Investing in a brighter future

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Heather Staines

The new non-profit Knowledge Futures Group offers institutions a valuable scholarly communications resource, writes Heather Staines

Recently, interest in utilising open source software tools to create and disseminate scholarly content has grown. Continuing consolidation in the publishing technology space has fuelled this trend with increasing concern about potential ‘lock in’ for libraries and publishers and ‘lock out’ for societies and independent content creators. (See Roger Schonfeld, Open Source for Scholarly Publishing: An Inventory and an Analysis, The Scholarly Kitchen, August 8, 2018. A shift to open source technology, with code published openly and a permissive reuse license, enables publishers to ensure ongoing availability and control of content. However, an impression that such technology requires significant human and technical resources remains. Fortunately, ongoing education is correcting this impression. (See Adam Hyde, Open Source and Scholarly Publishing, The Scholarly Kitchen, September 6, 2018.

I joined the then MIT-affiliated Knowledge Futures Group (KFG) in 2019, excited to further explore open source technology for publishers, libraries, researchers and beyond. (In spring of 2020, the Knowledge Futures Group became an independent 501.3(c), although it continues to partner closely with the MIT Press and MIT communities.) MIT Press director Amy Brand has written extensively about the need for academic institutions to invest in scholarly communications infrastructure. To help institutions direct their attention and funds towards both challenges and solutions that most affect their communities, the KFG recently launched four thematic programs: Knowledge Ecosystems, Community Publishing, Measuring Knowledge, and Universal Data. (More info Our tools include the open platform PubPub and the forthcoming open knowledge graph, the Underlay.

A June 2019 report, funded by the Mellon Foundation, supported by MIT Press, and written by John Maxwell, Mind the Gap: A Landscape Analysis of Open Source Publishing Tools and Platforms, noted the clear lack of incentives for collaboration, due in part to tool creators chasing the same philanthropic funding. (See  In response to this, KFG is seeking, and finding,  ample opportunities for collaboration with other open source initiatives, as well as with commercial entities wishing to explore a more open offering in Community Publishing.


AfricArXiv is a free, open source, community led preprint server, founded in 2018 to raise the visibility of African research, increase continent-wide collaboration, and inspire interdisciplinary and local language research, hosted on the Center for Open Science’s Open Science Framework, Zenodo, Science Open and now PubPub (see Inspired by a common mission, in spring 2020, AfricArXiv and KFG announced a collaboration on PubPub around audio and video preprints and capacity building and training around scholarly communication (see The AfricArXiv community page on PubPub ( also serves as an archive for thought leadership webinars and other multimedia content by AfricArXiv and partner organizations such as SciComm Nigeria and TCC Africa. 

“Launching audio/visual preprints takes scholarly communication to the next level – giving scientists the multimedia platform to express their expertise not only in text but truly engaging with other researchers,” suggests Joy Owango, Director, TCC Africa. Obasegun Ayodele, CTO Vilsquare, encouraged researchers, away from their labs due to the Covid-19 lockdown, to use laptops and smartphones to digitize their work and push it out to preprint servers. “This partnership will empower African researchers to explore immediate communication of their research despite the COVID-19 lockdown. The results from this initiative will help us further understand the best COVID-19 response and intervention strategy for researchers across Africa.” (In related preprint news, PubPub will soon act as host for CrimRxiv.)

Punctum Books blog

Punctum Books is an independent, not-for-profit, benefit corporation publishing open access books 'dedicated to radically creative modes of intellectual inquiry' with 'a fondness for neo-traditional and unconventional scholarly work'. (See In 2019, punctum began blogging on PubPub. Having previously used WordPress and Twitter for communication, Punctum recognised a need for readers encountering punctum messaging to be able to trace narratives back in a slower and more thoughtful way.

'We found in PubPub, a mission-aligned initiative, providing a transparent and open source space for us to talk about what we are doing, exposing new audiences, including libraries, artists, and the general public,' notes Dan Rudmann, director for community relations.The clean interface makes posts on new books, thought pieces, and news distinctive and readable. Export options ensure content portability and remove fear of lock in. The team also uses PubPub for collaborative authoring. 

KFG is experiencing more interest in shifting sites from WordPress or Medium to an open source not-for-profit option, for reasons ranging from mission alignment to cost savings to usability. In response, we now offer, as a paid service, the ability to migrate back files from WordPress to PubPub.

COPIM Project

The Community-led Open Publication Infrastructures for Monographs (COPIM) project, funded by Research England, is a partnership of scholar led presses, universities, and infrastructure providers, working to develop 'open, transparent, sustainable, and community-governed infrastructures for the curation, dissemination, discovery, and long-term preservation of open content and open data'. (See COPIM is using PubPub for open documentation. Dan Rudmann of Punctum, a partner in the project, highlights the need for transparency throughout the project, which consists of seven work packages that may not proceed linearly: 'By collaborating on and incrementally creating documentation on PubPub, we ease the overall reporting burden of the project. The flexible nature of the platform enables us to point people to the relevant portion of the workflow, including video capture of workshops and lectures.' When used for collaborative editing, PubPub provides an open alternative to Google docs; one which can, if desired, support publication with DOI-assignment and simple metadata creation.

Community feedback

Annotation and reader engagement has long been a focus of the KFG’s publishing platform, PubPub. Over time, we’ve benefitted from close collaborations with partners that have given way to common use-cases for using annotation to improve the communication and understanding of research. For example, the MIT Press has a series of publications posted on PubPub for open community review before publication, such as Data Feminism ( and Economics in the Age of Covid-19 (

Learning from these exchanges, the KFG recently launched a new publication, the Commonplace, which serves as a conversation and idea hub for mission-aligned individuals and organisations working to make knowledge open for the public good. It has dedicated content formats ranging from annotated reading lists to open reports posted for community engagement and feedback. 'Community feedback is foundational to the Commonplace,' notes Catherine Ahearn, head of content for PubPub and the Knowledge Futures Group. 'Exchanges between readers and authors, researchers and institutions, technologists and policy-makers are key to making sure we publish toward progress and bottom-up, community-centered change.' Recent examples of reports posted for open annotation include Equitable Access to Research in a Changing World: Research4Life Landscape and Situation Analysis (see and Researchers’ Perspectives on the Purpose and Value of the Monograph (see The Commonplace seeks contributors and active readers across all content formats. 


New OA journals have found a home on PubPub. 'The American Psychological Association partners with KFG to deliver open access journal content on an innovative and community focused platform. This partnership allows APA Journals to highlight its vision of open access by publishing scholarship in a dynamic and interactive format, remaining flexible so that the community can help shape the platform, and promoting open science and transparent practices in psychology.' The first title, Technology, Mind, and Behavior (see recently published its first article, 'Country Roads through 1s and 0s', which explores whether video games can instill an emotional connection with physical spaces and includes an interactive map depicting locations from the game Fallout 76.

Free-to-read publications that wish to shift from WordPress are particularly suitable for experimentation. We partnered with the American Astronomical Society (AAS), one of the first societies to put its flagship research journals online, to host the Bulletin of the AAS (BAAS), an open access journal of community white papers, news and commentary, meeting abstracts, and obituaries. 'The new community on PubPub represents a continuation of that tradition of innovation,' says AAS innovation scientist, Peter K. G. Williams. 'We’re looking forward to using PubPub to explore the ways that scientific communication can evolve to fully take advantage of 21st century tools.' These publications join others from MIT, Harvard, and Stanford.


With the capacity to host textual and multimedia content, PubPub provides space for showcasing conferences. Iowa State University Library’s Iowa State Digital Press recently used PubPub for two events: The U.S. Latino/a Studies Program 25 Year Anniversary Symposium Digital Proceedings ( and Proceedings of a Workshop on Developing a Convergence Sustainable Urban Systems Agenda for Redesigning the Urban-Rural Interface along the Mississippi Watershed (SUS-RURI) (see While Iowa State hosts recurring conference proceedings on Janeway, Harrison Inefuku noted that 'for one-off events with a visual or collaborative component', PubPub was an easy way to spin up a conference site. Iowa State wants to support open source solutions that will transform scholarly communications.” 

Sites such as Celebrating Millie, a 2017 memorial for physicist Mildred Dresselhaus (see, can be crafted after the physical events. #SpreadingFacts, hosted by MIT in December 2019, utilized PubPub for promotion, live streaming, and connecting viewers with multimedia outputs. (see

What’s next?

KFG’s Community Publishing Program provides tools and support for publication options ranging from informal blogs, student publications, library publishing, to more formal university press-like offerings. There is always a completely free version of PubPub available for groups looking to test out tools or experiment alongside paid services offered by the KFG team for groups hoping to engage in more complex work. We are eager to see how these collaborations evolve.