broad range of disciplines, 84 per cent felt the post-publication visibility of their work could be improved. When asked how likely they were to personally use tools to help them increase the readership and impact of their articles, 75 per cent answered likely, very likely or extremely likely. They see this as an important part of their role, ranking personal responsibility for increasing the visibility of their published work higher than any other group (for example, their publisher, institution, library or funder).
 
Melinda Kenneway is an industry consultant and co-founder of Kudos, along with Charlie Rapple and David Sommer. Kudos is currently seeking publisher and institutional partners for its beta phase of development, which will begin in January 2014