We propose building a badging platform that can work on top of the existing scholarly communication ecosystem without requiring publisher cooperation or technical integration, but that other parties can quickly and easily adopt and expand once the value is proven.
The initial version of the platform will include:
A simple and intuitive interface for anyone to search and filter for badges by paper, badge type, field, badge provider, etc.
A browser extension that allows anyone to quickly look up badges for any paper, on any preprint or publisher site, without relying on publishers or platforms to implement the technology.
A simple and intuitive interface for trusted researchers and publishers to add badges to pre-prints and papers on a central platform, including badges that link to external reviews.
A toolkit, built on Underlay technology, that will allow the initial central platform to expand into a global network that trusted partners can join and extend to include citations, reviews, commentary, and other yet-to-be-anticipated parts of the scholarly communication ecosystem.
Building any disruptive technology platform requires overcoming two core challenges: assessing whether the platform adds significant enough value to the ecosystem to drive adoption before exhausting resources, and creating the mechanisms that allow it to scale quickly once the value is understood.
Scholarly communication adds a third challenge: the essential core values of openness and transparency. Internet platforms are prone to concentrating control and value in the hands of a few monopolistic entities. Achieving a truly open “publish-first, curate second” vision of the future of academic publishing will require both short-term flexibility to experiment with new badging, review, and curation concepts and a long-term view of how to sustainably and responsibly scale the system in a way that can’t be coopted or monopolized.
This proposal takes a “minimum viable product” approach to the challenge. In discussing concepts with Boyana Konforti and Bodo Stern, we’ve identified adding basic badges to existing papers and pre-prints as the simplest way to experiment with this new model of publishing. Badging is purely additive — it doesn’t require authors or publishers to change their core practices — and could provide immense value to the ecosystem on its own.
In this initial prototype, badges are simple associations between a paper and an entity (this could be an individual, a publisher, a review service, etc.). They can be used to assert anything — high or low quality, inclusion in a list or group, a seminal work, a reviewed work, a rejected work, etc. They can stand alone, or optionally include a link to a review or editorial commentary.
Initially, the platform will be deployed by the MIT Knowledge Futures Group (KFG) to a group of early-career researchers as an experiment to see if a thriving community can develop around creating and curating badges. As it grows, trusted publishers and badge providers will be able to add their badges by providing a feed of badges the platform can ingest using a simple-to-install toolkit or hosting their own interoperable installations of the platform.
Crucially, the platform will be designed from the beginning to grow from a single node focusing on badges alone to a distributed network of badges, reviews, commentary, citations and more hosted and replicated by institutions across the globe. This infrastructure design will ultimately ensure that the platform is simple enough to adopt with minimal third-party cooperation at first, flexible enough to expand and adapt with the scholarly communication ecosystem, and distributed enough that no single entity can co-opt, restrict access to, or monopolize the platform.
Badge Platform Goals
Experiment with how to incentivize researchers to apply badges to papers in their fields.
Attract a thriving community of early-career researchers who regularly provide badges for papers in the life sciences.
Spur development of an extensible digital format for badges and an underlying infrastructure that can be adopted by the wider scholarly communication community and expanded to include citations, reviews, commentary, and other parts of the scholcom ecosystem.
Soft-launch with a group of early-career investigators who are incentivized to add badges as part of their position.
Soft-launch with journal clubs at universities or societies who create badges for every paper they review.
Seed badges on old and new papers by automatically crawling feeds of editorial review content from partner publishers and creating badges on their behalf.
Seed badges on old and new papers by listening to crossref event data and creating badges from deposited reviews by partner publishers.
The core technology behind the platform is the KFG’s Underlay Project. The Underlay is an open-source protocol for linking databases together via the internet without needing to share common technologies or data structures. Using the Underlay, groups can maintain local databases of information most pertinent to them, share that data with everyone else on the network, and query for data they’re missing from across the network for inclusion in their local nodes — all without needing to adopt new database technology or modify their existing data structures. This flexibility allows the Underlay to grow organically and adapt to different groups’ needs without being susceptible to the monopolistic takeover and forced lock-in that has been an unintended feature of the corporate internet.
The explicit goal of the Underlay is for scholarly data to become a global public good. To achieve this goal, we will be expanding the KFG in the next several years to create a network of Underlay nodes owned and maintained by a consortium of institutions across the globe. The first node on the Underlay is the Prior Art Archive, which allows companies to upload and query prior art data on a distributed, neutral platform. We are actively working with partners to build nodes focused on citation and patent data.
Why build it?
It strikes the right balance of centralization/decentralization. Quick adoption will be critical for the platform’s success, but building it in a completely centralized way will concentrate power in too small number of groups, making broad adoption unlikely. Building the platform on Underlay technology allows it to grow quickly by establishing a core node maintained by a trusted group while giving others the ability to setup their own interoperable nodes as the platform grows. This approach will create room for small and experimental groups while preventing lock-out and consolidation.
We need to take an experimental, iterative approach. We don’t yet know how to incentivize badging. Taking experimental approach and building on technology designed to be adaptive and flexible will allow us to explore how to properly build the economic, behavioral, and moral incentives for badging before committing to a single approach.
The technical risk is relatively low. The underlying technology is already built and tested (Underlay/Prior Art Archive), and the basic version of the platform scoped in this document requires a small investment.
There are multiple potential returns on investment. In addition to encouraging researchers and publishers to adopt badging, building the platform and helping others adopt it will help catalyze the development of the Underlay network as a global public resource for scholarly communication data.
The time is right. Multiple groups are in the early stages of thinking through badges/review standards without much effort put into interoperability or coordination. We know of PRT, TRANSpose, Crossref, DOAB, HHMI, eLife, and Wiley beginning to investigate.
Who’s it for?
Funders - they want a mechanism where great research can be highlighted, rewarded, and discovered without subsidizing journal profit margins.
Early-career researchers - they want a way to make meaningful, visible contributions to science that can help advance their careers that’s more attainable and lower-lift than publishing in top-tier journals.
Non-profit publishers - they want a way to extend their brands to curation and commentary products.
Authors - they want a more accessible, more meaningful, and more transparent way to gauge the success of their work.
Researchers in general - they want an easy way to browse the best work in their fields.
Senior researchers - they want an easier, less time-consuming way to understand and participate in new advances in scholcom like preprints that values their earned reputation.
University administrators - actually understand what’s influential to other researchers
What is success?
A community of early-career researchers signs up and starts adding badges.
Steady to increasing rates of user signups.
Steady to increasing rates of badges added per user per year.
Researchers begin to search for badges on the platform
Increasing rates of queries on the platform
Researchers begin to reference their papers’ badges on their CVs, in presentations.
Researchers share saved searches or individual papers via email and on social media.
Increase in visits to saved searches
Increase in referrals from social media, email, etc.
Publishers, societies, and others proactively reach out and ask to feed their work into the platform.
Developers proactively reach out and ask for API access.
What is it?
Universal badge metadata format
Person asserting badge (for future: ability to support pseudonymous ID based on ORCID/other sources)
Badge type asserted
DOI of paper(s?) badge applies to
Link to image associated with badge for API
Comments from badge giver
Date/time badge was given
User registration and login
ORCID ID required
Registration initially limited to a group of invited researchers?
Basic user profile
Links to website, twitter, github, etc.
List of badges given
Badge creation interface
Lookup paper by DOI
Select type of badge you want to apply
Add comments or link to commentary
By badge type
By badge giver
By field (extracted from badge giver)
Link for sharing a saved search
Paper display interface
Paper title, abstract, date, authors (pulled from crossref?)
List of badges awarded
Toolkit for trusted publishers and badge providers to create badge feeds in an Underlay-compatible format
Option 1: Server package hosted by trusted publishers and providers that provides badge feeds in an Underlay-compatible format, subscribed to by the platform.
Option 2: KFG-hosted server that scrapes XML or RSS badge feeds provided by trusted publishers and providers, converts them into an Underlay-compatible format, and ingests them into the platform.
Option 3: Trusted publishers and providers join the Underlay network, hire an Underlayer-in-residence to setup and host their own node in the network, which is subscribed to by the platform.
Search API, supporting all features of search interface
Create, delete, modify badge types
Invite users/approve user signups
Archive badges (just in case bad actors show up)
A browser extension that surfaces badges from the platform across the web
URL bar icon that highlights and shows a number when a user views a paper on the web that has badges in the platform
Inline icon on Google Scholar that highlights when a paper in a search result has badges.
A panel that opens up when an icon is clicked and shows a list badges for the given paper, plus the ability to quickly add a badge.
Investment Required (Estimate)
Approximately 2 FTEs for 12 months (estimated range: $300,000 - $500,000)
1 full-time engineer
1 part-time ux/ui designer
1 part-time product/project manager