Personalisation and collaboration

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Grace Baynes of Nature Publishing Group describes some of the ways that this company is using Web 2.0 to help researchers

Web 2.0 has become the latest buzzword in scholarly publishing. But the concepts behind it have not emerged overnight. Nature Publishing Group (NPG), for example, has been working on publishing initiatives that fall under the Web 2.0 umbrella since 2004. As publishing director Timo Hannay explains: ‘We’re basically trying to identify ways in which scientists can use the web as a collaborative environment.’

One of NPG’s first web publishing experiments is the free online reference management and social bookmarking service Connotea, which was launched in late 2004, inspired by the social bookmarking site Like and similar services, organising bookmarks in Connotea is based on adding keywords or ‘tags’.

Connotea is open to anyone to use but it is more tailored to the needs of the academic community. It supports standards such as ‘Digital Object Identifiers’ (DOIs) and OpenURL, is compatible with desktop reference management software, and can automatically pull off bibliographic information from many scientific journals and websites. As well as providing personal libraries, Connotea is a social tool, so users can view other people’s collections and create groups.

Such collaboration between users is an important feature of Web 2.0 tools for researchers. Another way to assist interaction is with services such as Scintilla. This tool collects data from news outlets, scientific blogs, journals and databases. Users can then personalise what they see, based on storing searches or by selecting a particular source of information.

Scintilla is designed to encourage collaboration, so users can rate items and recommend them to colleagues, and create or join groups centred around particular areas of interest.

A similar service, Dissect Medicine, is an initiative between Macmillan Medical Communications and Nature Clinical Practice, the medical publishing arm of NPG. This medical news website enables users to submit items for review with tags and keywords, which are then ranked by the user group.

Collaboration is also a key goal of Nature Network, NPG’s online community or social network, aimed at scientists, but open to anyone. Formally launched in 2007 after spending a year in beta trials, Nature Network provides users with profiles, groups and discussion forums, as well as blogs, event listings and news articles. It also pulls through job listings from Naturejobs.

About 1,000 people sign up to the service each month. Nature Network currently has two ‘hubs’, in London and Boston, with more planned for 2008.

Another Web 2.0 development in 2007 was the launch of Nature Precedings. This free service from NPG provides a way for researchers to share preliminary findings in biomedicine, chemistry and the earth sciences. Nature Precedings accepts unpublished manuscripts, white papers, technical papers, supplementary findings, posters and presentations. Submissions are not peer reviewed, but are reviewed by professional NPG curators to ensure they are not pseudo-science. Accepted contributions are assigned stable identifiers (DOIs and ‘Handles’) that enable formal citation, and are made available through an open-access archive.

The company also introduced a commenting system. Nature News articles became the first pages on where users can post comments directly underneath the stories. Voting by readers and users is also increasingly common. For example, the Nature China website offers a ‘recommended papers’ section, where users can vote for and comment on highquality articles to be included on the website.

But the role of Web 2.0 in scholarly publishing is not just about developing new tools that are particularly geared towards researchers. STM publishers have also realised the need to embrace more mainstream Web 2.0 technologies that are already popular with users. For example, NPG has had a Facebook group since late 2006 and will introduce a Facebook page in early 2008 with feeds of content from across the NPG portfolio.

Another area that publishers are experimenting with is virtual reality, especially via Second Life, a 3D virtual world created by its users. NPG’s archipelago of three virtual islands in Second Life, dubbed Second Nature, was established in November 2006. The islands are already covered in exhibits from scientists who have borrowed land on Second Nature to trial virtual collaboration.

Such developments are set to continue – NPG plans to couple continued innovation with closer integration of its web publishing offerings.


The latest internet developments are transforming research communication. NPG’s Second Nature, for example, is enabling new ways of collaborating and presenting results using virtual reality.

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