Digging Collaboration and Cooperation: Code for a New Era

Jan 4, 2016

Post by Coko community member John Willinsky, Stanford University

Where once, a half-century ago, peace, love and non-medicinal weed filled the air of the Bay Area, the groove today is all about collaboration, cooperation, and open sourcing. From Google to Tesla, IBM to Microsoft, Stanford to Berkeley, the bit-rate of open source vibes is increasing, amid non-proprietary visions and loss-less business sensibilities.
For my part, having lost the ponytail and then some of that earlier era, I’m encouraged by how its idealistic spirit informs this resurgent openness. It is as if the mid-60s Diggers who reenacted on the streets and in store-fronts of San Francisco the earlier seventeenth-century Digger movement against the enclosure of the commons, are establishing the newest version of what my colleague Fred Turner aptly characterized as from counterculture to cyberculture.

My own lingering Digger-istics, in this case, involve the Public Knowledge Project which operates out of Stanford and Simon Fraser University (in “Vangroover,” north of the border), dating back to the late 1990s. It provides researchers and scholars with an open source means of publishing open access journals, with close to 9,000 journals using our Open Journal Systems worldwide to make what they publish common to everyone.

Within the last few months, however, we’ve reached new — dare I say bloggable — levels of cooperation, crossing the old boundaries of both like-minded projects and corporate monoliths.

In the first instance, we’re really excited by the prospects of being able to dig into the open elements under development by the San Francisco-based Collaborative Knowledge Foundation, a new initiative also devoted to developing “open source solutions in scholarly knowledge production that foster collaboration, integrity and speed.” In particular, we’ve been deeply impressed by what its Substance.io already has to offer, which is the makings of an open source XML editor. Such a device will help editors and authors work with marked up texts, without having to mess with the markup of XML (extensive markup language).

The Substance.io editor will fit beautifully into the entire stack of open source elements that Alex Garnett and Juan Alperin have been assembling, tweaking and contributing to our quest for something of a holy grail in journal publishing. This is a way to (mostly) automate the XML markup of research articles. The markup greatly assists in copyediting — checking references, proper nouns, quotes — and rendering the published article in multiple formats, including, in the case of medical research, in the free PubMed Central. All that is involved in doing this markup manually places it out of reach of reach of many journals, especially in the developing world.

In this process of assembling this open source stack for automating XML markup, we’ve found that the developers at Substance.io and elsewhere are willing, at times, to work on what our stack needs to improve performance, even as we contribute code back and fund yet other alterations to these open source projects. This is, I recognize, how the give-and-take of collaboration and cooperation was always intended to work in the open source world.

Then there’s the other side of this process, as we work on this XML markup stack with Bay-area developers from Konica Minolta, with its nineteenth-century corporate roots in a pharmaceutical-photographic startup. Here, we have MediaX at Stanford providing the gateway for corporate financial support and cooperation on just such research initiatives. We compare notes with their developers and share markup strategies. We assess and advance the efficacy of our stack together, even as K-M explore the business opportunities that might follow from it all.

From a similarly inspired new initiative, from which we have much to learn in its very freshness, such as Collaborative Knowledge Foundation, to the new-found friend in old-school corporate life of Konica Minolta, we’re finding these extensions of the cooperative spirit a heady, mind-and-code-expanding experience.

So inspired, we’ve now started to look into whether the traditional form of cooperative association, a form of economic organization rooted in those much earlier Digger and Leveller sensibilities, might be applied to a revamping of the entire scholarly publishing economy through what we’re calling the Open Access Publishing Cooperative Study. Will publishing’s principal stakeholders dig it, you might well ask. Well, there’s certainly something in the air.