Monday 21 July 2008

Top Gear, Top Blokes

Fans of the BBC's Top Gear show are having to wait 21 years for studio tickets as the waiting list is now over 336,000 people long, according to Autoblog.

Mind you that's nothing compared to the 100 year wait that institutional repository fans might have to endure to reap the benefits of the ROAD project's latest experiment. In a stunt very reminiscent of the Top Gear program, Stuart Lewis and his team of repository torturers are going to stuff a million items into the ingest interfaces of DSpace, EPrints and Fedora repositories. If this really were "Top Gear", two repositories would explode and the winner would be Stuart Lewis with a wallet of rewritable DVDs. Since this isn't "Top Gear" all that will happen is that some of the repositories might slow down unacceptably and will need to have their storage or metadata modules re-engineered to work efficiently at this scale.

But what's the 100 year wait about? That's how long it would take for an Institutional Repository working at full efficiency to accumulate a million items, given that the average institution has about 1000 academics who each deposit a research or teaching output around once a month (or 10 times a year given time off for vacations and admin). That makes about 10K items per year, 100K items per decade or a million items per century accruing to your repository. And given that most IR's aren't operating at that level of efficiency yet, the Repository Managers of the next century can safely drink a toast to the ROAD team for setting their minds at ease.

Thursday 10 July 2008

Open Access: Nurture? Or Nature?

In the aftermath of the announcement about Nature depositing author postprints into PubMedCentral, I tried to use papers from Nature as an example for some EPrints sessions I am running at an Open Access workshop at the International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP) in Trieste. This morning I was trying to find some papers for the delegates to practise depositing into an EPrints repository, and I have discovered that you need an ICTP library password to be able to download Nature PDFs - there isn't a blanket IP subscription. Fair enough, I have no problem with how they manage their subscription. However, it turns out that if I go to's front page, I am forbidden from seeing the picture of Nature magazine's current front page! Literally I get the normal web page with a hole in it - and a request to type in my subscription password.

This is the difference between what I see from my home institute and at ICTP.
With SubscriptionWithout subscription
Now, I don't really think that Nature is trying to withhold a commercially valuable image from dirty-rotten-internet-freeloading-scoundrels. I am sure that it was just a mistake in translating company policy into HTML code. But I the fact that such a mistake is possible is evidence that Nature is genuinely conflicted between subscription access thinking and open access thinking. This is what my friend Stevan Harnad has recently pointed out - on the one hand Nature is offering something positive for OA, but on the other hand they are still restricting OA. On reflection and on balance, it would be better for them to give us what we cannot take for ourselves (permission for immediate OA) rather than giving us what we could have done anyway (deposits in PMC and repositories).

Some have suggested it is rather churlish or ill-mannered of Stevan to point this out, and that we should be grateful and just shut up. I don't agree. We still want Open Access to Research Outputs, not a 6-month intellectual headstart for paying customers.