Starting over – my new blog and why I’m moving

2009 May 22
by Cornelius

The title pretty much says it all. After three years of writing CorpBlawg, I am closing down shop and moving to a new place just down the hall:

A few things about this “move” are admittedly a little strange. The new blog is hosted on my personal site, just like the old one. It also runs on WordPress and if you read the descriptions (“my blog about..:”) both are fairly similar. Why would I annoy my few subscribers by moving? Why bother setting up a new blog if I could just as  well continue the old one and simply shift my focus from corporate blogging to new topics?

I think this is my way of saying “that was that, this is something different”.

The bulk of the material in CorpBlawg is about corporate blogging and it feels odd to break up that relative consistency by writing about something completely different now that my PhD project is completed (by the way, I am the process of getting my thesis ready for publication, so keep an eye out for that if you’re interested).

The other, perhaps more important aspect is that I’ve learned a lot about blogging in the course of the last three years and my way of writing has changed accordingly. I think one the most interesting ways of using a blog is as a personal knowledge management tool and among other things, I intend to use for that purpose. This means that I will write it in a less essayistic and elaborate fashion than I did in CorpBlawg and use the new blog more like a personal scrapbook for all kinds of bits and pieces that I want to work with later. I’ll save the ‘big stuff’ for what I suspect we are all saving it for – ‘real’ publications, i.e. articles in scientific journals and books. To stick to my my own imagery, I’ll use the new blog less as a megaphone and more like a diary, or (more precisely) like a lab notebook. Entries will most likely be shorter and less polished than before, but more usable to me and perhaps even others, provided that they are familiar with the context of my work. They will be less useful to a general readership and aimed more at colleages, collarborators and at myself than my previous blogging.

So there you have it: a change in style and purpose leads to a change in conceptualized audience and therefore I need a new blog. Ah, isn’t it just lovely when practice so neatly follows theory? ;-)

Over and out – and be sure to subscribe to my new blog.

Presentation at the Virtual Knowledge Studio, Amsterdam

2009 May 8
by Cornelius

I had the opportunity to hold a talk today (slides embedded below) at the weekly colloquium of the Virtual Knowledge Studio in Amsterdam. Sarah Kjellberg initiated the visit and Anne Beaulieu kindly arranged the talk with the somewhat suspense-inducing title The Eroticism of Paper. My main focus was on publishing practices in different disciplines (generously simplified and generalized in my presentation) and on paper publishing vs. digital communication.

Thank you to Anne, Paul, Nick, Ernst and everyone else who attended for the very stimulating discussion that provided me with a number of new ideas – I’m looking forward to continuing it!

Edit: unfortunately SlideShare has mangled my OpenOffice presentation, making all bullet points mysteriously disappear. Duh.

Digitale Geisteswissenschaften – post on Digital Humanities (in German) in my other blog

2009 April 8
by Cornelius

I just wanted to let you know about a post on Digital Humanities (in German) that I’ve just published in, a newly launched team blog that I also contribute to.

Preprints of three of my forthcoming papers on blogs

2009 April 2
by Cornelius

I have just uploaded three of my papers on stylistic and pragmatic aspects of blogging to my website, two specifically on corporate blogs (Thank You and Lies) and a more theoretical one on blogs in general (Diary or Megaphone?).

Because these articles have all been forthcoming for some time (maximum being almost 1.5 years), I have decided to stop waiting, get with the program and put up preprints, as I’ve been sending copies to colleagues for discussion for a while now anyway. Note that since these are preprints, details may still change and I strongly advise you to get in touch with me before you cite anything. Also, don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any comments or questions.

(forthcoming) Puschmann, Cornelius. Diary or Megaphone? The pragmatic mode of weblogs.” Language in the (New) Media: Technologies and Ideologies, September 3-6 2009, Seattle, WA, USA (accepted, to be presented).

(forthcoming) Puschmann, Cornelius. “”Thank you for thinking we could”. Use and function of interpersonal pronouns in corporate web logs.” Heidrun Dorgeloh & Anja Wanner (eds.): Approaches to Syntactic Variation and Genre. Mouton de Gruyter.

(forthcoming) Puschmann, Cornelius. “Lies at Wal-Mart. Style and the subversion of genre in the Life at Wal-Mart blog.” Janet Giltrow & Dieter Stein (eds.): Theories of Genre and the Internet. Walter Benjamin.

Methods, methodology and theory in English Studies

2009 March 30

Last week I visited Bad Bederkesa, a small town in the coastal north of Germany where I attended a three-day round table discussion on methods and methodology in English Studies, organized by the German National Science Foundation (DFG). I thought it was an extremely interesting and very productive workshop, but it also highlighted how complex the issue of methods is in English Studies (the term subsuming Literary Studies, Cultural Studies and Linguistics under one institutional label at most German universities).

The drawing below represents an interpretation of the interdependence of theory and method by Roy Sommer. Roy’s model incorporated a metaphor introduced into our discussion by Jürgen Schläger who challenged us with the question of whether “we want to crawl or fly”. Though he used the metaphor in a slightly different context, the connection with methods (the ground) and theory (the sky) was made at some point and it stuck. Later Ansgar Nünning and Martin Kayman also added to the model.

The differentiation between standard and routine procedures that Roy made is in my understanding essentially the difference between prescription and description. Whereas standard procedures are highly codified (as is the case with most quantitative methods), standard procedures are followed by many researchers more or less intuitively. This gives them less visibility and prestige in a sense, since they are not documented as rigorously as prescriptive standard procedures. Obviously though they are not less valuable and in many Humanities disciplines without a dogmatic methodology they are clearly favored over standardization.

I don’t think I can fully capture the many other important points that were made in the course of the meeting, but it was a very productive event that has given me a number of new perspectives on the issue.

Thanks once more to the organizers for their engagement and for inviting me!

Swedish researcher investigating academic blogging

2009 March 30

A bit ago, Lilia Efimova was kind enough to point out Sara Kjellberg’s blog to me. Sara is a PhD student who investigates how access to digital information is shaping scholarly communication practices. At the moment, Sara is working on a project at the Virtual Knowledge Studio in Amsterdam in the course of which she will analyze blogging practices among Dutch researchers.

I’m very interested in finding out more about the state of research on academic blogging and other new forms of digital scholarly communication, and I really hope I’ll have the chance to chat with Sara about her findings at some point (perhaps when I visit Lilia in May?).

GPeerReview – changing the reviewing game?

2009 March 20

Heinz Pampel of the Helmholtz Gemeinschaft’s Open Access team pointed me to this interesting project on Google Code.

A few things should probably be noted in conjunction with GPeerReview. Firstly, it is not associated with Google in any immediate way, but merely lives on Google Code. Some blog posts suggest that it is an ‘official’ Google project, which as far as I can see it isn’t – at least not yet.

Secondly, the process envisioned by Mike Gashler, the main GPeerReview developer, departs from the traditional review process (as for example most journals use it) in several important (and positive) ways.

Here is the publishing process according to Gashler:

So, you’ve got a good idea. You’ve done some experiments, gathered some results, and written a paper. Now what?

  1. The first thing you should do is pre-publish your work. Put your paper, your datasets, scripts, results, etc. on a public server. This does two things: 1- It ensures that science can move rapidly (without waiting for a response from a slow journal), and 2- It protects you from dishonest reviewers who might steal your ideas. [..] If some journal doesn’t permit works that were pre-published, you should not support that journal with your ideas anyway. Such journals will try to lock up your ideas rather than promote them. This is not good for you. Pre-publishing is good for you.)
  2. Try to publish in a top-tier journal. A few publications with really good journals will benefit your resume/career much more than a lot of publications with so-so journals. It is well worth the extra effort required to get the endorsement of a respected journal. (Notice that up to this point nothing is different. Now, here comes the new stuff…)
  3. Also submit your paper to several big-name endorsement organizations (EO’s). An EO is similar to a journal, but it doesn’t care whether or not a paper has already been published, it only cares how good the paper is. An EO doesn’t publish your paper, it just reviews and (hopefully) endorses your pre-publication copy. The “editor” of the EO will solicit the help of qualified reviewers to review your paper (just like a journal). He/she will coordinate double-blind reviews to ensure fairness. If the EO decides to reject your paper, they send you a private email with suggestions for improvement. If they accept it, they will send you a digitally-signed endorsement. (See more about EOs below.) Your c.v. (resume) should list all the endorsements that you obtain for each of your works. The idea that only the publisher can endorse a work is becoming antiquated. It is perfectly reasonable for many organizations to endorse a paper.

The concept of the endorsement organization is obviously the main innovation here (and I’m not saying that other aspects of GPeerReview are not innovative).

Why is it such a persuasive idea? Because it detaches evaluation from publication, two processes which have only been conflated in yesterday’s/today’s journal publishing system for historical and technological reasons. The infrastructure that publishers provide for disseminating your work is no longer needed – it’s a relic of the paper age. What’s still needed is peer review and peer endorsement in some form, but there is no practical reason why two separate processes should remain conflated into one once the technical requirements change. Authors can (and should) take care of making their ideas accessible and their institutions should support them with doing so. But evaluation is what that the community does – not the author herself (obviously), not her institution and not publishers.

From the website:

GPeerReview attempts to makes it easy for authors to seek post-publication endorsements of their works. We provide the following tools:

  • A command-line tool to digitally sign endorsements (done and available).
  • A web-based version of the signing tool (about 70% done).
  • Client tools for analyzing endorsement graphs to establish credibility (in planning stages).
  • Additional tools to facilitate the running of endorsement organizations (in the brain-storming stages).
  • Tools for analyzing citation graphs (in the brain-storming stages).

On the onset, GPeerReview has two central components: a) a facilty to endorse a publication and digitally sign your endorsement and b) a tool to evaluate the endorsements you receive.

The second component is not entirely dissimilar to PageRank in that it makes ranking via dynamic social networks possible, and that the weight of my opinion as a reviewer is dependent on how others rate me. I won’t pretend to fully understand the mathematics behind it, but it seems plausible that the combination of by-name endorsements and numerical data provided by the peer reviewing network will provide a valuable indicator of quality – more valuable than what we have at the moment, at least.

From the Q & A:

If an endorsement comes from another scholar, then the scholar’s name determines the significance of the endorsement. Of course, there are too many scholars out there for anyone to recognize them all by name, but there are graph analysis techniques that can arguably provide valuable information. When researchers review and sign each others’ works, a decentralized social network is naturally formed. This network will eventually mirror the structure of the research community. If, for example, you wanted to determine how influential a particular scholar is with his research community, you could use an analysis technique that gives the information you want. We think the following algorithm might be a good choice:

  1. Use a max-flow/min-cut algorithm.
  2. Represent the individual being analyzed as the “source” node.
  3. Select a number of well-known scholars of high reputation in your field. Represent each of these as a “sink” node.
  4. Perform graph-cut to identify the sum strength of endorsements that would need to be hypothetically severed in order to separate the source from the sink.
  5. Compare this value with those of other reputable researchers in your field.

As Gashler points out, another problem of the conflation of publishing with reviewing is that only one set of reviewers evaluates a publication, whethas a large and open community of people can review and endorse a publication with GPeerReview or a system built on similar principles.

So, how could this work from a practical point of view?

I think there’s another name for ‘Endorsement Organization’ and it’s Scholarly Society.

What makes it problematic for societies to publish journals is that they lack the infrastructure to act as a publisher and that maintaining such an infrastrucure is inefficient and costly. But with Gashler’s model they don’t need to actually store or archive anything. They let researchers typeset, proofread and upload their own material (or forego all of these things and risk being penalized) and instead act purely as EOs that leverage their social network qualities to provide something they are excellent at providing: a seal of quality.

At the same time this leaves room for disciplinary and institutional repositories in the system. The question of where something is stored is rather boring from a researcher’s perspective anyway – put it into your institutional repository if you want to make your librarian happy, just upload it to your website if you want to annoy him (with extra bonus points if it’s your private website), or go for something disciplinary if that feels like the best place.

What we really need are new ways of discussing our research with each other more rapidly and openly.

I think GPeerReview may be a big step into that direction.

Edit: Coverage of GPeerReview by Dean Giustini; more about open access and open peer review in Peter Suber’s blog.

MIT adopts university-wide Open Access policy

2009 March 19
by Cornelius

From Peter Suber’s Open Access News: “this afternoon, the MIT faculty unanimously adopted a university-wide OA mandate.” Here’s the full text over at OAN. As Peter points out, this is big.

Two papers on Social Networks in the workplace and organizational settings

2009 March 19

Lilia Efimova linked to this paper by Meredith Skeels and past collaborator Jonathan Grudin. I decided to do a quick search on Google Scholar and found a second interesting article on the subject by George Baltatzis, David George Ormrod and Nicholas Grainger.

My interest is related to a workshop that I am co-organizing along with some colleagues. Will post more on that soon.

Article in CHE on open access

2009 March 19

Colleagues pointed me to this recent article on OA, published in the Chronicle of Higher Education. From the piece:

“We recognize that publishers have their costs and that neither the university nor the publishers should ram things down each other’s throats,” Ms. Mariner said. “There should be some concern for what can realistically happen. But we do think that, over time, things are moving toward open access for everyone.”

I like the adjective realistically in conjunction with open access for everyone.