Subscribers to 49 journals published on Nature.com can now share articles
with anyone in the world -- or just over social media --
using a unique web link. 100 media outlets have also been granted
the same rights, including WIRED.co.uk. Any WIRED.co.uk article,
past or present, linking to a Nature paper will automatically
redirect readers to the full paper, in read-only PDF format. On top
of this, subscribers will also soon be able to annotate the
document before sharing, as extra functionality is added in the
"What we really want is to get away from the craziness of
thinking: 'people are sharing and it's quite inconvenient and
technically illegal -- we have to move away from that craziness',"
Timo Hannay, MD at Digital Science, the business arm of Macmillan
Science and Education, told WIRED.co.uk. ReadCube, software company
supported by Digital Science, has created the system. "The trouble
today has been the official stance of collective publishers is that
this stuff is illegal, but we'll turn a blind eye to it -- that is
not sustainable anymore. Either people shouldn't be doing it, so
you should stop them. But we think they should be doing it and we
want to legitimatise it."
Nature Publishing Group, part of Macmillan Science and
Education, is one of the biggest scientific journal groups in the
world and is a longstanding supporter of open access. In September,
it made its digital-only journal Nature Communications fully open
The new service can be used by any subscriber, to share a
version of the article using a unique URL. At the top of any
article, alongside the usual share buttons (Facebook, Twitter,
email), will be a share button where the URL is generated. For now
the shared article -- which is only for personal use -- is
read-only, however there are plans to add in annotation functions
so colleagues can debate it.
What comes next, is really down to the audience, says Steven
Inchcoombe, CEO of Nature Publishing Group.
"We want to add value and also do it in a way where we can
measure and understand the behaviour," he told WIRED.co.uk. "We can
better service customers and build better products, and generate
longer term revenues because this in the short term doesn't
ReadCube will enable Nature Publishing Group to know what gets
shared, when and how many times. All data collection is totally
anonymous, and can go down to the finer details of where readers
linger most, where most annotations are being made etc. Where the
added value should come in fairly quickly for subscribers, is
knowing where to shift their budgets. Inchcoombe notes that right
now, librarians and institutions have nothing that rigorously tells
them exactly how many people are reading which papers or journals.
"There is no information to justify his or her budget. Authors also
get visibility about where their papers are going."
Interesting differences might also emerge as to how the general
public and academics consumer scientific papers differently.
"It's why we exist in the first place," points Hannay,
referencing Nature's founding ethos from the 19th century. "To
facilitate the flow of scientific information between researchers,
and between researchers to society at large. We're still trying to
build on that."
Although the annotation feature will help form a better method
of sharing and building on collaborative practices (Hannay points
out that more than half of UK research is a result of multinational
work), the public -- and scientists -- will get the opportunity to
debate the papers in the comment sections of publications like
WIRED.co.uk, from which readers will be able to read the full PDF.
"Hopefully that will happen and then those more expert can answer
questions." You can imagine this work giving life to a kind of
Reddit for scientific papers in the future.
For now, the team is hopeful that their risk will pay off. And
it is somewhat of a risk still. Inchcoombe predicts that some
subscriptions to individual articles may drop, but ultimately he
predicts an uptake because of the added value the system offers in
encouraging collaborative research globally and making those
collaborations easier by ensuring everyone is working from the same
source. The peer-review model, is one which will remain, he says:
"so far no one has come up with a algorithm to replace human
judgement". It's simply about modernising that old model for the
ReadCube already works with other publications such as Wiley,
and Inchcoombe and Hannay look to a future where more and more
publications license out the technology -- or even build their own
versions. The important thing, they say, is to forge a standardised
model of sharing, and they believe the unique URL solves that
"Customers will never use it if we do something different from
the rest of industry, and if lots of publishers use different
things then it become a mess," says Hannay. "This avoids that, and
creates a much more powerful mechanism."