Writing and Publishing on the Web:
University of New Hampshire
3 January, 2002
There is no technical reason that any field knowledge can't have its entire textual knowledge in one global, interlinked virtual library. The only reasons why this hasn't already happened in most fields are our human failings - "the sluggishness of human nature and its superstitious cleavage to old habits" (Harnad, 1999).
Now that it is possible to self-archive one's work publicly online, we are less reliant on the pay-for hard copy older forms of publication. Some of course seek to financially profit from such exclusive publication, but there are also many authors prepared to share knowledge freely.
So why have more such people not flocked to this medium and helped create a free, open, global access to written knowledge?
I agree with Harnad's (1999; http//www.dlib.org/dlib/december99/12harnad.html) chiding that he delivers in an eloquent essay on this topic. Harnad suggests one answer he that authors may feel is that there is no place to put their material. But this is not true - free web space is readily available, local servers are larger and more reliably connected the web than ever, and there are several professional websites which will host your material for you at no charge - e.g., in the field of outdoor education see http://www.wilderdom.com/research.html, http//www.outdoored.com or visit our resource web sites via http://www.wilderdom.com/OEresources/index.htm)
Authors who worry that their paper will rarely be found may ask "What's the point?" But search engines are getting increasingly sophisticated and efficient. Despite the increase in the amount of material to be scanned, it is getting increasingly likely that the right people will find the right material. Also meta-searching technology is becoming readily available and this will make subject-specific searching much more effective.
Many may plead that they lack the technical know-how for archiving their articles on the web. If that's the problem, universities and organizations should be taking the lead to facilitate the archiving process as an investment in the future of their staff, the institution, and the field of endeavour. Alternatively authors can simply send their material to sites such as those mentioned above and the material can be externally hosted.
Increasingly, not having any of your papers up there will become more and more of a liability. Having well-archived written work is likely to become a generally accepted indicator of academic professionalism; failure to do so suggests a lack of interest/ability in communicating effectively about one's work. Eventually on-line archiving will become a standard, if not compulsory skill, just as learning how to use a word processor is now a normal expectation.
In principle, the process is agonizingly simple. Once your paper is accepted by a journal (or your thesis is handed in), the final draft is uploaded to the web. Hopefully also you send out a brief announcement is send out to notify appropriate people. For an example of how I've begun archiving my own work, go to http://www.wilderdom/JamesNeill.htm.
Some may cite copyright issues, but this should not be a major issue. As an author you can transfer to for-profit-publishers all the rights to sell your papers, in paper or online, but you should retain the right to self-archive them online for free access for all. For more information see "Copyright Guidelines for Posting Articles on the Internet".
So really the only question that remains is "When do you plan to make a contribution to your field by archiving your written material?"
- James Neill
PS Another important topic is how to be an effective consumer of on-line material. On this matter, I'd recommend an essay by Harris (1997) "Evaluating Internet Research Sources".
Disclaimer: This is not written by a lawyer or copyright expert. It is based on a synthesis of material I've read about copyright of academic articles posted on the internet.
An article can be made available on the internet at any of four stages - as an unpublished manuscript, whilst in review, whilst in press, or after being published. A basic summary of recommendations for publishing academic articles on the internet is as follows:
For more information see Copyright Guidelines for the Web for a general guide and the APA Guidelines for Posting Articles on the Internet for more specific details for journals published by the American Psychological Association.
Why I Write on the Web
I work in the newest wordform, on the web, because it is fluid. It has alchemic properties, being capable of near instant communication of consciousness around the globe through the word. It has more in common with old forms, e.g., shouting from the rooftops, than it does with print publishing.
Print publishing worked well for a while as newspapers, etc., but then publishers and libraries got greedy and shoved too much good stuff away from easy access - for profit and power. The web puts the life of words back into real people's hands. Writing got overly serious there for a while - published in print became some ultimate truth. But all text is temporary and there is no such thing as a final draft. Any text is just a like a photographic mosaic - snapshots in time roughly hewn together.
Its time for writers to work in the new medium. But this is like convincing stonemasons who didn't believe that metallurgy would work. We've barely got over the generations of writers who wrote solely on paper, who themselves had to convince those from the oral tradition that information was worth writing down. But we need to keep going, and perhaps come a full circle.
All writing should be done live. The boundaries between text and speech will blur in the coming century, particularly once voice synthesizers become common place. Ideas can and will then be subject to infinite and complex analysis, and machines will be able to have real conversations and influence human consciousness more profoundly than ever before.
What we need to do is hardwire everyone's hard drives together, to allow for the possible telepathic-type communication that could occur. Sounds risky and impractical, perhaps, but this is what the internet is for - the connection and relation of ideas and information. Instead of clogging the net with images, music, and commercialism (and fear) we should be trying to make every piece of text instantly accessible and analyzable. A small example of what might be possible with new forms of web analysis can be found at Google Tools.
Its a just question of who will connect their text to the web. This is a bit like deciding whether or not to be listed in the phone book. Will you choose to make available the thoughts and ideas that sit on your hard-drive available and dare to enter Borges' infinite "Library of Babel"?
Other Links to Explore: