This week we begin a series of posts that reflect on three years of research on sourcing and circulating scholarly communication on the open web. In the coming weeks we will share our discoveries, processes, and code developed through rapid prototyping and iterative design: the PressForward plugin for WordPress; the collaboratively-edited weekly publication Digital Humanities Now; and the experimental overlay Journal of Digital Humanities. We hope these resources will encourage and assist others who wish to collect, select, and share content from the web with an engaged community of readers.

Since 2011 the PressForward project has worked to address a paradox in contemporary scholarly communication: the simultaneous abundance and obscurity of informally published scholarship — in particular the “gray literature” of conference papers, white papers, reports, scholarly blogs, and digital projects — scattered across the web. These genres of scholarly communication are especially important for communities who coalesce around shared topical interests or methods of praxis. In spite of their value, scholars often miss these works-in-progress or reports on lessons learned due to a lack of formal venues for circulation or evaluation.

Our mission is to develop methods and technologies that enable communities to source, select, distribute, and value this untapped wealth of scholarly communication on the open web. PressForward, therefore, is a four-pronged project that includes:

  • Research on the websites and communities that circulate gray literature
  • Developing the PressForward plugin: a publication management tool integrated into WordPress that provides a feed reader and editorial workflow for content collection, discussion, selection, and republication;
  • Prototyping a collaboratively-edited publication that highlights recent scholarship, news, and announcements relevant to a scholarly community (Digital Humanities Now);
  • Prototyping an overlay journal that highlights sought-after content originally highlighted on Digital Humanities Now, materials from institutional and grant agency repositories, and conference presentations that currently lack scholarly venues for wide circulation (the Journal of Digital Humanities).

We are developing the PressForward plugin and our experimental publications concurrently in order to iteratively design features and workflows to suit the needs of community-sourced and collaboratively-edited publications. We can now offer a scalable and reproducible publication model for any scholarly community who wishes to distribute high-quality, open scholarship.

Designing for Scholarly Values

From the start, we have been committed to developing flexible methods and technologies that offer scholars full control over the process of collecting, discussing, and disseminating materials of their choice. Rather than relying on third-party services such as Google Reader or that can (and do) disappear, we provide an extensible and open-source platform that users can maintain and adapt. Our PressForward plugin is a powerful feed aggregator and editorial workflow that is integrated into the popular, easy-to-use, and open-source WordPress web content management system.

The PressForward plugin intentionally reduces the technical barriers to collecting, selecting, and sharing content so scholars can concentrate on the intellectual work of identifying the content most important to their communities. We designed the user interface of the PressForward plugin specifically to enable collaboration. The plugin allows multiple contributors to nominate content from anywhere on the web, in addition to choosing from the materials aggregated through feeds. Contributors work within a comfortable reading environment and can comment on individual items. Editors read, nominate, discuss, and publish content within the WordPress Dashboard, allowing them to manage all stages of web publication with a unified interface.

Sharing our Work

In the coming weeks, the PressForward blog will feature articles that synthesize three years of research, design, testing, analysis, and experimentation. As the first phase of our project draws to a close, the site will features posts about topics including:

  • Prototyping a publication model for sourcing, selecting or “curating,” and disseminating online scholarship (Digital Humanities Now);
  • A guide to creating and sustaining a curated scholarly publication;
  • A quick start reference for installing and using the PressForward plugin;
  • Details about the staged development of the PressForward plugin;
  • Findings from three years of experience publishing Digital Humanities Now and the Journal of Digital Humanities; and
  • Reflections on the impact, value, and lasting benefits of curating web-based scholarship.

Our first posts will precede the public release of the PressForward plugin in the WordPress Directory — our contribution to the diverse efforts to aggregate and curate content from the open web. Although the plugin is designed for communities of scholars to share timely and salient work, anyone interested in curating web content will find a valuable asset in the PressForward Plugin.

Even as we share our initial findings and suggestions based on these years of work, we recognize that our experimental project is part of an ongoing process both at the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media and beyond. We look forward to drawing on and contributing to these efforts to capture and facilitate new forms of scholarly communication!