Thursday 11 July 2013

Charlie Rapple on leveraging authors' expertise and networks to increase discoverability and usage

Charlie Rapple, co-founder of Kudos
Charlie Rapple, Associate Director at TBI Communications, provided a stark reminder of the environment researchers and publishers operate in at our seminar 'It's all about discoverability, stupid!' held on 10 July.

The problem? There are more and more articles which people have less and less time to read. This results in too many articles that are uncited.

A paper by Michael Mabe and Mayur Amin from 2001 projected 3.26% per annum growth in article numbers (Scientometrics, 51:1 (2001) 147-162) which equates to a lot of papers. In the report The Role of the Critical Review Article in Alleviating Information Overload (Annual Reviews 2011) it was found that 81% of early career researchers felt they should read more of the literature than they do, and 25% suggested they would need to read for more than 24 working hours a week to keep up.

If there is less time for reading, then too many articles will go without being cited. A further article - Five-year impact factor data in the Journal Citation Reports - from 2009 by Péter Jacsó in Online Information Review, explores new indicators based on the level of uncitedness of articles in journals.

The fact that reader time is at a premium is an issue for the reader, author, publisher and librarian. There is a filtering challenge. The standard way of communicating what is in a formal scientific paper is through an abstract, but when you read it, all but an expert might struggle to get to grips with the content. As a result they may miss reading the paper.

One such example is a paper co-authored by R Giles Harrison at the University of Reading entitled 'Electrical signature in polar night cloud base variations' (Environmental Research Letters, March 2013). As a student, if you read the abstract, the first paragraph of which is extracted below, you might not be inspired to go to the full text download.

"Layer clouds are globally extensive. Their lower edges are charged negatively by the fair weather atmospheric electricity current flowing vertically through them. Using polar winter surface meteorological data from Sodankylä (Finland) and Halley (Antarctica), we find that when meteorological diurnal variations are weak, an appreciable diurnal cycle, on average, persists in the cloud base heights, detected using a laser ceilometer."

However, if you view the accompanying video posted on YouTube, you immediately see the headline story, put in simple terms, and communicated by a researcher who is passionate about and committed to his work.

This approach was subsequently picked up in the wider press enabling the paper and author to gain much wider coverage raising the impact of the work.

Harnessing the authors' expertise and explaining research for different audiences is an essential part of this approach. Putting the research in context and explaining why is it important while mapping to human interest or hot topics can help raise the profile of the work and widen the readership. If you can boil down what's unique about it while providing some background on who or what was an inspiration, you can convey the passion behind your work and go beyond formal formats. This is likely to lead to research being cited. Currently, it is time-consuming and manual to draw out the "story" and only a minority of research gets this treatment

Capturing lost value
There are a lot of assets already built on authors' expertise including: lay summaries, impact statements, benefit to society statements, novelty statements etc. All this type of information could be enormously helpful to PR teams and researchers, but is currently held in silos. Part of the problem is the limited infrastructure for capturing and putting these assets to work. There is a real opportunity for the author as a more authoritative hub using existing social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter as well as research-oriented sites such as,, Mendeley and CiteULike.

Rapple cited the work of Melissa Terras from UCL who blogged and tweeted about uploading papers to the repository, initially to relieve the boredom. She told the story behind the research with every blog post, and was intrigued to note spikes in downloads of her papers that corresponded with her use of social media. This led her to observe:

"If you tell people about your research, they look at it." 

This demonstrates the potential to close the loop, break down the silos and reclaim the value of contextual information that is currently lost or fragmented.

Bringing it all together
These three problems of too much information, not enough time; valuable assets left in silos; and valuable networks being under-utilised require a solution that involves better use of metadata and multimedia. Rapple has been working on a new project, currently in beta, called Kudos, that tries to address this.

Whatever the solution, it will need to take into account:
  • Article level metrics (altmetrics and usage marketing)
  • Author services (open access, academic spring, community, advocacy)
  • Discovery (SEO, social media, international reach, metadata, marketing to individuals)
  • Closing the loop (data driven services, integration not duplication, social machines)
  • Intelligent reading (filtering, multimedia, public accessibility)
  • Research evaluation (funding, REF, STAR, ORCID, H-Index etc)

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