The Public Library of Science (PLOS) last week launched PLOS Labs, a new division that will develop software prototypes and coordinate open-source development projects aimed at generating “disruptive ideas and products for scientific communication,” according to the announcement on the organization’s official blog.
The idea for PLOS Labs originated during the development of their suite of article-level metrics (ALM) tools, which focus on tracking the use and influence of individual articles, as opposed to usage records at the journal level. Last week, PLOS also announced the release of the first iteration of Relative Metrics (Beta), a tool that helps provide context to this suite of ALMs.
“The board at PLOS wanted there to be more of that kind of activity, so we created PLOS Labs,” tech startup veteran and new PLOS Labs director Jonathan Dugan told LJ. “There have been discussions to create PLOS Labs for about a year and a half, and we finally got it off the ground during the past couple of months.”
Dugan said that PLOS Labs is considering a broad range of projects that could help enhance any part of the open access publishing process, including authoring tools, streamlining peer review, enhancing the way in which data is stored and disseminated in papers, or the way metadata about the papers—and who is reading them—is collected, stored, and managed.
“We’re specifically looking at things that are not currently being built inside PLOS,” Dugan said. “We’ll be taking those ideas, crystallizing them down into workable prototypes—whether they are paper mocks, or actual software prototypes—and then running user studies with researchers. Putting those prototypes in front of researchers and asking them to use them, and getting feedback specifically on [questions such as] ‘would you use it? How do you feel about this type of idea?’”
Through this process, PLOS Labs will collect information about these ideas and prototypes, and then share that information with publishers and other service providers that are working with academic publications. Most of the concepts being discussed are “highly focused on using open source and being broadly collaborative with other publishers,” but information about these projects will be openly shared with all academic publishers.
“Science works because people are open with their results,” Dugan said. “The whole premise is that people take their work, publish it to the world, and have other scientists talk about it, review it, criticize it, leading to scientific progress. All of the projects that Labs is going to be working on are going to be to further that mission of PLOS—both open access and the transformation of scientific communication.”
By the end of year one, Dugan is hoping to have between three to five prototypes ready and receiving feedback from researchers.