Building open infrastructure step-by-step: COPIM’s approach to open documentation via PubPub | PubPub Community Spotlight

by Tobias Steiner and Lucy Barnes

Following in the footsteps of PubPub’s interview with Janneke Adema, Joe Deville, and Toby Steiner, we wanted to take this opportunity to take a step back and reflect upon the different ways that we at Community-led Open Publication Infrastructures for Monographs (COPIM) have been using PubPub to engage with the variety of different groups that constitute the COPIM community of communities and to document the COPIM project’s progress over time.undefined

Right from COPIM’s very early days, we have been focused on making values-led choices about the platforms we employ to collaborate on writing and publishing the output generated throughout the COPIM project’s Work Packages, thinking particularly about using open-source tools and platforms where possible, documenting our activities openly, and working anti-competitively within different communities.

As Toby has previously written about in more detail elsewhere, for internal purposes, we quickly settled on open-source tools such as Mattermost for team communications, Nextcloud & OnlyOffice for file sharing and collaboration on documents, and BigBlueButton, Jitsi, and edumeet as viable alternatives to omnipresent corporate tools Slack, Google Drive, and Zoom.

COPIM’s Outreach Working Group – which we had established early on to keep in touch between the different Work Packages on the overarching topic of Outreach – conducted a short exercise to scope options that would align with our set of values and quickly settled on running COPIM’s dedicated website,, via the Gitea repository-hosted static site generator Hugo. Conceptually, we conceived of the website as the “formal” window into the world of COPIM, where we would document key facts, official statements, and funder-facing reporting information such as an overview of Milestones and Deliverables.

We also wanted to have a more vibrant and flexible addition to that website, a space that would allow us to experiment with multimodal publishing, ranging from shorter blog posts documenting project workshops, to more expansive advocacy papers and actual long-form scholarship that was going to be written by the Work Package teams over the project’s initial lifespan of three years. What we wanted was really quite an ask: a place where we could write simple short posts, but also these more extended formal pieces that might be downloaded and shared as separate documents, together with the occasional embedded video – all of which could be curated into different collections in order to best showcase our work! And this is where PubPub entered the picture. Attracted by its (mostly) open-source foundationsundefined and following encouraging conversations with the KF team jointly led by our former colleague Dan Rudmann, the COPIM team decided to use PubPub as our official Open Documentation Site, which – as Dan has put it in our first ‘Hello World’ message – reflects “our strategies and aims by serving as a space for open documentation. Herein we will chronicle our efforts in research and implementation as they occur. We invite you to utilize PubPub’s commenting and annotation system to converse with us, as well.” (An Introduction to our Open Documentation site)




The Case for PubPub · Elephant in the Lab

“I want to make the case for PubPub, a flexible web-based platform hosted by a nonprofit, Knowledge Futures Group (KFG). The software is the brainchild of Travis Rich, who wrote his 2017 MIT dissertation on PubPub and then co-founded KFG, first within MIT and then as an independent nonprofit. The program he helped build is, in its way, a complete rethink of scholarly publishing—digital first, yes, but unconventional across the board. The design ingenuity is matched by a robust commitment to an academy-led publishing ecosystem. “In our vision of the future,” reads the group’s mission statement, “knowledge communities play a lead role in building and maintaining our knowledge systems, reclaiming territory that was ceded to proprietary solutions.” In a thousand small but important ways, PubPub is the nonprofit David to, say, the profit-hoarding, data-hoovering Goliath that is Elsevier’s ScienceDirect.Still, PubPub’s not for everyone, particularly if you’re wedded to the PDF, or prefer to roll your own server. But many of us want to dethrone the PDF, and for us the prospect of handing off server maintenance is more relief than limitation. It’s telling that the Simon Fraser team, when they set out to publish their report, selected PubPub….”

User Satisfaction Survey | PubPub

We’d like to understand who our users are, how they value PubPub, and and how we can better service publishing communities. If you can, please fill out the following survey. It should take less than 5 minutes to complete, and can be filled out anonymously, or you can leave your email address if you’d like us to follow up with you. Your individual survey responses will not be shared with anyone outside of Knowledge Futures, Inc. We may use non-personalized, aggregated survey data to publish public reports about our users and communities.

Social cost · Gabe Stein

“At first glance, the staid academic publishing industry seems like a perfect fit for disruption in the form of an enterprising startup. Its total addressable market, or TAM, (~$19b revenue/year) is more than big enough to support a unicorn or two. It relies on centuries-old processes based in the limitations of print that have been proven to be ineffective and inequitable. It is dominated by a few large mega-corporation incumbents who, like the newspaper industry before them, have become used to extracting enormous profit-margins for activities that produce questionable value….

So, an enterprising startup should be able to succeed by raising enough money to build a slick new publishing platform and pay to subsidize researcher usage of it until their institutions are forced to recognize their contributions and pay to support the platform. Thanks to the rise of a new generation of private labs like Arcadia Science, a KFGundefined member and partner, and Focused Research Organizations (FROs), the job actually appears to be less complex than ever, because a lot of the initial bootstrapping of the platform can be cross-subsidized by a new type of institution without the constraints of universities, rather than paid for directly by the startup.

In theory, I think this should work. And to be clear, I think private labs and FROs are a key part of the solution, because they can help reduce the risk of adopting new forms of publishing by proving the models outside the status quo. But in practice, what we’ve learned building KFG over the last 7 years is that the startup approach to building disruptive academic publishing technology is often doomed by a failure to understand the complexity of the market….

With the caveat that I’m incredibly biased by my employer, I believe the solution, as I wrote above, lies in creating a new type of knowledge institution that combines the best of startups, non-profits, and expert consultants. These institutions must be capable of producing innovative, trusted technology that allows anyone to experiment with new approaches to publishing. But that’s not enough. They must also be able to reduce switching costs by combining those tools with services that help users maintain the right ties to the status quo that give them the credit and credibility in the current system without reinforcing the worst parts of it. And they must find a way to become sustainable on their own merits so that they’re not reliant on grants, of which there simply aren’t enough to support technology organizations over the long term. KFG won’t be the only one of these institutions, and our approach won’t be the only one that works (if it does). But until we acknowledge the complexities of this market, and the challenges new entrants face, we’re going to see a lot of startups come up empty in their attempts to disrupt anything except their own bank accounts.”

The experiment begins: Arcadia publishing 1.0 · Reimagining scientific publishing

“In thinking about how to share Arcadia’s research, we wanted to keep features of traditional publishing that have been honed over centuries, but improve upon what hasn’t quite adapted to the nature of modern science and technology. We have a unique opportunity to use our own research to develop mechanisms of sharing and quality control that can be more agile and adaptable. Our initial attempt is outlined here and we will continue to iterate upon it, always keeping the advancement of knowledge as our guiding principle when making decisions on what to try next….

We are reimagining scientific publishing — sharing our work early and often, maximizing utility and reusability, and improving our science on the basis of public feedback.

This is our first draft. We have ambitious goals and we’re committed to replicable long-term solutions, but we also know that “perfection is the enemy of good.” We’re using this platform to release findings now rather than hiding them until we’ve gotten everything exactly how we want it. Readers can think of the pubs on this platform as drafts that will evolve over time, shaped by public feedback. The same goes for the platform itself! We’re treating our publishing project like an experiment — we’re not sure where we will land, but we can only learn if we try. In this pub, we’re sharing our strategy and the reasoning behind some of our key decisions, highlighting features we’re excited about and areas for improvement. …

Charting our Pathway to Sustainability | KFG Notes

Knowledge Futures Group is a non-profit technology organization that builds infrastructure for a more effective, equitable, and sustainable knowledge economy. We have two primary open-source products: PubPub for publishing documents and Underlay for producing datasets. Our work empowers communities with tools to publish knowledge and collaborate with their community members.


Call for Papers: The Global Transition to Open: Structuring Library Sustainability Toward a More Equitable Knowledge Ecosystem | Commonplace

We invite contributions to a series that explores how libraries are realigning their collections spending with their values around Open. We ask that abstracts of 300 words or fewer be submitted by Monday, September 13, 2021 (please see key details below). 

Libraries face a dizzying and growing array of open access investment opportunities. These range from open infrastructure to new open access publisher agreements. Although libraries can be motivated by altruism when investing in open initiatives, many are trying to embed “openness” into their collections strategies. This is much easier said than done when emerging open access models rarely mimic the legacy subscription or one-time purchase models upon which the library community has grown accustomed. This series seeks to examine the challenges and efforts underway at academic libraries as they make their way forward in this new environment. 

An article published in the Commonplace in June 2021 titled “Balancing Investments in Open Access: Sustainability and Innovation” inspired this upcoming series. In this article, Annie Johnson raises questions that many in the library community are starting to ask: 

“So how can we ensure that our support for open does not become unsustainable in the face of continued cuts to our collections budget? And perhaps more importantly, how can we make informed, strategic decisions about which initiatives to support (and which not to support) when each agreement takes so much time to evaluate, and staff are already spread so thin?”[undefined]

These are critical questions that all academic libraries are facing. We believe sharing our stories and learnings at this important juncture will help us to collectively navigate the challenges ahead and, critically, to create a more equitable and just scholarly communication system.

We seek proposals that will address topics or questions, such as:

What guiding goals and principles can help libraries make decisions and measure the efficacy of their spending?

How is “transformative” defined? What are we transforming?

How are libraries balancing local reading and publishing needs with the desire to transform global scholarly communications?

How do we bridge the organizational divide between collections and scholarly communications?

Who are the key stakeholders and how do we secure their buy-in?

When should we go it alone and when do we partner?

How do we align open knowledge practices and spending with issues of diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice?

How can libraries talk to each other and/or across campus about these topics? 

What new top-down models encourage new, sustainable, and open frameworks (rather than just operate within the existing, legacy structure)? Who has implemented them, and how?

Describe strategies for libraries that do not have a Press at their university, that can still support local open scholarly publishing efforts.

Anything you think we’ve missed!

Business of Knowing: Bringing about [infra]structural change to Knowledge Communication – a summer 2021 series | Commonplace

This Commonplace series comprises essays in response to a call for submissions that itself was a response to channel community conversation prompted by the essay “Clarivate, ProQuest, and our Resistance to Commercializing Knowledge.”

List of Contributions:

Ahearn, Catherine, and Sarah Kearns. 2021. ‘The Business of Knowing: Bringing about [Infra]Structural Change to Knowledge Communication’. Commonplace, June.

Ayers, Phoebe, and Samuel J. Klein. 2021. ‘The Invisible Citation Commons’. Commonplace 1 (1).

Brundy, Curtis, and Ginny Steel. 2021. ‘Subscribe to Progress: Advancing Equity Through Openness’. Commonplace, August.

Chan, Joel. 2021. ‘Sustainable Authorship Models for a Discourse-Based Scholarly Communication Infrastructure’. Commonplace 1 (1).

Cressman, Colleen. 2021. ‘Trust in Infrastructure’. Commonplace 1 (1).

Kaufman, Peter B. 2021. ‘Video and Knowledge Communication’. Commonplace 1 (1).

Kearns, Sarah, and Catherine Ahearn. 2021. ‘It’s All of Our Business’. Commonplace 1 (1).

Kraker, Peter. 2021. ‘Now Is the Time to Fund Open Infrastructures’. Commonplace, August.

Martin, Shawn J. 2021. ‘Historical Choices and Knowledge Production’. Commonplace, August.

Pooley, Jefferson. 2021. ‘Collective Funding to Reclaim Scholarly Publishing’. Commonplace, August.

Rudmann, Dan, Kayshini Holbourne, and Elli Gerakopoulou. 2021. ‘Hire Everyone: Scholarly Publishing and Cooperative Sustainability’. Commonplace 1 (1).

Collective Funding to Reclaim Scholarly Publishing | Commonplace

by Jefferson Pooley

The open access movement has dropped barriers to readers only to erect them for authors. The reason is the article processing charge (APC), which typically runs $3,000 to $5,000. The APC model, with its tolled access to authorship, is the subscription model seen through a camera obscura: author paywalls in place of reading paywalls.

Most scholars cannot afford the steep fees, a fact masked by the privileged segment who can: scientists in the rich industrialized world, and scholars in a handful of wealthy European countries and North American universities. The fees are often paid via so-called “read-and-publish” deals, which fold APCs into the subscription contracts that libraries negotiate with publishers.

The emerging APC regime is also re-anointing the commercial oligopolists—the same five firms that fleece universities through usurious subscription charges. Springer Nature, Elsevier, and their peers are, with every read-and-publish deal, transitioning their enormous profit margins from tolled to open—and capturing the lion’s share of library spending in the process. Librarians continue to fund the tolled system, while also—at the richer institutions—picking up the tab for their faculty’s author fees. The result is an incumbent-publisher spending lockdown, one that ratifies the APC regime.

Any alternative to the prevailing scholarly communication system must be built atop a different funding model, one that excludes neither readers nor authors. In broad strokes, that model will center on direct support for publishing, drawn from funds currently allotted to subscription and APC spending. The same funders who finance the tolled-and-APC system—libraries but also foundations and government agencies—will, on this approach, redirect budgets to underwrite a diverse, community-led publishing ecosystem. Call it the collective funding model, predicated on open access for both readers and authors.


Knowledge Futures Group has a new website

New website!

Knowledge Futures Group builds infrastructure for a more effective, equitable, and sustainable knowledge economy.


Knowledge Futures Group is an independent nonprofit organization powered by academic, industry, and advocacy groups. Together we build and support products and protocols to make knowledge open and accessible to all.

Founded in 2018 as a partnership between the MIT Press and the MIT Media Lab, Knowledge Futures Group was created to build sustainable tools and technologies for libraries, presses, museums, activist organizations, researchers, and others whose knowledge work seeks to serve collective understanding and the public. What began as a handful of grad students working on publishing tools grew to an organization focused on addressing the systemic challenges faced by public-oriented groups beholden to infrastructure that is designed with misaligned incentives and unjust power dynamics.

In September 2019 we formally organized as an independent 501c3 nonprofit. Today, we are committed to building a full-stack of technology protocols and products that demonstrate an effective, equitable, and sustainable knowledge economy is possible. We work with partners to design for interoperability and to catalyze a distributed ecosystem of development.

Software Engineer, the Underlay Project · KFG Notes

“The Knowledge Futures Group is hiring a software developer to help us build the Underlay, a distributed public knowledge graph. We’re looking for someone with strong full-stack web development skills and an interest in semantic web and decentralized web technologies. You’ll get to work with experimental technologies, make significant contributions to product direction, and help shepherd a research project into the real world. We will pay you competitively with startups, let you work from wherever you want, and take you and your ideas seriously. Join us!…”