Antisocial Journals

April 15, 2009

Bosco recently posted some interesting thoughts on the comments and ratings system for the Public Library of Science (PLoS):

I like PLOS. I really do. Look I've published two articles with them. I fully believe that they represent a big stepping stone to the future of science publishing.

Yet, oh yet, I feel like their attempt at building community is kinda shoddy at the moment. The heart of any social media website (reddit, slashdot, 4chan etc.) is the commenting and rating system. The commenting and rating system of the PLOS website is really poor, and I can’t see how it will gain traction given the usability failings.

Sound familiar?

I wrote the following as a comment:

Bosco - how likely do you think it is that at some point the job of managing secondary journal content (ratings, comments) will be done by third parties and not journals themselves?

I'm thinking about services like DISQUS and StackOverflow. They both are showing the power of aggregating and organizing discussions separately from their source.

Even if Plos manages to fix some aspects of its comments/ratings system, the problem remains that Plos is but one of many information resources demanding valuable attention and time. My guess is scientists would much rather have one site they go to for secondary discussion/rating of the literature.

Nobody's found the right approach yet, but that doesn't mean it isn't out there.

There have been a few attempts to create centralized rating/discussion services for the scientific literature. For but one example, consider "The Scientific Debate", a now defunct service that was originally reviewed here.

Given the right approach, it seems at least plausible that a centralized discussion/rating system for a segment of the scientific literature could work. The attempts to date have been less than inspiring, but this shouldn't be surprising at all given the novelty of the medium.

With time, the right plan, and the right team behind it, my money's on young upstarts to do what scientific journals can't or won't do for themselves.