I’ve started thinking recently about what it would look like to federate preprint servers. Federation involves a common language between servers to better enable communication and interoperability across multiple servers/services/clients, as opposed to centralization where all of the user connections and interactions occur on the servers of one operator. In social media, Twitter would be an example of a centralized service, where all Twitter users must have accounts with Twitter in order to interact with each other on that platform. Compare this with Mastodon, which provides a Twitter-like experience, but users are not required to have an account from any one provider in order to interact with users on the network, or Fediverse. In this way, users can identify with (create an account on) the server of the community that they feel the most connected to, but regardless of which community they choose they can still interact with users of every other community.

I’ve been thinking lately about what federation might look like in academic publishing. Publishing of academic research is currently a rather archaic system that serves to exploit the labor of researchers and academics, primarily for the financial gain of a few very large publishers. There have been some efforts to retake the publishing infrastructure and create scholar owned systems with varying degrees of success. Would the fediverse enable greater success in such an initiative or would it not make sense in this context?

@drb
creator
32M

Someone on Twitter pointed out the COAR Notify project, which appears to also be based on the Linked Data Notifications standard.

Pubfair uses the ActivityStream protocol, but it connects one repository with one peer reviewing system/journal. So it is not the kind of federation I would think of as Mastodon user.

@lorabe
32M

Well the fediverse is not the same as the technology behind or the standar.

Would the ActivityPub standar be helpfull in that particular, unexplored camp? I think so, but it takes creativity to create an idea and then land it.

Now, this problem of exploitation has more to do with universities, companies and government institutions, and i doubt this technology could change that.

@humanetech
mod
2
edit-2
2M

But things like this would allow individual research groups to circumvent other systems they are now prescribed to be used, and with lack of alternatives also MUST be uses to get any exposure. I’ll react separately to the main post, as there are already some efforts in this direction.

Scientific publishing and preprint servers are already federated. There are many different preprint servers and journals. You can start your own preprint server or your own journal. There are dedicated search engines for open access literature like BASE and CORE. If there is something that works badly on Mastodon or the Fediverse it is discovery, that is partially because it is federated, and partially by design to have a more friendly atmosphere.

The federated publishing system does not have the same power-equalizing and improved curation properties as the federated social media system. To break the power of the publishers we need to bring back the control of the assessment of what good science is into the hands of scientists. Scientists already do all the work, but the publishers control the brands that determine how good an article is.

So my proposal is to created a federated open post-publication peer review system. Most proposals for a “modern” peer review system are based on a central database, I prefer to do the peer review in small communities (like Mastodon instances), which can exchange peer review reports (like Toots) and moderate them. For details have a look at https://grassroots.is

@humanetech
mod
12M

This would definitely work, and in fact there’s ongoing projects going in this direction. Most notably there’s OLKI:

Bringing research papers, datasets and peer reviews to a larger network of federated social platforms, with no vendor lock-in and on a platform you can host and control.

  • Federated peer reviews
  • Federated document annotation
  • Federated scientific interaction
  • Federated scientific watch

Another project, that - while not directly providing this use case - goes in the right direction is SkoHub, that allows you to “extend the scope of Knowledge Organization Systems (KOS) to also act as communication hubs for publishers and information seekers”.

(Both the SkoHub and OLKI project teams are members of SocialHub, and - not sure - SkoHub may be presenting on the 2nd webinar of the ActivityPub for EU Administrations event that we are organizing)


The nice thing is that ActivityPub - while being a very basic standard in itself, layered on top of ActivityStreams (basic social primitives) - is a Linked Data standard. You can extend with vocabularies towards any business or application domain, and describe not only the messaging / federation concepts, but also the information model of your app.

And preferably advocate to standardize on the vocabulary extension, so that other apps independently created to yours, can still seamlessly interoperate. Right now most fediverse applications are modeled around a Microblogging domain, which gives most people the impression that this is what ActivityPub’s primary use case is. But it goes way further than that.

Also note that “being part of the fediverse” need not be central to your adoption of ActivityPub. Federating between your own app instances, or exclusively to apps within a particular domain is also a valid use case. I wrote something about that on the SocialHub forum: Positioning ActivityPub: De-Emphasize “Being Part of the Fediverse” as primary USP.

(PS: I co-maintain AP watchlists that give an overview of all stuff that is under development. See AP Apps Watchlist and AP Developer Resources Watchlist. On the latter you find e.g. libraries like Go-Fed that allow you to generate code from your Linked Data vocabulary, to ease app development)

@drb
creator
22M

Thank you for the links and further considerations. The OLKI platform looks particularly interesting. Another direction that would be interesting to look into would be if these features could be added to existing platforms such as Open Preprint Systems and it’s journal variant, Open Journal Systems. OPS is relatively new, but it is based on OJS, which I believe is the most widely used journal software.

@humanetech
mod
12M

Great links. I added them as candidates to a delightful list I co-maintain: the curated delightful-open-science. (I set up the delightful project as alternative to Awesome on Github, just for FOSS, Open Science and Open Data resources where sublists can be in any code forge).

What I think is important for any federated future of these kinds of apps, is that some kind of standardization or agreement is formed as to the Linked Data vocabularies that are used to describe both data formats as well as federation message types.

I am just an advocate to bring fedi to higher levels, and not deeply involved in this field, but I’ll leave reference to this discussion on socialhub.

@drb
creator
22M

I linked this in a top-level comment, but I was also pointed to COAR Notify, which is being built on Linked Data Notifications and is basically intending to do what I was proposing in my post.

@humanetech
mod
12M

Thanks! Added this to delightful-linked-data list candidates.

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