The open access tracking project (OATP)
SPARC Open Access Newsletter, issue #133
May 2, 2009
by Peter Suber
Two weeks ago I launched the beta version of the open access tracking project (OATP), a collaborative effort to track new OA developments worldwide.

The idea is to tag new OA developments and recruit others to do the same.  On the many-eyeballs principle, we'll notice many more new developments together than any of us could notice on our own.  A group feed will broadcast the results of what we notice to everyone who wants to follow along.

This morning I launched a home page for the project at the Open Access Directory, a wiki open to community editing.

The project feed already exists.  In fact, it exists in three forms:  a web page, an RSS feed, and an email feed.

This is key:  the feed is already more comprehensive than Open Access News (OAN).  I know that it's more comprehensive because Gavin Baker and I write OAN, and we now tag everything we blog.  We also tag a good number of things we don't blog.  If OAN was formerly the most comprehensive source of OA-related news, OATP took its place about a month ago.

You can participate in the project as a reader, a tagger, or both, starting immediately.  To participate as a reader, just follow or subscribe to some version of the project feed. 

To participate as a tagger, you'll need to create a Connotea account, if you don't already have one.  I recommending putting the "Add to Connotea" bookmarklet on your browser.  When you see a new OA development, tag it with the string "".  If you have time, write a brief description in the "description" box of Connotea's tagging dialog.  At OAN, my rule of rule of thumb is to limit new posts to developments from the past six months or so, and I'm using the "" tag with the same understanding of what counts as new.

You don't need to register with the project.  Just read our output and, if you will, help with the input. 

That's all there is to it --or at least all there is to the alert system, which is OATP's primary function.  I hope you'll take advantage of the project feed, and take part in making it comprehensive.

* Why bother?

The project has two compelling rationales in my life.  First, OAN is no longer comprehensive, and hasn't been for several years.  There's too much OA-related news for it cover.  Of course this is a side-effect of the success of the OA movement, which is a reason to celebrate.  But this good fortune gets worse every year.  When Gavin joined me as an assistant in February 2008, there was too much news for one person to cover alone and we made a brief gain on adequacy.  But before long there was too much news for two people to cover.  We fall further behind every month as the OA universe continues to expand.  As we struggle to keep up, however, we tax the time and patience of our readers, apart from what we do to ourselves.  That's the second problem:  OAN is already too comprehensive.  It may be incomplete, but it's also too large.  The volume of news it does cover is too much for most readers, who only have time to skim. 

Worse, these two problems don't mix well.  Expanding OAN to solve the first problem would aggravate the second, and trimming OAN to solve the second problem would aggravate the first.

We need a new approach which is both more comprehensive (to solve the first) and more lean and digestible (to solve the second).  We need a method which scales with the growth of the OA movement and which is less time-consuming for authors and readers alike.  That's OATP in a nutshell. 

We needed it years ago, but at least it's here now.  Gavin and I have been blogging a selective subset of the news, but even the subset has been too large --on our side and yours.  OATP will allow us, and all other bloggers who cover OA, to be more selective, knowing that users who want a comprehensive feed of news have one in OATP.

* Comprehensiveness and austerity

Though we've needed OATP for years, it won't do everything we need.

I'm very aware of the value of OAN, or at least the value I've tried to put into it:  almost-comprehensive scope, timeliness, self-sufficient summaries or excerpts, occasional comments, juxtaposition of related sources, links to relevant developments including past posts, and a searchable archive.  But that kind of labor-intensive coverage is exactly what doesn't scale with the relentless growth of the OA movement.  Or, it can only scale across many blogs and bloggers.  We're at the moment when the kind of service OAN has been providing must either fade away, as a relic of the days when the movement was smaller, or continue as one node in a community network which can scale up as needed.

The project feed is not only more comprehensive than OAN, but more comprehensive than OAN could ever be.  It's also leaner or more austere, containing a citation and link to the source, the date of the tag, and the name of the tagger.  If the tagger used additional tags (beyond ""), and added a description, those appear as well.  You could call this austerity a vice when readers want detail, or you could call it a virtue when comprehensiveness plus detail would rule out actual reading.  But even if it's a virtue, I'm very aware that comprehensiveness and austerity aren't the only virtues. 

OATP may solve two compelling problems --that OAN falls too far short of completeness and is nevertheless too voluminous-- and that may be some trick when mitigating either problem seems to aggravate the other.  But it's no substitute for OAN, or other sources of news, and isn't supposed to be.  It's more adequate than OAN if you want comprehensiveness but less adequate if you want anything else.  The strengths and weaknesses of an austere tracking project coexist with the strengths and weaknesses of a rich blog.  Each source is necessary even if each is far from sufficient.  The tracking project doesn't give you much information unless you click through for more, even if it gives you the links you need to click through, and the blog doesn't scale, no matter how valuable it is and no matter what is available to supplement it. 

One consolation is that you're only a click away from rich detail.  Another is that the OATP feed is slightly less austere than it may appear at first.  By including additional tags (beyond ""), it can give valuable perspective on the nature of a news item, even before you click through to see the full text.  By including descriptions, it can give you a human judgment of what the new development is about.  Another is that many new developments need very little elaboration, such as the launch of a new journal or repository.  Another, as noted, is that the full, high-calorie coverage of the news would be too voluminous to read, even if we could find the staff to write it.  But most important is that OATP's wide but shallow coverage is entirely compatible with a world of sources --blogs, discussion forums, newspapers, journals-- which treat new developments in greater depth.  Part of the point is that OATP is unmatched at identifying those richer sources and bringing them to your attention. 

* Beyond alerting to classifying

OATP is primarily an alert system.  It should alert readers to new OA developments, much as OAN has done but more comprehensively, more compactly, more collaboratively, more flexibly, and more promptly. 

But OATP is also a classification system.  It enables users to classify OA developments even when they are not new.  To do so, it encourages user-defined tags to classify items under any relevant OA subtopics.  For example, you can mark a new article about the NIH policy with "", "oa.article", "oa.nih", "oa.mandate", "oa.medicine", "oa.legislation", and "oa.usa".  You can tag items by field ("oa.anthropology"), country ("oa.brazil"), language ("oa.chinese"), date ("oa.2009", "oa.apr.2009"), and genre ("oa.article", "oa.comment", "oa.dissertation", "oa.presentation").  If an item is not new, then simply omit the "" tag.

The two most important facts about these "subtopic tags" is that they are all optional and they are all user-defined.  If you don't have time to add them, or don't want to be bothered, then don't.  If the classification system doesn't grab you, don't let it deter you from participating in the alert system.

There is no official set of subtopic tags.  The project does not presuppose a consensus ontology of OA.  But it supports the evolution of one by listing the user-defined tags on the OAD wiki for community editing and discussion.

Alerts are clearly useful, but why is classification useful?  Here are some of the reasons.  It helps you locate anything the project has already classified.  Instead of just searching by keyword, you can search within Connotea by tag, such as "oa.policy", or by a Boolean combination of tags such as "oa.policy" AND "oa.france". 

It helps you track new items on the subtopics you care about.  Instead of just using tags to search for older items, you can subscribe to a feed of new items with any given tag or combination of tags, such as "" AND "oa.german" AND "oa.philosophy". 

It helps you collect and display OA resources in a given domain.  If your web site links to selected OA resources in a certain field or country, you could link directly to the Connotea project libraries for relevant tags, such as "oa.chemistry" or "oa.canada".  Societies, journals, blogs, and individual researchers within a given field could take it upon themselves to tag the OA resources in their field ("oa.anthropology"), link to the relevant tag library, and offer a feed of new developments in the field. 

Finally, you may want to use mashup tools, like Yahoo Pipes, not only to combine the project feed (on "") with other feeds and online services, but to do the same with any subtopic feed or combination of subtopic feeds. 

Why give alerts a higher priority than classification?  The main reason is that the rapid expansion of the OA universe is outpacing our current alert system and we urgently need something better.  Comprehensive alerts in real time require some real-time effort, while classification leaves us the luxury of tagging items retroactively when we happen to run across them.  Fortunately, giving alerts priority also simplifies the work for those willing to help out.  It's far easier to use just one tag ("") than to develop and use a family of subtopic tags.  The project should be more inviting because it makes the easier job the top priority.

There are many questions about the classification side of the project that I'm deliberately leaving for the future.  One reason is to avoid adding complexity to the secondary side of the project at this early stage, and drawing attention away from what's primary.  Another is to let the questions simmer a while longer while I, and others, think about the best answers.  When I say that the project is in beta, I'm thinking of the classification side.  The alert system is a go.  Meantime, those interested in the classification system should use subtopic tags, annotate them on project tag page, and discuss them on the associated discussion page.  More later.

* A personal digression

Here's a related development from my own life:  I've been appointed a Fellow at Harvard's Berkman Center, to start on July 1.

All my new projects will be OA-related, but they bring their own load and will require me to cut back on blogging. 

OAN will continue after July 1, but at lower volume.  Gavin and I will both continue to contribute, he at his present pace, and I at a pace to be determined by my new set of projects.  On many days I won't blog anything at all.  I can't predict how much time I'll have for blogging, but the only responsible way to enter upon my new obligations is to prepare to give them all the time they require.

I'll continue to write the SPARC Open Access Newsletter and publish it monthly.  Moreover, refining OATP will be one of my projects at Harvard, thanks to the flexibility of the Berkman Center and a grant from the Wellcome Trust. 

Ideally, OATP and OAN would coexist --OATP providing a lean but comprehensive source of news, and OAN blogging a selective subset of that news in greater depth.  And that is roughly what will happen.  OATP has already allowed us to be more selective at OAN, tagging some items without blogging them --for example, on OA for public sector information, OA for educational resources, and the voluminous discussion of the Google book settlement swirling (especially) in the US and Germany.  This is already a very useful coexistence.  After July 1, however, OAN will necessarily become much more selective.

I acknowledge the loss and will feel it myself.  My extensive blog work has been the basis of everything else I do for OA.  If I didn't write OAN every day, I'd want to *read* it every day.  As it is, I'll read OATP and do what I can to make worth reading. 

My hope is that users who want comprehensive coverage will turn to OATP first, and then to the bloggers who blog subsets of the news in greater detail.  OAN will be just one of many blogs doing that.

When I do blog, I'll follow a few rules that I recommend to other bloggers.  I'll tag all the new developments that I blog.  That will insure that the project feed is at least as comprehensive as my blog, and that project readers will see these new developments even if they don't read my blog.  When I see relevant news that I choose not to blog, I will at least tag it.  That will keep the project feed comprehensive and insure that the new item I saw will also be seen by project readers.  When I blog nothing but a citation, link, and excerpt, I generally won't tag my own post.  But when my post adds a comment or additional information and links, then I'll tag it as well.  That will make it visible to people who might not read my blog. 

I can't promise that the items I blog after July 1 will the most important subset.  That would require me be on top of all new developments and make systematic decisions --a job description a lot closer to what I'll be leaving behind than what I'll be able to continue.  I'll blog what I notice, what moves me, and what I have time for.  It should be a eclectic bunch.  I know that I'll notice a lot of important news, thanks in part to OATP, and I know that I'll be moved to blog a lot of it.  But most of it will be important news that I only have time to tag.

If you notice something important and send me an email recommending that I blog it, I'll recommend that you tag it instead. That will the best way to alert the OA community, including me.

Finally, a thank you note.  The Open Society Institute has supported my OA work since before the Budapest initiative, and has supported my blog since 2003.  Because I'll soon have a new source of funding and will have to curtail my blogging, I won't try to renew my OSI funding this year.  If the full-volume OAN has been valuable, that value would have been impossible without the support of OSI and Melissa Hagemann, the champion of OA within the OSI Information Program.  Without OSI, I'd still be a full-time professor of philosophy, happy enough but always wishing for more time to give the OA movement and always wondering whether I could have done more to advance the exciting idea of free online access to research.  (Unfortunately, I'm hard to please --happily working full-time on OA, but always wishing for more time to give philosophy and always wondering whether I might have finished, or might still finish, my exciting unfinished philosophy projects.)  Most faculty have public policy interests, but very few have a chance to throw themselves into a public campaign to realize them.  OSI enabled me to make that choice, which changed my career.  This is the moment to say thank you. 

If I say more, it will sound like I'm retiring, and I'm not retiring.  I'm shifting a good chunk of time from my blog to the Berkman Center, and continuing with the newsletter and other forms of analysis, assistance, and advocacy I've been doing for years.  I'm staying full-time in OA.  (Philosophy will have to wait a little longer.)  And for all of us working on OA, whose collective efforts make the volume of news unmanageably large, I'm launching this tracking project to help us stay on top of it.

* Here's a mini FAQ on the OATP.  Later today I'll move it to the project home page at the OAD.

(1) What's in the project feed?

All the items tagged with "" at Connotea.  It doesn't include all new OA developments, although that's the goal.  It only includes the new developments that project participants have noticed and tagged. 

If an item is not tagged with "", then it won't appear in the project feed, even if it's tagged with many other OA-related tags and appears in many other related feeds.

(2) How can I read the project feed?

If you're comfortable with RSS, then subscribe to the feed with your favorite RSS reader.  You can use the default project feed, with the 10 most recent items.  Or you can use a variation with 50, 100, or more of the most recent items.  You can also subscribe to a version which filters out duplicates (recommended) or which filters out kinds of news you may not care to track.  The URLs for all of these are available on the project home page.

If you're not comfortable with RSS feeds, then you can view the feed on a standard web page.  Bookmark it and visit whenever you like.

You can also subscribe to an email version of the feed.

(3) How do I become a tagger?

Create an account at Connotea, and put the "Add to Connotea" bookmarklet on your browser.

When you visit a page online that you'd like to tag, just click on the bookmarklet and type "" in the "tags" field of the pop-up dialog box.  If you have time, type a brief description in the "description" field.  If you add a description, it will appear in the feed for others to read.  (You'll also have a chance to add a "comment", which will not appear in the feed.)

Connotea does a good job extracting the citations of the pieces you tag, and displaying them in the feed.  However, it will sometimes mistake the title of a blog for the title of a blog post, even when you've clicked on the post permalink are viewing just the single post.  In those cases, just cut/paste the proper title into the "title" field of the dialog box.

If you want to put an original piece of news or comment into the project feed, first put it online in a way that gives it a unique URL (standalone web page, blog post, discussion forum contribution, wiki section) and then tag the online version.

(4) The feed is missing things. How can we make it more comprehensive?

Become a participant and tag items yourself.  Recruit other participants.

(5) The feed is too large. How can I track just a subset of it?

One way is to subscribe to a version of the project feed which removes duplicate items.

You can slim down the project feed even further by using Yahoo Pipes to filter the project feed for certain keywords.  (I used Yahoo Pipes to create the no-duplicate feed.)  For example, you could create a custom feed that only contained the words "repository", "journal", and "policy", or any other combination of words in any Boolean relationship. Your custom feed will draw from all the items in the full project feed, not just from those tagged with particular subtopic tags. If use of the subtopic tags you care most about is scattered or inconsistent, this is the best way to create a custom subset feed.

You can also use Yahoo Pipes to filter the project feed and remove items with certain keywords or tags. For example, if you want to follow all new OA developments except those about open education, you could filter the project feed to exclude items using the word "education" or tagged with "oa.oer" or "oa.oers". 

If the subtopic tags you care most about (for example, "oa.biology", "oa.france", "oa.mandate") are widely used, then you can subscribe to the feed for any individual tag or any combination of tags, including combinations of project and non-project tags.  For example, the feed from "oa.mandate" is smaller than the feed for "" (the project feed).  So is the conjunction of the two, that is, the single feed of items tagged with "oa.mandate" AND "".  You could use Yahoo Pipes again to make such a customized feed.  If your custom feed is based on tags rather than keywords, then you could skip Yahoo Pipes and use methods described in the Connotea Guide section on multiple users and tags.

When you build a custom feed, add it to the "OATP mashups" page at the OAD, so that others can benefit from it as well.  Also check that section to see what other custom feeds are already available.

This flexibility is a major advantage of working with feeds.  But if it's intimidating, then simply follow the unfiltered project feed (by RSS, email, or web).  If it's larger than you like, just skim it.  After a time you may be ready to create a custom-filtered version of the feed, or someone else may have created the custom feed you need.  (I have several versions of the feed running in Google Reader, and click on them to get different perspectives on what's new.)

One goal for the future is to incorporate user ratings so that you can subscribe to the full project feed but only view the subset of items with a rating above a certain level.

(6) How do I search the project feed?

Go to the Connotea tag library for "" and run a search from the search box at the top of the page.  The default is to search for keywords in the feed.  But if you want to search by tag or tagger, those options are available from the pull-down menu.

The syntax for advanced searching is described in the Connotea Guide.

(7) Why Connotea (Part 1)?  Isn't Connotea from Nature, a non-OA publisher?

Yes, Connotea is from Nature.  But it's open-source, optimized for extracting citations from scholarly sources, and allows users to export tag libraries in multiple formats, including those most useful to scholarly authors.

In addition, Connotea supports bookmarklets, OpenID, and retroactive tag revision.  The latter allows participants modify their past tags (e.g. changing "oa.workshop" and "oa.conference" to "oa.event"), supporting what the Connotea developers call "tag convergence" for improving the coherence and utility of folksonomies.

(8) Why Connotea (Part 2)?  I already use another tagging service and don't want to have to switch.

Most other tagging services lack the special academic features of Connotea.  CiteULike is an exception and includes most of them, but it's not open-source.

Right now the project feed is limited to items tagged "" in Connotea.  But if participants introduce the "" tag to other systems, such as BibSonomy, CiteULike, Delicious, Digg, Diigo,, or Technorati, then you can use Yahoo Pipes to create a combination feed out of all those separate feeds.  In that sense, the project isn't limited to Connotea, but is merely starting with Connotea. 

* Please join the project

Please join me in recommending the OATP feed as the most comprehensive, most scalable, and most flexible source of OA news.  Read it daily, if only to fill in the holes left by any other sources of news you may consult, such as Open Access News.  If the feed is too large, or you only care to follow a subset of the news, create a customized, filtered version of the feed, and post the URL to the project's wiki-based home page in order to help others with similar interests.

Please join me in making the feed comprehensive by tagging relevant new sites (with "").  Your eyes and mouseclicks will be useful even if you don't search systematically for new developments.  Just tag the new developments you notice:  blog posts, news articles, journal articles, new projects, new journals, new repositories, new policies, new events, and so on.  You can help even if you don't tag all the ones you notice, but just the ones you remember to tag, or just the ones you doubt that others will have seen, or just the ones you think are especially worthy.  Every little bit helps.

If you're blogger or maintain a web site, please host a project widget to display a running list of the most recently tagged new developments.  See the OATP home page for details.

The more we refine the project, the more powerful it will be for all of us.  As we work out the kinks, it will be more and more attractive as a general model for tracking new developments on any topic.  For example, nanotechnology researchers could tag new items "", and over time develop a family of subtopic tags ("nt.something").  Another way to help the cause, then, and help yourself, is to launch a kindred tracking project on a different topic, such as your current research interest, and use your experience to improve OATP, and vice versa.

* Here are some of the project links

The project home page at the Open Access Directory.

Versions of the project feed (pick one and subscribe in order to follow new developments)

Announcement of the project beta, April 16, 2009.

Connotea, home page

Connotea Guide

Connotea FAQ


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