How many health science journals today make use of Web 2.0 technologies to disseminate their content? A study published this summer examines how social networks, RSS feeds and bookmarking tools are used by health sciences publishers. Open Access journals lack recognition and visibility. Hence, empowering authors, publishers and readers to actively diffuse an article has the potential to highly increase the impact of results published in Open Access. Are Open Access journals aware of this potential benefit? Should they use these tools more? How can the impact of this new dissemination approach be measured? Is a new science communication market going to appear?
Curation: an added value to keep up to date with the relevant scientific information
“A 2004 study estimated it would take 29 hours per workday […] for a physician to keep up to date with the primary care literature,” says Sandy De Groote, associate professor and scholarly communication librarian at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Fortunately, there are ways to set up automatic search updates to be informed of the publication of relevant new content. RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feeds allow readers to subscribe to the feeds they are interested in and to aggregate them in one place, so they do not have to visit all the journals’ pages individually to get the information. Today, social networking tools offer a second layer of sorting between good and unpromising literature. This was the subject of our article “Science and Curation: the new practice of Web 2.0”. Indeed, with the huge increase in information that one can access, it is highly time-saving to share one’s search results and benefit from those of others who have the same interests.
This summer, Sandy De Groote authored a study called Promoting health sciences journal content with Web 2.0: A snapshot in time published in First Monday, the first Open Access journal studying Open Access itself. “I was trying to find out how many high-quality health science journals had Twitter and Facebook accounts. How many of them had links to social networks on their websites? How many allowed the reader to share on social networks and bookmarking?”
The study was conducted at the end of 2011 and updated in March 2012. The results showed that of the 248 journals studied (both traditional and Open Access journals), only 29% had Twitter accounts. Even fewer (27%) had an active Facebook account, yet most of them had RSS feeds (87%). A more positive result is that 60% of the journals allowed the reader to share articles through social networks and bookmarking tools.
On both Twitter and Facebook, the latest posts/tweets published from journals’ accounts concern new publications, new issues or the most popular articles. 58 journals have a Facebook page, but no activity on it. On the active pages, many journals share links to blog posts concerning new results or publications. This shows that it is useful to combine popular science writing with social media to foster the dissemination of information.
It must be noted that Open Access articles are more and more frequently cited in blog posts and news media to the detriment of articles published through traditional means. Citations of PLOS ONE are particularly frequent now. Open Access means a broader dissemination. So, imagine the impact of Open Access + Social Media!
Open Access vs traditional publishers: Towards a systematic use of web 2.0?
“In the push-and-pull between open access (OA) publishing models and that of traditional scientific journals, OA should not strive to prove it is as good as the latter; it can be better, and social media tools can give it that competitive edge[…]”
This is an extract of an earlier article entitled Open Access + Social Media = Competitive Advantage. In De Groote’s article, of the 248 journals that were studied, 42 were Open Access journals. So the question is: are Open Access journals using and benefiting from this competitive advantage?
“In general, I found the traditional journals to be more likely to incorporate social media in their websites than Open Access journals,” says Sandy De Groote. “I think that’s kind of ironic – because in Open Access, the person or the follower can actually get access to the articles shared…” She adds that Open Access journals are the ones to benefit from social media”. Indeed, sharing a link to an article for which a subscription is needed is only useful for colleagues who have the required subscription to the journal. It can, therefore, be very frustrating to click on an interesting link just to end up on the home page of a journal you don’t have access to. “Open Access publishers are smaller. They may lack funding, time or people to implement social networks in their website and to animate their accounts. Traditional publishers must have more money to invest [in the distribution of their content on social media].”
In her article, De Groote concludes that “As open access journals are considered as part of the changing landscape in scholarly communication, it is surprising to see that there are not more OA journals that embrace the potential advantages of Web 2.0 technology.”
Altimetrics: a new discipline?
It is remarkable that 40% of the traditional journals that have a Twitter account do not have a link to their account on their website homepage. This may suggest that some publishers may not always understand the way social media should be used and the way they can benefit from them, unless this is due to the fact that they don’t want to take the risk of looking less serious because they use social media.
The aim of authors is to disseminate their results to be cited by other authors. “One study found a correlation between the number of tweets and the number of article downloads (Puustinen and Edwards, 2012). Another study found the number of tweets could predict the later impact the journal would have in terms of the number of cited references (Eysenbach, 2011),” writes Sandy De Groote in her study.
Some publishers have become very good at communicating through a variety of Web 2.0 media. Nature’s blog posts are highly visible. They are broadcast widely via social media, and actions such as videoconferences and chats with authors of studies are very helpful for enhancing the public’s access to science. Plus, these media accelerate the dissemination of results among scientists all over the world, including in developing countries.
How can we help publishers better understand these benefits? The impact of Web 2.0 could be accounted for by new metrics, in order to quantify the added value. “Some publishers,” says De Groote, “such as PLoS, have begun to track impact metrics beyond the mere counting of the number of citations and have developed software that will track the number of times an article is shared using social networking tools.” If one such leader in Open Access starts taking into account the impact of social media, the others might soon follow. CitedIn, altmetric (500$ per year per researcher) and total-impact are three new tools offering such altimetric methods. Time will tell how the evaluation of scientific results and scientists will develop, but it could well have something to do with Facebook, Twitter or other Web 2.0 media used by scientists. Of course, like any big step forward, social media in scientific publishing is susceptible to being misused, but the promise it holds is even greater.