Extending the conversation: Academic publishing in the digital era

Yesterday, I shared a takedown notice I received from WordPress (who had been contacted by Elsevier) for a paper I posted on the Papers section of my website. The pdf was the final version of the paper, violating the publishing contract I had signed with Elsevier before publishing the paper. I removed the pdf and replaced it with a pre-press version. My reason for complying with the takedown notice was largely motivated by the fact that (1) I did sign a contract and (2) I am still able to share my research as long as I do not post the final, paginated versions.

Since yesterday, the post has been viewed over 400 times. It was a brief, quickly written post, mainly intended to share the takedown notice. But it appears that my experience, in combination with the Academia.edu takedown notices, is causing an uptick in conversation about academic publishing and open access, and I would encourage readers to continue the conversation here. While I am not an expert in open access, copyright law, or related issues, here are some of my initial thoughts (which I will update as the conversation evolves):

  1. A number of people have told me (primarily through tweets) that they disagree with my stance of “caving” to Elsevier. I understand the righteous anger people feel toward Elsevier and other publishing giants–Elsevier’s 2012 profits exceeded  £2.063 billion (see page 12 of their annual report). The products on which they largely generate revenue are “free”–the researchers who submit and publish their manuscripts are not compensated, nor are the reviewers who spend an often significant amount of time working to improve the quality of the research.
    That said, if I have signed a contract, I believe I should honor it. Going forward, I may change my behaviors (and I will discuss this below), but I cannot change my past behavior or alter the contracts I have already signed. One person who I interacted with through Twitter yesterday (@Protohedgehog) shared this article with me, and I generally agree with the sentiments shared in it: signing a contract with a publisher clearly transfers ownership to the publisher and most contracts clearly outline what versions you can use and share for your personal use. In most instances, you are allowed to post pre-print versions on your personal websites (see Elsevier’s policy), which is what I have done on my site. While there have been instances in which I or my coauthors have been inconvenienced in having to reformat a paper for posting online, there have generally been few issues with ensuring we are able to share our research with as wide an audience as possible.
  2. One of my colleagues today approached me and said he disagreed with my post and that he posts the final versions of his papers as an act of “civil disobedience.” Again, while I share others’ disagreement with many of Elsevier’s policies, when I asked him how he would respond to a takedown notice (assuming he had signed a contract saying he would not publish the final version), he was less than confident. For myself, I do not want to risk a RIAA-style witch-hunt (for a refresher, see this post by the Electronic Freedom Foundation).
  3. While I use this workaround as a way to share my research, I agree with many that academic publishing is deeply flawed and the academic community must be more active in trying to reform it. In my discussions with others on Twitter yesterday, several people noted that change needs to occur at multiple levels, including both on the corporate (publisher) side, as well as within academia itself. One point I noted yesterday was that young academics–PhD students and untenured professors–are often under greater pressure to publish their research in highly ranked journals, who also are typically run by companied like Elsevier. In fact, many universities’ tenure requirements list a set of journals assistant professors must publish in to obtain tenure, so these academics are constrained by their position. Does this mean that departments should reconsider how quality of work is evaluated–in other words, as @denzil_correa said, “A paper in X indicates quality. A paper not in X doesn’t indicate bad quality. Classic logical fallacy!”
  4. Oren (@OrenTsur) noted that people in this position can still choose to not review for Elsevier journals, even if they cannot participate in a full boycott such as the Cost of Knowledge boycott (which has more than 14,000 signatures). There is a significant moral dilemma here. On one hand, young researchers who still feel compelled to publish in these venues could start to get inferior reviews; this is contrary to my belief in my role as an academic involved in academic publishing, i.e., that we must strive to improve the quality of academic work by imparting/sharing our knowledge. On the other hand, refusing to review for these companies implicitly says that we will not stand for their practices. Which stance is better?
  5. The Cost of Knowledge boycott raises several other issues with these publishers, namely the high subscription charges, which are becoming increasingly burdensome to university libraries, as well as lack of access (without paying a ridiculously high fee) to individuals who do not have institutional access. If you are not familiar with these, you may want to read up on them. Here are some examples of articles on the boycott.
  6. Someone from Elsevier responded to my tweet with a link to Elsevier’s official comment on takedown notices and their options for hosting content. They stressed their open access policies, which for final versions run from $500-$5000. These policies are pretty standard, and I have only ever heard of a one academic paying the fee. Many academics are pushing for more open access issues within journals that are generally behind paywalls. For example, Zizi Papacharissi, editor of the Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Journalism, opened the final issue of 2012 for one year (I know this because I have an article published in the issue). There are also highly ranked journals that are fully open access (the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication is an example), but these are few and far between. Discovering opportunities that allow researchers to make their research available in high quality journals without placing a cost burden on them should be a priority.

These are some of the issues that make up part of the current debate. There are more that I haven’t touched on. I encourage readers to add their thoughts and comments below.

Notice to academics: Be careful what (articles) you post online

Update [12/12, 1:40pm]: I have written a more in-depth post on the take-down and my thoughts on this issue here.


In the last couple days, news has been spreading of Academia.edu receiving takedown notices from Elsevier and notifying users that it is automatically complying with requests from the publishing giant by removing content without the user’s authorization (see this story by Venturebeat).

This has certainly caused a lot of talk in academic circles about academic publishing rights, open access, chilling effects on sharing research, etc. I have additional news to contribute to this conversation that I have kept to myself until now, but is probably important for academics to know and, if necessary, take action on, to avoid similar problems. Elsevier has not limited itself to Academia. It’s looking elsewhere, including personal blogs. And I received a DMCA takedown notice from WordPress (who was contacted by Elsevier) on November 22. See a copy of the takedown here (with identifying information removed).

I take full responsibility for the takedown request. When we publish papers in journals, we sign contracts that designate what we can and cannot do with the content. I am a firm believer in sharing my research with the world, but I try to always share pre-press versions to be in line with these agreements. In this case (as the takedown notice was for a single paper), I accidentally uploaded the wrong version. I removed it immediately.

I encourage all my academic friends out there to review the content they have published online and make sure it complies with whatever publishing guidelines are specified for the given journal. While I believe in open access, openly defying a giant like Elsevier by publishing final versions of papers from their journals will get you nowhere. And it is clear that they are actively searching for people in violation of the terms of agreement for publishing.

CSCW 2014 paper: Facebook Makes the Heart Grow Fonder: Relationship Maintenance Strategies Among Geographically Dispersed and Communication-Restricted Connections

In this CSCW paper (my second at the conference), I analyze a subsection of data from my dissertation, focusing specifically on the question of how (a) one’s use of Facebook and (b) Facebook-derived relational outcomes may vary between geographically dispersed vs. geographically proximate Friends, as well as between Friends who rely primarily or solely on the site for communication vs. those who use alternate channels such as phone calls, emails, and face-to-face interactions.

To analyze this question, I had participants in my study log into Facebook and select a pseudo-random* Facebook Friend for whom they would answer a series of questions. These included a number of questions related to relationship maintenance strategies they could engage in through the site (e.g., sending birthday wishes, communicating about a shared interest), their perceptions regarding the extent to which their use of Facebook affected the quality of the relationship, both in terms of how close they felt to the other person and the relationship’s stability, general relational closeness, frequency of communication through a variety of Facebook-specific and other communication channels, and other measures. To read the full study’s methodology, see my dissertation.

The findings for both geographic distance and use of Facebook as the primary communication channel were the same: when controlling for a dyad’s existing level of relational closeness, participants reported engaging in a greater amount of relationship maintenance strategies through the site and believed the site to have a more positive effect on their level of relational closeness and relational stability with the Friend for whom they were responding. What this finding in particular, and my dissertation to a larger extent, support, is that there are specific types of relationships that benefit more from using the site as a relationship maintenance tool. This likely has to do with a number of factors: for example, in my dissertation, I found that weak ties who were highly engaged in relationship maintenance behaviors on the site saw the site as much more beneficial than strong ties who were highly engaged in these same behaviors. From this finding, it is a small jump to Haythornthwaite’s work on media multiplexity, whereby stronger ties use a greater quantity of communication channels.

However, in this study, I controlled for relational closeness, meaning these differences emerged regardless of how close participants rated that relationship outside of their use of Facebook. This suggests that something deeper is going on. Much as the work of Keith Hampton and Barry Wellman more than a decade earlier argued that email was supplementing other forms of communication when “richer” forms were unavailable, Facebook may be filling that void now–and why not? It’s ubiquitous, mobile, easy to use regardless of age, and easy to share content like photos and videos. And as Hampton recently noted, SNSs like Facebook have this quality and being persistent and pervasive, perhaps changing the relationship lifecycle forever.

If you want to learn more about this paper, you can read it here, and you can come see me present it at CSCW 2014 in Baltimore this February!

*Because of the way Facebook’s algorithm works for Friend display, generating a truly random selection would be difficult if not impossible. For more on this method of participant selection, see this paper by Ledbetter et al. (2011).

CSCW 2014 paper: “You can’t block people offline”: Examining how Facebook’s affordances shape users’ disclosure process

I’m very proud of this qualitative paper I worked on this spring with UMD iSchool student Jinyoung Kim and will present at CSCW in February (in Baltimore–woot!). This study analyzes a robust qualitative dataset I gathered in 2011 as part of my comps but had to put aside when I began my dissertation research. So I was very excited to finally be able to dig into the 26 interviews that I *knew* held such rich insights about SNS users’ disclosure and privacy practices, their perspectives on their network and how they manage that network, as well as the cognitive thought processes behind the interactions (or lack thereof) that occur on the site.

For this paper–the first of at least two analyzing this dataset–we focused on how users balanced disclosure goals and risks by first identifying the goals and risks they perceived on the site (applying Omarzu’s disclosure decision model as a guiding framework) and then exploring the various strategies users employed to manage risks they associated with sharing information through the site. We categorized these strategies into four types:

  • Network regulation strategy: These behaviors limit the official recipient of disclosures and include leaving Friend requests pending, defriending, and hiding. Notably, many participants referenced pressure to accept Friend requests (or conversely, to not defriend someone they wanted to) because of their relationship with that person. This could be a classmate, the husband of a best friend, or a neighbor, but in these cases, the participant said s/he couldn’t engage in boundary regulation due to the nature of the offline relationship.
  • Targeted disclosure strategy: These behaviors involved sending content to a segment of one’s network, either by using the Friend List feature or using the advanced profile settings to place individuals or groups on a Limited Profile. In addition, people used Friend Lists to restrict specific people or groups from seeing content; for example, one user maintained a “don’t see” list that couldn’t see any of her status updates.
  • Self censorship strategy: These behaviors ranged from disclosure decisions resembling Hogan’s lowest common denominator approach to a more broad-based self-censorship in which users chose not to share certain types of content with anyone on the site. As the sample for this study was comprised of graduate students (master’s and PhD), many were motivated by specific self-presentation goals and strived to keep their profile as free from “drama” as possible.
  • Content regulation strategy: These behaviors include moving content from public to private channels (on Facebook or elsewhere) or communicating on the site in code, much like danah boyd describes in her work on social steganography. Some participants differentiated between the types of information they shared through public channels (e.g., Wall) and private channels (e.g., private messages), but a few said they regularly used these private channels to keep up-to-date with a small group of close friends. Likewise, a rarely mentioned strategy was to interact through the public channels but to talk in code, as one participant described when telling a story about how she and her friends talked about a professor they weren’t fond of by calling him by a made-up name (e.g., Dr. X).

Overall, this study expands our understanding of the disclosure process in online environments, which contain a number of unique affordances that affect how people think about and make decisions related to what and with whom they should share personal information. This study also has implications for research in the area of context collapse, especially when considering the various strategies individuals employed to manage the diverse groups of Friends they had on the site (the average number of Friends per participant was 500).

You can read the full study here and I hope to see some of you at CSCW in February!

INFOGRAPHIC: Pew data on civil liberties & national security

In light of the recent developments regarding NSA gathering data on Americans from various online and telecommunications sources, the Pew Research Center posted a blog highlighting some longitudinal data it has gathered since 9/11 on Americans’ attitudes toward relinquishing civil liberties. The post shows that over the last decade, fewer Americans believe that we need to relinquish our civil liberties “to curb terrorism.”

The blog post does not break down responses by any demographic factors, however, and after a tweet by danah boyd to Mary Madden at Pew Internet asking if there was going to be any further information about it, I, too, was curious. So I hopped into the SPSS file and did a few quick analyses. The result is my first-ever infographic, so please be gentle in your critiques of my artistry (I’m a researcher, not a graphic designer). You can also download a PDF of the infographic.

civil liberties infographic

Dr. Vitak!

I am very bad with updates, as you can see, but here’s a big one. On December 14, 2012, I successfully defended my dissertation! Woo! I’m finishing final edits this week and will submit to the grad school shortly.

I also just wrapped up my first semester as an assistant professor at the iSchool at Maryland; recently published my first solo-authored article in JOBEM; and have three articles coming in CSCW this February. Busy times I tell you!

Here’s the abstract for my dissertation:

Arguably, the technical features of social network sites simplify the process of maintaining and interacting with hundreds of social connections. At the same time, however, these sites’ affordances—namely the visibility and persistence of content and the articulation of those connections (e.g., through a “Friend List”)—raise new questions about how individuals engage in relationship maintenance with various types of ties. This dissertation seeks to expand our understanding of relationship maintenance processes to account for the unique affordances of these communication technologies through a survey of adult Facebook users (N=407). First, through exploratory factor analysis, it establishes a set of Facebook relationship maintenance strategies that reflect existing theory and measures while accounting for the affordances of social media. Next, through nested OLS regressions, it tests whether engagement in these strategies with a randomly selected Facebook Friend predicts three relational outcomes: relational closeness, relational satisfaction, and access to social provisions. Third, it tests whether engagement in these strategies is associated with perceptions that using Facebook positively impacts their perceived relational closeness and relational stability with that Friend, while controlling for existing levels of relational closeness. Findings indicate main effects for all four relationship maintenance strategies on perceptions of Facebook’s impact on relational closeness and relational stability, as well as interaction effects between existing relational closeness and multiple strategies in predicting these two outcomes, such that weaker ties who engage in these strategies view the site as having a more positive impact on their relationship than stronger ties. Subsequent analyses identify additional differences between those who primarily rely on Facebook to communicate with that Friend and those who do not, as well as those who are geographically distant from each other versus those who live nearby, while controlling for existing relational closeness. This study contributes to the extant literature on computer-mediated communication and relationship maintenance by extending our understanding of how individuals interact through mediated channels and the role that newer technologies like social network sites play in managing a wide range of relationships, especially weaker ties who are more likely to rely on social media to keep their relationship in existence.