SSP Opening Session and Keynote Address

by | Jun 6, 2013 | 0 comments


The audience gathers for the SSP 2013 opening session.


Carol Anne Meyer

Carol Anne Meyer, SSP President, opened the SSP 2013 conference with the announcement that there are 851 people registered, and over 100 of these are first-time attendees.

Tim O'Reilly

Tim O’Reilly presented the keynote address, entitled Living in Today’s World: Lessons for Scholarly Publishers. He began with a quote from William Gibson, “The future is here.  It’s just not evenly distributed yet.”  and then reviewed some new technologies and products from the consumer internet and 6 lessons that can be learned from them.  His first illustration was Square Register, an app that can receive data about a customer from their phone and automatically credit payments from the customer to the merchant; thus, the customer can quickly and easily make a purchase without having to handle cash or even their wallet.  Tim said that this was an illustration of the first lesson that we should learn: Software can rise above the level of a single device.  Many of us are still thinking about the web on the screen of a desktop or laptop PC.  But applications are now living on the net and may have multiple touch points, which is not necessarily “mobile first”. We are building systems in which mobile devices are part of something much larger.

The second lesson is that sensors transform the experience.  The user therefore has less and less to do.  We need to think about what kind of context for our information can be provided by a phone?

Lesson 3 is that because data makes it possible to deliver services, apps can store your credit card, face, preferences, etc. and be used in transactions, such as Square Register is doing.

We must rethink workflows and experiences. We can now change the experience of a customer. (For example, Apple store employees are equipped with smartphones, not cash registers. Google Glass is an example of moving from Information Retrieval to an Information Fabric, in which relevant things are constantly suggested. 

We must close the loop by figuring out what people are actually looking for and how to leverage it electronically. Google did this by studying short vs long clicks, which are an indication of how much time is spent on a website.

Uber taxi application

Uber is a fascinating example of the application of these principles.  It changes your experience in a strange city and calling a taxi. The user’s phone has data on him or her, and can order a taxi.  The system responds with the driver’s name and a map shows how far away he is. The user can see his progress towards them. The system also provides a ratings feature which can be used to promote excellent drivers.  These same concepts can be used to close the loop and improve the experience of attendees at poster sessions in large conferences.

We should be thinking about what more we should be doing with data to improve existing businesses (or to build entirely new ones).  In publishing, the Panton principle–scientific papers should be associated with the data and the data should be published with the papers–is important.  This can be applied to all fields of research; for example textual analysis of vocabulary changes was used on one of Agatha Christie’s books and showed that in her latter years, she was affected by the onset of dementia after her many books. We should think more deeply about what we can do with the underlying data.  

The final lesson to be learned is to rethink the possibilities in human-machine symbiosis and figure out how to use the network to capture the intelligence of people in new ways.  We don’t have better algorithms today; we just have more data as well as AI plus the recorded memory of augmented humans. O’Reilly showed this quote from JCR Licklider to illustrate this point:


 Human cooperation is at the heart of scholarly work.  We used to do it by capturing words on paper.  This leads to peer production, which may outperform market-based production in some information activities.  We have used the network to connect ourselves in new ways.  Clay Shirky has suggested that the old notion of filter, then publish is giving way to publish, then filter.   For example, we have thousands of free software available that nobody uses, and some which have made a large impact.  PLoS1 decided that peer review judgments will be made after publication and found that distributed peer review by readers works better than recruiting a few experts to do it.  An important lesson to think about in publishing is how to design a system to enable participation.  Are the systems we are currently working with the right ones?

In his book, The Lean Startup, Eric Rees introduces the concept of the minimum viable product, which is that version that allows developers to collect the maximum amount of learning about customers and what they want with the least effort.  Publishers need to consider this in doing market research.  O’Reilly said that the best book for scholarly publishers to read is Reinventing Discovery, by Michael Nielsen, in which he says that people discussing an article is better than conventional peer review.  Shirky’s concept and the notion of conversation among the community is not inconsistent with the work of scholarly publishers.

O’Reilly strongly suggested that we must not ignore the growing importance of video. For example, a video about an accident by Thomas the Tank Engine accident was created by a 5 year old and has been watched 24 million times.  This is an example of a minimum viable product that was based on publish, then filter.  Video is becoming a first-class communication medium, and we must take it very seriously.  Even small units of video have enormous potential; made $70 million in revenues with no investors!

What job does a book do? Kids used to read stories by authors such as Beatrix Potter; now they play Angry Birds.  Road atlases used to be books, but they were transformed first to online maps and then into apps in phones. The end game will be that the map disappears and you will tell the car where you want to go!  The data has been internalized, and we must use this new technology to rethink workflows.

O’Reilly concluded his address with a view of the activities of his publishing company.  O’Reilly Media has become a fully integrated media company.


It began with books, then was reframed to spreading the knowledge of innovators and is now organized around practice areas.  What can we do for audiences?  For its customers, it provides teaching, reference, and peer connection services.  For authors and conference presenters, it offers reputation building, peer connection, and access to capital.

This looks like a function of scholarly societies, with everything working together. It is important to build direct relationships with customers. Most publishers sell through resellers, but many scholarly societes deal directly with consumers which is a big asset. Amazon is only O’Reilly’s 3rd largest distribution outlet, after his own site and Safari Books. Scholarly societies have amazing bases for a business.  They are not just an annual conference but should figure out what they can do for the members. For example, O’Reilly makes a video of all its conferences and sells it to attendees. For a 20% upsell, attendees can buy a video of the whole conference, and about 25% of them do.  We are in a period of immense transformation of how knowledge is gathered, built, and disseminated in our culture. Publishers play a huge role in that culture. We should be reinventing the future of scholarly communication.

In response to a question O’Reilly said that they have been very successful with DRM-free e-books and have even sold e-books in countries where they have never sold a printed book. He said we should be courageous and try things to see whether they work. Open licenses are more successful than those that tell people what they can and can’t do. See O’Reilly’s paper on “8 principles of open data“. Don’t get caught in agonizing over licenses–most people won’t read them.


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