eLife Latest: Announcing a new technology direction

eLife’s technology strategy shifts from building a suite of open-source products for use by publishers to a renewed focus on building open scholarly infrastructure to support the ‘publish, review, curate’ model.
Inside eLife
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At eLife, we’re transforming research communication in part through developing and investing in technology that enhances the sharing and use of research results online. Our core values of openness, integrity and inclusiveness mean that we always make our software open source under the most permissible of licences, and seek to collaborate with others where possible to achieve the best solutions for everyone – authors, publishers, readers and more.

Today, we announce that we are passing Libero and ScienceBeam to the Coko Foundation (Coko) and will work with our collaborators and the open-source community to ensure the products live on for those that want to use them. This move follows eLife’s recent announcement about our new vision for transforming research communication, and means that we can focus more on solutions that support this vision.

Our vision has evolved in response to the changing publishing landscape – namely the increasing popularity of preprints among the life science community. We’re working to achieve our vision in three ways: with the eLife journal, open-source technology development, and our community engagement activities – all of which feed into our overarching ‘publish, review, curate’ mission that puts preprints first. Our sole focus on ‘publish, review, curate’ means that we now only develop and invest in technology that serves this model. As such, we’re no longer running the eLife Innovation Initiative separately, but are instead focusing our innovation efforts towards achieving our mission.

We’ll continue to be open in everything we do – making our software open-source, sharing our decision making and gathering feedback as often as possible – and will strengthen our existing collaborations too.

Open source at eLife

Our open-source journey started with eLife Lens, which is now used in a number of organisations and still powers the side-by-side view on eLife’s journal website. We followed this with releases of Continuum in 2016 and the new components of our rebuilt and redesigned website in 2017 – a fork of which is now in use at the International Journal of Microsimulation.

The successful reception of the eLife journal website and growing interest in Continuum led to our last focused venture in producing the Libero suite of products that were designed to enable the submission, peer review, production and publication of journal articles. We collaborated with Coko on its PubSweet project that formed the basis of Libero Reviewer, which is now in use as the submission system for eLife. PubSweet underpins Coko’s Kotahi peer-review management software, which is a key part of the new ecosystem we’re developing. Libero Publisher and Libero Editor were both able to support basic use cases, but a diminishing number of interested users alongside the growing popularity of preprints meant that, when we started our journey to transform research communication, we decided that investing in infrastructure to support the ‘publish, review, curate’ model was the right direction to take.

New stewards for recent open-source products

We are now giving stewardship of our most recent open-source products over to the community, starting with Coko, which has gladly adopted Libero Editor and our AI-powered semantic extraction tool, ScienceBeam. Both are available under an MIT licence – so can be used and extended by anyone – but with Coko at the helm, you can also work with its team directly to use these tools in your workflow or products. There are already plans to use ScienceBeam to help import PDF files into Kotahi, so that you can edit the files as part of the peer-review process and utilise its export and publication features.

Libero Publisher and Libero Reviewer will be available as software on GitHub and can be forked or reused with some effort as before, and we’ll make changes to Reviewer to help eLife’s submission process adapt as we grow and transform.

We’ll be closing down the Libero website and the associated Libero Slack community by the end of March 2022, with any references directed towards those that can help with the software, such as Coko and the Public Knowledge Project (PKP).

A new focus

Reducing the spread of our efforts across so many products, such as the Libero suite, means we can now focus on the world of ‘publish, review, curate’. We’ll have three teams dedicated to the development of platforms that support the display, review, and organisation, dissemination and curation of content.

One team will focus on publishing preprint content in an enhanced form that will eventually replace the need for a separate copy as a version of record. This group will also maintain the eLife journal technology, helping it move from a traditional workflow to exhibit more of the ‘publish, review, curate’ model as its adoption increases. This is where our as-yet-unnamed ‘preprint display’ and ‘version of record display’ products will be developed.

Another team will concentrate on Sciety, expanding its network of evaluating groups and the number of evaluations published, and enabling greater organisation of the preprint literature through lists created by groups and individual researchers. Sciety will facilitate the growth of an open network of groups of experts and individuals with the means to engage in peer-driven organisation of the preprint literature, thereby surfacing the most important results as soon as they are made available by the authors.

A team based at Coko, supported by investment from eLife, will be responsible for the development of Kotahi, taking the existing platform that supports traditional journal workflows and optimising it for the review of preprints and the publication of those reviews via Sciety. This is already in use by the Novel Coronavirus Research Compendium and eLife (for the publication of reviews), with Biophysics Colab starting to use it this year.

End-to-end workflow

We hope to have an end-to-end workflow for a simple ‘publish, review, curate’-based organisation, such as Biophysics Colab, ready by the end of 2022. This will enable the group to find the latest preprints in their area and triage them using Kotahi, assigning a curator to preprints of interest and allowing them to contact the authors to invite a submission.

The peer-review process and authoring of the reviews can then be handled by Kotahi, and published for display on the relevant preprint servers and on Sciety. Once available on Sciety the group can organise, share and promote that evaluation content through the list-management tools we’re building there.

An enhanced version of the preprint will be available for any preprint that the group decides to evaluate, offering a full-text view that includes everything you’d expect from a journal article and presented with a modern design that leverages the latest in web technologies.

For content that has been specifically selected, a curated website that hosts a version of record will also be available – giving the group the ability to showcase research that they support and endorse it under their own name and branding.

Our efforts in building a community and making Sciety, Kotahi and preprint display efforts as agnostic as possible mean this same technology-facilitated workflow will also be available to other groups wanting to embrace the ‘publish, review, curate’ model.

Building for the future

eLife's Head of Technology and Innovation, Paul Shannon, says: “This shift in priority to building scholarly infrastructure as part of a larger ecosystem rather than a product suite has helped our whole department start delivering working software that researchers can already use. We get feedback much earlier and that means we can build better products that really engage users. Helping the transformation of research communication in this direct way motivates our teams and gives us confidence that we’re building the right thing for the future. I’m looking forward to our continued collaboration with Coko and Biophysics Colab, and the new collaborations we’re starting as the ‘publish, review, curate’ ecosystem grows.”

If you are interested in forming a group and using Kotahi, Sciety and our display products to review preprints, then we encourage you to please get in touch.

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Questions and comments are welcome. Please annotate publicly on the article or contact us at hello [at] elifesciences [dot] org.

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