“Hey, we don’t use those words anymore!” And I wasn’t even paddling around in the minefields of sexual and racial nomenclature, where people of my age step at their peril in daily risk of standing on a verbal IED. My colleague had just used the expression “STM”, and I was hurrying to point out how limited, by domain, discipline and format, that expression now was and how little it contained of where “scholarly communications” now was. He looked grumpy on screen, and about to protest so I used newly acquired meeting management skills, muted him, and addressed the rest of the virtual room. “if we use expressions like STM, we not only ignore HSS, but we also live in the pretend world that says that communications can only be recognised if they are clothed in pre-digital forms like books or monographs or articles in journals. Academic research of all types has always been about much more in communication terms.”

If we look at the workflow of researchers, or indeed of most professionals and many business people, we quickly see, in a digitally networked age, that if the screen is the viewer then a whole mass of communications pass across it in the course of our work. Some of these are trivial in essence, though they may have vital importance in a moment. Others are important long form productions, though it is rare for us to deal with them at length. Thus while it can be important for a researcher to review a scholarly article from end to end, it is more likely to be found in searches that are directed at methodologies, or references and citations, or as a result of a concept search. And bobbing along in this broad bitstream with carefully crafted books and articles are items of less formal content: blogs, reviews, annotations (hypothess.is has now passed 10 million annotations as at 8 May), nuggets of micro-publishing of all types. And thanks to the efforts of the good people at ORCID and CrossRef and millions of individual scholars we can swim in this great river because good, not yet great, metadata exists to interconnect the items. 

But some artefacts of scholarly enquiry have not fared so well. Evidential data is a prime example, though improvements are now taking place in some disciplines in the interconnection of articles to data held in repositories. But researchers do not only write: they also speak, present and debate. For a long time the content derived from this has been inaccessible. Any researcher who dreamt of a search in which one of the results would be a five minute relevant video extract from a conference speech was doomed to frustration. Despite the “when we return to paper post-pandemic” fogies, academics have been including programmable graphs, software, videos and audio in digital articles for many years. It was the conferences that got lost, or isolated and disconnected on the site of a scholarly society. Yet it is clear that in the conference workflow that we find the important early signs of results and early stage success indicators. 

Now two young companies are making determined efforts to close the gap around conferences and bring the posters and all the other content  into searchable view. I have mentioned morressier.com here, but this is what ACS, a recent partner, said: “Morressier was selected as the platform for SciMeetings due to their commitment to developing tools that enable conferences posters, presentations, abstracts, datasets, videos, and supporting files to be widely discoverable”. Moressier has gone through the long slog of building content scale, and can now reasonably expect the market, as we either move out of the pandemic travel restrictions or into a more virtual world of conferences, to flow in their direction. 

All of which makes Underline Science (underline.io) even more interesting. Here is a conference platform built for science conference events. Nine months old, it’s appearance just as many scientific meetings were being cancelled or postponed was fortuitous. It’s early concentration has been upon meetings in AI and robotics, reflecting the research interests of its founder, Alex Lazinica, also co-founder of IntechOpen and himself a former researcher. Those who attended the virtual AAMAS conference in Auckland last week saw citable lectures, presentations and transcripts. The ability to move from language to language adds a necessary but impressive dimension, especially with key languages like Chinese, Hindi, Spanish and English. In a manner reminiscent of Vitek Tracz’s video interviews with great scientists, lectures will be divided into “chapters” (how the ghosts of those old formats linger!”). This will help ensure that elements are discoverable as packets. As it develops more functionality and more polish  this service will turn into a basic way of providing conference searchability in an Open Science world. At the moment holding conferences at all is hard to justify unless you live in New Zealand. But in the development of these two companies it is easy to see parts of the research, alerting and intelligence cycle in scholarly communications that will have moved forward decisively as a result of the pandemic.

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