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What is Kudos? An Interview with David Sommer, Co-Founder

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Back in the day, by which I mean the early years of this century, many conversations revolved around the ‘Article Economy’ as well as the notion of the new publishing paradigm being all about ‘services’. I think many of us nodded sagely and then went about thinking of a world in which these new ‘services’ would equal ‘publishing journals’. But quietly, some actual proper services started to emerge. Crossref of course; a start up called Mendeley and all of a sudden it seems we are awash in clever startup ideas in the hitherto somewhat stuffy backwater of the digital milieu that is Scholarly Publishing.

Even more recently, we’ve gotten into a world of measuring things. Previously esoteric analysis of the way scholars were using scholarly artifacts such as Project MESUR are now taking on more importance as funders seek to require measures of ‘impact’ other than the mighty Impact Factor. #Altmetrics is the tag du jour if you spend any time on the social cites – it’s where the cool kids are…

At the Society for Scholarly Publishing 35th Annual Meeting, two of the co-founders of a new service caught up with me to describe their vision for allowing the various communication and publicity efforts of authors to be associated with their publications in a way that could be measured. The name of the fledgling service is Kudos and I’ve been corresponding with David Sommer, Co-founder and Director of Kudos to find out more.

Q. So, what is the thinking behind kudos?

A. The idea for Kudos was born at the ALPSP conference in 2012 when Melinda Kenneway and Charlie Rapple (both from TBI Communications) and I sat down (over a large glass of red wine!) and started talking about the challenges that face academic researchers today.

The volume of published output is growing very rapidly (doubling every 20 years) yet reader time is at a premium. Added to that, we know that academic papers are by their nature often dense, highly technical documents and it is hard to skim, read, and extract the meaning quickly. The result is a long-tail curve with many published articles rarely being cited or even read.
From the author’s perspective, there is increasing pressure from governments, funders and institutions through REF, Star and other programs to demonstrate the impact of their work. Added to all of this, we have new technologies such as article level metrics including altmetrics and new standards such as ORCID that give article-level transparency like never before. Each and every article now needs to make an impact.

Kudos was created to provide a set of tools for academics, their institutions and publishers to measure the impact that their articles are having, and to allow the authors to take action to increase the impact. These actions include explaining their work to lay audiences, creating an impact statement, adding a short title to aid skimming, translations of key metadata to aid discoverability, linking to relevant resources such as blogs/videos/press releases, and using tools to share their work through social and traditional media. The results of these actions are measurable and all link the reader back to the version of record on the publisher’s site.

Q. Ok so there’s quite a bit to unpack there. You are building tools for Authors, Publishers and Institutions. Authors first; what exactly can an author do with the initial toolkit and what’s planned for the road map? And as the author toolkit involves effectively enhancing existing descriptions of the content of a given article (let’s avoid calling it metadata for now) how does that additional material get exposed for discovery in order to drive ‘attention’ back to the article?

A. Kudos is currently in a pilot phase until Dec 2013 and during this phase we have partnered with AIP Publishing, the Royal Society of Chemistry and Taylor & Francis. The aims of the pilot phase are to understand whether authors think there is a need for a service like Kudos and to test whether they will actually use such a service if it is made available to them.

To explore the first of our pilot aims, we undertook a survey of authors from our three pilot publishers. We received over 3,500 responses covering a range of subject disciplines, career stages and geographic locations. We asked 21 very detailed questions and the headline results were:

  • 84% of respondents thought that more could be done to raise the visibility, impact and usage of their work
  • 80% of authors felt that it was their personal responsibility to increase the levels of impact, usage and visibility of their work
  • Over 75% of respondents said they would be quite likely, likely or very likely to use Kudos for this purpose.

Our survey also showed that authors knew they should be doing more to increase the impact of their work, but many didn’t know how. Kudos levels the field by enabling all authors to take action to increase readership and discussion.

As you can imagine, we were excited about these results and concluded that authors are likely to embrace Kudos.

We therefore created a very basic alpha site to test whether authors would actually do what they said they would do. The site encourages authors to enable quick interpretation of their work by adding short titles and lay summaries; to summarize its impact both within and beyond the discipline; to link to other useful aids to understanding the work, such as blogs/videos/press releases; and to share their work through social and traditional media. The results of these actions are measurable and all link the reader back to the version of record on the publisher’s site.

We loaded 150,000 articles from our three pilot publishers and randomly divided them into a control group and a test group. For articles in the control group, we have done nothing beyond monitoring usage data. For articles in the test group, we are emailing authors and inviting them to use Kudos. We provide them with “before and after” Altmetric data and article-level usage data for their articles to encourage them to use the tools, and allow them to see the results of their actions.

We will be writing up and publishing the detailed results from the Kudos pilot later in the year, but have been staggered by the initial response. Early headline results show:

  • 1,000 authors registered with Kudos in the first 24 hours and in just a couple of weeks this number has grown to over 5,000 and continues to rise.
  • We are seeing very high email open rates – up to 35%, with 15% click-through rates – extraordinary for this type of mailing.
  • So far, 16% of registered authors have enhanced their articles with short titles, lay summaries and / or impact statements; 7% have added resource links and 5% have shared articles.
  • Sharing articles is driving discovery, with an average of around 12 additional click-throughs per shared article so far (ranging from single clicks on email shares to more than 300 clicks on one tweet).

In terms of our roadmap, for 2014 we are expanding Kudos to include around 25 publishers and around 500,000 articles. We will be providing a richer set of tools for authors, a better interface and will push Kudos-collected data to third party repositories to increase discoverability, as well as providing access for journalists. In addition to Kudos pushing data out to third parties, we will also help improve discoverability by providing the lay summaries and impact statements back to the publishers to either include on their sites or to embed via a widget. Longer term, Kudos will be much more integrated into publishing workflows and may just become the “plumbing” behind the scenes in the same way that CrossRef is.

Q. What’s in it for the Publisher and the Institution? Presumably there are (or will be) analytics tools to allow those parties to drill down and see what impact enhancing activities are being undertaken by authors?

A.Yes, Kudos opens up some very interesting possibilities for publishers and institutions as well as for funders and societies. Our research shows that generally institutions are not being as effective as they could be at helping academics to maximize the impact of their work. Nearly 2,000 authors (over half of our respondents) told us in our survey that their institution provides no support at all for helping increase or demonstrate the impact of research, though of course that may in part be because they are not aware such support. Of course, some institutions are much more effective at this than others. Our vision for Kudos is to provide tools for institutions to use on behalf of or in conjunction with their researchers, much as an ORCID author can assign their institution to act as a proxy. We also anticipate providing an interface for institutions to gain a total view of the impact of their research output, to measure the effectiveness of activities to help raise awareness, and to benchmark themselves against other institutions (anonymously, and in aggregate).

For publishers, including society publishers, there is a growing need to demonstrate what value they provide for their authors. In the case of Open Access publishers, where the author effectively becomes the customer, there is a critical need for the publisher to demonstrate specifically how they will help the author to gain the greatest reach and impact for their work. As a result of initiatives like DORA, there is now a much greater focus on article-level measures rather than traditional aggregated journal-level measures of performance and it is likely that authors will start taking more notice of these more granular performance measures when they consider where to submit.

Kudos helps publishers provide these tools, strengthening their relationships with authors and improving satisfaction / loyalty by providing a new service that provides tangible (career-enhancing) value for authors. Publishers don’t have the margins to drive readership for each article individually, and not every author has the skills or experience to achieve this themselves. Kudos also provides an array of dashboards, reporting tools and alerts that help the publisher understand the impact their articles are having. The reality is that authors are not particularly loyal to any one publisher; they will publish in the best journal for that particular paper, and do not want to learn to use different systems for each publisher to maximize their impact. Authors want a cross-publisher, integrated, open system that will help them wherever they choose to publish; we hope that by using our experience of the publishing industry to set up such a service, we can create one that supports everyone’s interests and processes.

Finally, there is the funder angle to consider. Funders increasingly want to demonstrate the impact of work that they fund. They find it increasingly hard to persuade authors to provide impact statements post-publication and there is a gap here that needs to be filled. Kudos is already in conversations with major funders to explore how Kudos can help funders demonstrate the impact of their funded research.

Q. So over time, there’s going to be a very interesting set of data here… Clearly you are looking to show that attention helps confer impact, but there’s some very intriguing possibilities in terms of seeing the downstream effects on citations for example. Seeing which areas of research respond most strongly to these kinds of activities. To what extent can Kudos feed back into the scholarly community? Do you plan on opening the data up as a resource for scholarly investigation?

A. Our goal, in exploring the connection between attention and impact, is to find (and make available) data that will encourage authors to stay involved with their article after its publication, using their expertise and networks more effectively not just in the development of their research but also in its communication. Given that the author is best placed to explain their work, and broaden its reach, we want to give them not only the tools but also the motivation to help achieve maximum impact of research – feeding back our findings into the scholarly community is therefore key.

The Kudos pre-pilot phase in 2013 was only 3 months long, so too short to track citation effects. What is really exciting for us is that in 2014 we will work with 20-30 publishers over a much longer period – 9 months. This allows us to study the link between authors taking actions such as adding context to their articles, adding links, explaining their works for different audiences and sharing them with their networks, and the resultant impact on usage and citations.

We will be looking in detail at how combinations of the various actions authors can take impact usage and citations and we will be working with data analysis and statistical experts in 2014 to look for cause and effect relationships within statistically significant confidence levels. We will also look for variations by subject discipline, journal, publisher, access model and other categorizations.
We think that this data will be of great interest to the scholarly community, and we plan to publish our findings and make key data available for others to analyze. Of course, data will be rolled up and anonymized so that no individuals are identifiable.

At Kudos, our approach is to be open and transparent, so we look forward to working with partners who would be interested to receive and analyze this data to help us all understand more about this emerging and exciting area and to benefit the whole scholarly community.

Q. This isn’t limited to any particular branch of scholarly study is it?

A. No – Kudos is available for authors of published research from any field. What we have found fascinating during the pre-pilot phase is looking at how authors across a range of disciplines are using Kudos. We have a lot of social science and humanities articles included in the pre-pilot as well as STM articles and so far it seems there has been little variation between STM and HSS in terms of the willingness of authors to engage and use these tools or the resultant impact on usage.

It might be assumed that our focus on usage, impact and citations would result in a higher level of uptake and engagement among STM researchers, but actually some of our strongest ‘case studies’ have come from outside of STM. For example, after adding a lay summary to an HSS article and tweeting about it once from Kudos, one of our users saw almost 150 click-throughs in the first 24 hours after the tweet from users wanting to read more about her article.

Because all of the links generated by Kudos activities are trackable, we have a rich mine of data on activities, timing and the resultant effects so we can adapt and hone the Kudos service over time to provide the best possible service for busy researchers.

Q. Suppose an author says to you “I’ve deposited my article in a repository” or an institution comes to you and says “We’ve got this repository of articles…”

Sometimes publishers co-host articles on multiple platforms and sometimes a version will also be available on an Institutional Repository or another repository such as a funder, government or subject repository. Kudos does not host full text, instead it provides context for the article and then links, via DOI, to the full text. The authors might post a “related link” in Kudos that points to an alternative source of full text, but for consistency (given that alternative full text sources won’t be available for all articles), we use the DOI for our main “Read now” links.

CrossRef already allows for multiple full text options (see http://help.crossref.org/#multiple-resolution-overview) to be associated with a single DOI (in which scenario, the DOI resolves to an interim page giving the user a list of link choices). At this early stage of our development, we’re relying on this existing approach for handling multiple resolutions rather than trying to make decisions for the user about which version they might have wanted.

We have been very clear from the start that where a standard or technology exists, we want to use that rather than reinventing it. The Kudos founding team have been heavily involved in the creation and maintenance of standards in the scholarly community for many years, including COUNTER, KBART, TRANSFER  and ACAP and we plan to continue to adopt existing standards for Kudos as well as helping to shape new standards as they emerge.

Q. Let’s talk business model… Who are you going to charge and how would that work. Is this going to be analogous to the CrossRef model?

For the pre-pilot and for 2014, the primary revenue stream is from publishers, and pricing is banded based on number of articles included. This is on a cost-recovery basis as we develop, expand and integrate the service. We started off focusing on publishers as – given that the most immediate effect of Kudos is to increase usage – it’s publishers that benefit in the short term.

In the longer term, there are at least five revenue streams we anticipate at this stage:
We expect publishers to remain in the picture, though the service fee may evolve to be based on different variables (e.g. number of authors rather than articles – we’ll be doing substantial research and modeling next year to develop a suitable pricing model). We know that publishers are increasingly looking at how to provide more value for their authors. This is true of all publishers, but especially so for Open Access publishers where the author (or the institution or funder) is effectively the customer. When an author chooses where to publish, the level of service that a publisher can provide to maximize the impact of their research is an important differentiator. Publishers have indicated that a service like Kudos would help them deliver better service to their authors and understand more about their author community. We have agreements in place with both Open Access and subscription-based publishers for 2014 and we will study whether the effectiveness of Kudos varies by access type.

Societies have indicated that they would value a service like Kudos and offer it as a member benefit. We have already signed up a number of societies for 2014 and they see Kudos as a way of serving their members and filling a gap, particularly for small societies, where they are not resourced to have expert social media skills in-house.

Institutions have indicated that they would be very interested in using Kudos on behalf of their researchers. This allows them to support research in a centralized way, building on the work being done by each lab or research group. The institution can them monitor the total impact of their research and benchmark against other similar institution where permission has been granted. We plan to set up partnerships, for example with CRIS (Current Research Information System) providers to integrate rather than reinvent.

Having spoken with a number of major funders, we know that they are very keen to promote the research that they have funded and measure the impact of that research in a number of different ways, from the scientific impact to the economic impact to the societal impact. Currently funders are unable to do this in an automated and consistent way and we have a number of conversations underway to see how Kudos can help here.

Finally there are authors themselves. Our research shows that some would be willing to pay for a service such as Kudos. While we expect Kudos to be free at the point of use for most researchers, there is the possibility of a premium service being offered at a relatively low cost for researchers that want access to more advanced tools.

From the extremely high level of interest we have experienced so far from all five of these groups of stakeholders, we are confident that there is sufficient demand for a service such as Kudos, and that the longer term business model will have a broad revenue base.

Q. So we are starting to see an ecosystem of services emerge, CrossRef, ORCID, Figshare, Datacite, Peerage of Science and now Kudos – Is this a filling in the gaps process or the early signs of a new approach to the business of Scholarly Publishing?

A. We are at a really interesting time in publishing. Standards and technologies such as CrossRef, FundRef, DOI, ORCID, COUNTER, PIRUS, Institutional Identifiers are now becoming well established, coupled together with the emergence of alternative metrics and the article-level metrics. This means that we can now link up parts of the information chain that were previously isolated islands.

The publishing model has been remarkably robust for several hundred years, so it is unlikely that the basics will change much. Fundamentally, publishing is about sharing ideas, explaining them in ways to help others find them, understand them and use them. Perhaps what is different is that the intended audience of ‘formal’ publications is broadening – government mandates for public access are pulling us in that direction, but as yet there has not been detailed consideration of the different skills and tools required for researchers (as authors) to communicate research effectively beyond its ‘core’ audience. There is also, of course, the challenge within that ‘core’ audience of the increasing quantity of information, and the new skills required among researchers (as readers) to read more ‘strategically’ – to get through more information in less depth, in order to make informed decisions as to which content requires a more in-depth read.

Kudos is well positioned to support the scholarly publishing process and help authors become more efficient and effective at communicating their works to maximize the reach and impact of their research.

Ten publishers have already committed to partnering with Kudos for 2014, with contracts being discussed with a similar number. Participating publishers range from several large, global commercial publishers through to small not-for-profit society publishers. Content types being put forward for inclusion in the Kudos service include open access journals, traditional subscription-based journals and ebooks. A final few places remain for publisher participation during 2014 (the service will be fully scalable in 2015, until then participation is restricted) and Kudos welcomes enquiries: info@growKudos.com. Final partners will be agreed by mid December.

(Competing interests declaration: David Sommer and I both sit on the ALPSP Awards Judging Panel. I do not believe this has any material bearing on the interview above, but as a matter of transparency, I’m notifying readers of this fact.)

Discussion

10 thoughts on “What is Kudos? An Interview with David Sommer, Co-Founder

  1. As noted elsewhere (http://scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/2013/10/07/altmetrics-and-the-value-of-publicity-efforts-for-journal-publishers/), a movement away from the Impact Factor and toward altmetrics creates new business opportunities for marketing/publicity firms like this because of the competitive advantages they offer. I don’t want to imply that Kudos is doing anything unethical or even questionable at all (every researcher wants their work widely read, and the more knowledge is spread, the better), but anyone using these sorts of metrics will have to take the actions of services like this into account.

    As asked earlier, there’s the difficult question of when good faith efforts to communicate research turns to gaming the system. Is it fair to an under-funded researcher who can’t afford the services of a Kudos when he/she has to compete against other researchers who have their backing? Can a small OA journal that’s trying to keep author fees as low as possible by cutting costs and reducing services compete against a journal that offers services like these to authors? Will this just make the rich (researchers, institutions, publishers) get richer?

    Posted by David Crotty | Dec 17, 2013, 8:22 am
    • Thanks, David, for your thoughts. With respect to Kudos only being available to well-funded authors, the basic service is actually free to any researcher to use. Publisher participation helps make the service more useful to them (for example, they can see the impact of their sharing activities on their article downloads), and also the publisher gets valuable insight data, but other than that Kudos is open to any author to benefit from using the tools without charge.

      Posted by David Sommer | Dec 17, 2013, 9:51 am
    • How is adding meta-data to one’s research in any way “gaming” the system? There are over 3000 articles added to Medline, published across >5000 indexed journals, daily (http://www.nlm.nih.gov/pubs/factsheets/medline.html), Given this problem of information overload, I personally welcome any services that enable researchers to more effectively distribute their content and get more attention. It is up to the research community how they want to use (or not use) your research.

      Posted by paulkudlow | Dec 20, 2013, 10:08 am
  2. David Sommer,
    Based on the interview, Kudos appears to provide two services:

    1) Help the author promote his/her own work through various services and outlets
    2) Provide authors with metrics to demonstrate that their work has been promoted

    To me, this might be creating a conflict of interest, akin to say Thomson Reuters selling services to help authors get more citations or Twitter selling services to help authors get more tweets. To avoid this perceived conflict, have you considered separating your measuring/reporting services from your PR/promotion services?

    Posted by Phil Davis | Dec 17, 2013, 9:48 am
    • Hi Phil – We are not creating or providing our own metrics, but instead bringing in measures from elsewhere (including both traditional metrics, such as usage and citations, and alternative metrics, for which we hope to provide a growing range over time).

      As we aren’t responsible for how the metrics are calculated, I don’t think there’s a conflict of interest, therefore – our explaining / sharing service is already separate from the measuring / reporting services.

      Posted by David Sommer | Dec 17, 2013, 11:51 am
  3. This is such an obviously brilliant idea that it makes one wonder, why didn’t I think of that? Basically, what Kudos is doing is providing a service to journal article authors (and to their funders and publishers) that has long been provided by scholarly book publishers to their authors. No one has ever questioned the need tor marketing scholarly books, but in the journals world it used to be that all one had to do was market the journals, not the individual authors. but as David Sommer well notes, times have changed and there are all sorts of reasons now why marketing articles makes sense too. I’m not sure I see any conflict of interest here, as Phil does: if there were such a conflict, why wouldn’t it appear for the marketing of scholarly books also?

    Posted by Sandy Thatcher | Dec 17, 2013, 11:23 am
  4. “We loaded 150,000 articles from our three pilot publishers and randomly divided them into a control group and a test group. For articles in the test group, we have done nothing beyond monitoring usage data.” Should that second sentence have “control group” rather than “test group”?

    Posted by Merry | Dec 17, 2013, 3:18 pm
    • Indeed! We did nothing with the control group. For articles in the test group we invited authors to explain and share their articles. We will be analysing the impact for the test group compared with the baseline control group and will share our findings.

      Posted by David Sommer | Dec 17, 2013, 4:50 pm
    • Thanks for the correction, now fixed in the text of the post above.

      Posted by David Crotty | Dec 17, 2013, 4:54 pm

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