Tuesday 14 August 2018

Spotlight on Dimensions - shortlisted for the 2018 ALPSP Awards for Innovation in Publishing

On the 13 September we will be announcing the winner of the 2018 ALPSP Awards for Innovation in Publishing, sponsored by MPS Limited, at the annual ALPSP Conference.  In this series of posts leading up to the Awards ceremony we meet our six finalists and get to know a bit more about them.

logo Dimensions

In this blog, we speak to Daniel Hook, MD of Digital Science, and Christian Herzog, CEO of ÜberResearch, about Dimensions.

An Introduction to Digital Science 

Set up in 2010 by a team from Nature, Digital Science was established with the aim of investing in startups that originated in academia and that created software tools to help researchers to do their best research. 

An independent company since the Springer Nature merger of 2015, Digital Science continues to pursue the vision of its founders: working closely with the research community to improve workflows, provide new insights, and develop alternative technologies that can better meet their needs.

Many of the Digital Science team either come from a research background, supported researchers in their previous roles, or simply have a love of research and science. It is this ethos that keeps us close to the researcher and to the broader scholarly community. 

Today, the Digital Science portfolio has grown to include now-familiar services Altmetric, Figshare, and Symplectic Elements, amongst others. These tools, widely adopted by publishers, institutions and funders around the world, have helped to evolve the way that scholars work and scholarly information flows. 

Dimensions: re-imagining discovery and access to research 

Launched in January 2018 and built in partnership with over 100 research organisations from around the world, Dimensions is a research insights platform that aims to re-imagine discovery and access to research, transforming the way the scholarly community navigates the global research landscape.

In developing Dimensions, Digital Science wanted to achieve 3 key things: 

  • A more complete view across the research lifecycle, with the focus no longer so much on publications alone
  • A more open approach to content and metrics that puts the power of data back into the hands of the scholarly community 
  • A tool that meets the needs of all stakeholders in scholarly research: institutions, funders, publishers and of course researchers

Dimensions breaks down barriers to discovery and enhances the visibility of research by connecting over 133 million grants, publications, patents and clinical trials for the first time, enabling users to explore over 4 billion links between them to gather new insight into the multi-dimensional aspects of research activity. 

It provides vital information that publishers, institutions, funders and corporate R&D can use to analyze the outcomes and impacts of past work, inform their strategic planning, and strengthen their research programs. 

image Dimensions Plus

A free version of the platform for researchers provides openly-available search across the publication records and their associated metrics, and paid-for versions Dimensions Plus and Dimensions Analytics deliver extended functionality and analytical tools to institutions, funders, publishers and corporate research organisations. 

Dimensions was designed with specific publisher benefits in mind. Publication detail pages in both the free and licensed versions link directly to the publisher site, driving traffic to the best available version of the article. For our publisher partners with whom we have indexing agreements - as well as Open Access publishers - we offer the dynamic Dimensions badges, which can be easily added to publisher article pages to showcase citations. The Dimensions citation metrics API, freely available for non-commercial use, can further be used commercially by our publisher content partners, enabling them to use citations data internally or on their platform. 
image Dimensions badges

To make it easy for researchers to consume the publisher’s preferred, legitimate version of an article, Digital Science has also launched Anywhere Access, a technology that enables libraries to provide one-click access to Open Access and licensed content. Anywhere Access ensures that all publications are more easily discoverable and that researchers are delivered the best, legally available version of the content every time. 

Behind the scenes

Dimensions is a study in what can be done with open data, unique identifiers, modern machine learning, some friendly publisher-partners, a great set of development partners and a highly dedicated team. It also relies on the technologies that Digital Science has been investing in over the last 8 years with companies such as Altmetric, Readcube and Figshare.  

Built by a distributed and diverse team located in countries mostly around Europe, the technical group is orchestrated by our CTO, Mario Diwersy, from Frankfurt. Much of the team is specialised in machine learning and artificial intelligence. 

An extensive data enrichment process has ensured that search results are both comprehensive and meaningful. Organisation identification, researcher disambiguation, natural language processing and reference extraction mean Dimensions is able to respond accurately to complex search queries. 

Using Dimensions, users are able to draw out insights that would not previously have been possible to uncover, and trace the research process from ideas to eventual impacts for the first time. 

visual of linked content

Just two dedicated staff members were newly hired to work on Dimensions: the rest has come from collaboration between existing teams - pulling together expertise from across the portfolio. 

These contributions included marketing and the development of the Dimensions badges, led by Altmetric; the application development and data science, directed by ÜberResearch; the close partnerships formed by the Digital Science Consulting team and Symplectic that helped to create the development partner programme; and the underpinning publication and infrastructure made possible by ReadCube.

It has been amazing to see the teams evolve and find new ways to work together, sharing different and multifaceted experiences to enable the rapid development and launch of a mature and well-thought-through product that keeps researchers and institutional users as a key focus. 

A 'game-changing' innovation

Until Dimensions, data sets that are highly relevant to one another were often fragmented, or situated in silos, making them difficult to compare. Existing market structures and data monopolies were preventing innovation in a space that needed up to date tools. 

In building Dimensions, we aimed to trigger an evolution in how researchers think about research information, and to address some key problems that had become apparent through our interactions with scholars, funders, institutions and publishers: 

  • Difficulties in getting access to content 
    Connecting researchers to the content that they need has been a poorly solved problem for many years. With Anywhere Access, which provides one-click access to OA and licensed content, Dimensions offers the fastest way yet for a researcher to find the article that they’re looking for and to get access to the legal, full text version. Dimensions is also the first freely available publication and citation data source where users can have full visibility of the data that drives the system, and that has been written to meet specific academic use cases.
  • Increasing demands on researchers
    There has been a slow but significant shift in what is asked of a researcher. Now, they must find places for PhD students who wish to continue studying, seek out collaborations, identify grant opportunities and craft responses, help to hire other academics in their institutions and ensure that their research is original, translatable and well “marketed”. In essence, they must run their own mini-startup around their research. Dimensions gives them the data to start managing all these facets of their research life. 
  • Going beyond publications and citations
    Research institutions, funders, publishers, governments and industry have all focussed on bibliometrics to form some kind of measure of the parts of the research enterprise that are relevant to them, and to help inform their future strategies. With Dimensions, we move to give a broader view and enable users to easily trace the links and analyse connections between content from across the research lifecycle - providing much more comprehensive context on which to base decisions.
  • Excessive barriers to innovation
    A core aspect of Dimensions is to put decisions and control back in the hands of the research community. In an era where metrics are so easily misused, metrics must be developed and owned by the community based on a datasource that can be fully audited. In commitment to this, the full Dimensions API is made freely available to bibliometrics researchers as well as to clients, enabling them to build on the data as they wish. 

Crucially, we did not do this alone. Beyond the development partners we have taken the approach of incorporating existing industry standards and data sources, with the aim of furthering a more collaborative scholarly ecosystem.

This includes publications data from Crossref (along with many publishers who actively supported the project), citation data from the Initiative for Open Citations (I40C), OA discovery via Unpaywall, and a partnership with ORCID that makes it possible for authors to supplement how they appear in Dimensions and claim publications directly to their ORCID account from within the platform. 

Our plans for the future

The launch of Dimensions was only the starting point for a continued joint development with the large group of development partners and users, including publishers.

Our aim now is to provide a constantly growing research information database that continues to link elements and content consistently together, providing a data landscape that reflects the complexity of the research process, outcomes and impacts.

In early August we integrated supplementary data from Figshare to publication pages within the platform, and in the next month we expect to add over 330,000 policy documents, offering valuable insights for social science scholars and those looking to understand the societal impacts of research.

In the meantime, we hope that the wider research community will grasp the opportunity to provide feedback and build on the infrastructure that exists today, and look forward to seeing where new ideas might lead!

Daniel Hook, MD Digital Science photo Daniel Hook

Daniel has been CEO of Digital Science since 2015. Holding a PhD in Theoretical Physics from Imperial College London, Daniel was a founder of Symplectic and served as its Managing Director from its foundation in 2003 until 2013, when he moved into a senior management role at Digital Science.

photo Christian HerzogChristian Herzog, CEO ÜberResearch 

Christian is the lead on the Dimensions project at Digital Science and CEO of ÜberResearch, which he co-founded. A medical doctor by training, Christian was also one of the co-founders of Collexis, and later became Vice President Product Management for SciVal.


The ALPSP Annual Conference and Awards 2018 will be held at the Beaumont Estate, Old Windsor, UK from 12-14 September, #alpsp18

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