Project: occam – Toward a Wordpress-based Peer-reviewed Scholarly Journal
On April 5th, students in the 2012 cohort of the Master of Publishing program made the final presentations for their PUB607 Publishing Technology Project course. And as with years past, the project groups—and the achievements they made—were considerable.
In the Project course, three groups of six students each work for six weeks on a piece of applied research and development. Past years’ projects have covered everything from data management to XML production to social media campaigns. This year’s groups were mostly web-oriented, but with three very different approaches.
The third group was occam, named after the man with the famous razor that cut away blinding complexity. Occam’s project drew from recent history in MPub tech projects: over the past few years, we’ve explored running online submission management and editorial workflow for small magazines via Wordpress, the ubiquitous online content management system. This year, we took a detour from the world of small magazines, and set to work with a fledgling scholarly journal called Amodern, the brainchild of Darren Wershler (Concordia) and Scott Pound (Lakehead).
Amodern is to be “a peer-reviewed, international, open access scholarly journal devoted to the study of media, poetics, and culture. Its purpose is to provide a forum for interdisciplinary conversations about the role of media in the cultural practices of our time.” And Amodern was founded with the goal of conducting itself entirely via the web, using simple tools like Wordpress.
Occam was tasked with creating a Wordpress-based environment for Amodern’s editors to manage editorial workflow, including facilitating blind peer review. This is not something that is within the scope of Wordpress, but it was something which seemed acheivable, given our experience building editorial environments in Wordpress, not to mention the existence of several useful plugins. And so the occam team set about spec’ing the work.
Partway through the process, and in the midst of laboriously testing interdependencies between a number of Wordpress plugins, the team discovered Annotum. Annotum is a project originally commissioned by the National Library of Medicine in the US, as a lightweight alternative to more complex journal management software like OJS. Annotum’s developer, Solvitor LLC, created a Wordpress theme that packaged together a wide range of workflow functionality and an NLM-XML editoting environment. Occam saw that the Annotum theme addressed the bulk of the requirements they had identified. What was missing was the blind peer-review piece (interestingly the NLM requirements for Annotum had been based on a more open model).
In discussion with Carl Leubsdorf Jr at Solivor LLC and developer Max Stein (at Concordia), the team sketched out a model of how blind review could be handled in Annotum/Wordpress. The tricky part is the “blind” requirement, as Wordpress’ administrative dashboard shows everything to everyone with a login. The solution was a specialization of the Wordpress “Preview” screen such that it could only be seen by assigned peer reviewers. Occam and Max Stein worked hard to prototype and test the new functionality, and integrated it into AModern’s Wordpress, with a plan to also commit the code back into Annotum’s codebase.
The result is an enhanced Annotum, usable by any peer-reviewed journal who wishes to go online via Wordpress. We’re working with the Amodern team in preparation of the journal’s launch later this year, and with the Annotum developers to make the blind review functionality available to the world.
Interested to know more?
Read the occam project documentation (PDF).