What Happens When All the Pieces Are Standardized

Letter from the Executive Director, December 2021

Each standards project helps to address one issue in the workflow of creating, distributing, or using a particular item. In our community, information standards support the workflow of content—again, from creation through production, discovery, distribution, and delivery.  The issues addressed by NISO standards initiatives may be large or small, but they each fit together to support a more effective and efficient system. One might not have a clear vision of how all the pieces work, how they interact or affect the user’s experience, or what might be possible once all those pieces are adopted and aligned. Occasionally, a project is advanced that connects many of those efforts and exemplifies the possibilities that standards can open. 

During the NISO Virtual Conference on Open Research last month, Jason Priem from OurResearch.org discussed that group’s efforts to resurrect the Microsoft Academic Graph (MAG) service. Microsoft announced earlier this year that it would be deprecating that service and shutting it down at the end of 2021. This an ambitious project, and I applaud Jason and cofounder Heather Piwowar for their vision and efforts to keep this service functioning for all those who rely on it. OpenAlex became available in beta state in November, just after the virtual conference. Of course, this is a feat of programming that involved significant philanthropic funding support, but this product release is also a feat of standards. While the investment supporting development of this project was significant, it is certainly not equivalent to the investments that Microsoft made to build the original MAG. What changed over the past decade, so that a modest startup can replicate the work of one of the largest, most well-resourced technology companies in the world? More and more content providers, repositories, and websites adopted and implemented the standards that support this vast knowledge graph. 

Authors are increasingly assigned ORCIDs and are using them to identify their authorship of scholarly works. Ever more content is linked with DOIs and other persistent identifiers, which then allow services such as DataCite and Crossref to collect and share metadata—including citations—about those objects. Funding and institutional affiliations are being tracked with identifiers. Even entire research projects are now being identified and tracked as coherent things connecting various elements. Over time, all of these individual investments are positioning us to allow for much simpler collection, navigation, and analysis of the vast ecosystem of scholarly communications. What would have been nearly impossible a half-century ago, which became manageable but incredibly expensive fifteen years ago, is now a manageable task for a dedicated team of developers with modest resources, because of standards and their wide adoption. It’s gratifying to see what has become possible because of broadly implemented standards. It’s also exciting to envision how the ecosystem will advance because of further investments in standards and the infrastructure to support them.    

You should take some time to review my conversation in I/O this month with the brilliant Alison Mudditt, CEO of PLOS, about the direction and future trends of open research. There was so much to dig into during our discussion, including the need for greater investments in the collective process and infrastructure of supporting open research.

As we enter December and reflect on the ongoing situation around the world, we are grateful to all those who have continued to support collaborative projects, like NISO’s work, during a second year of disruption and stress. It has been a difficult period for so many, and yet people continue to volunteer and give of themselves to support the community to which they belong. It has been impressive how much work has been advanced, despite the challenging circumstances. It’s unclear when we will return to a “normal” or even what that new normal might be, but I’m heartened to know that so many remain actively involved in making that next normal even better through their efforts. I wish you all the best as the year comes to a close and hope each of you have a joyous, productive, and healthy new year in 2022.

With kindest regards,

Todd Carpenter
Executive Director, NISO