Guest post: a technical update from our development team

This is a guest post by Richard Jones, founding partner of Cottage Labs and member of the DOAJ team. Cottage Labs has hosted, developed and managed the DOAJ platform since December 2013 and is responsible for keeping DOAJ available to the vast number of individuals using DOAJ every day.


To the public, it may seem that not a lot has changed at doaj.org for the past year or so but in the background, a lot of work has been going on to prepare for some major improvements.

January – August 2019

During this period, our technical focus has been on 3 major areas: the Application Form; the editorial workflow system, which underpins the application process; and the User Interface (UI). In addition, we have been carrying out the final bits of work to improve the stability and scalability of the system, with the net result that in those 8 months there was only 3 minutes of unscheduled down-time.

The team measures its throughput via the number of issues that are successfully dealt with per month in our GitHub issue tracker. On average we’re handling 20-25 issues per month, some of which are support questions. These questions come from a variety of sources including DOAJ team members, end users, or from technical users of the API and other machine interfaces.

We’ve also been working with a new performance monitor to identify bugs, and for the first time we are able to detect issues with the system that go unreported or even unnoticed by end users.

Here are some of the minor improvements we’ve made:

  • Improved API documentation
  • Further GDPR compliance: cookie consent banner; marketing opt in/out preferences for users; and anonymisation of data used in testing and development
  • Data about articles in the Journal CSV file
  • A preliminary overhaul of the site’s layout template and CSS, in preparation for a much larger UI upgrade next year.

Here are some major bits of work that we have carried out:

  • Enhancements to our historical data management system. We track all changes to the body of publicly available objects (Journals and Articles) and we have a better process for handling that.
  • Introduced a more advanced testing framework for the source code. As DOAJ gains more features, the code becomes larger and more complex. To ensure that it is properly tested for before going into production, we have started to use parameterised testing on the core components. This allows us to carry out broader and deeper testing to ensure the system is defect free.
  • A weekly data dump of the entire public dataset (Journals and Articles) which is freely downloadable.
  • A major data cleanup on articles: a few tens of thousands of duplicates, from historical data or sneaking in through validation loopholes, were identified and removed. We closed the loopholes and cleaned up the data.
  • A complete new hardware infrastructure, using Cloudflare. This resulted in the significant increase in stability mentioned above and allows us to cope with our growing data set (increasing at a rate of around 750,000 records per year at this point).

And here are some projects we have been working on which you will see come into effect over the next few weeks:

  • A completely new search front-end. It looks very similar to the old one, but with some major improvements under-the-hood (more powerful, more responsive, more accessible), and gives us the capability to build better, cooler interfaces in the future.
  • Support for Crossref XML as an article upload format. In the future this may also be extended to the API and we may also integrate directly with Crossref to harvest articles for you. We support the current Crossref schema (4.7) and we will be supporting new versions as they come along.

Finally, we welcomed a new developer to our team, Aga, who joined Cottage Labs and the DOAJ team in July of this year.

Taking a longer view, developments coming down the pipe in the next 6-8 months or so are:

  • A major overhaul to the UI, following extensive design and user experience work by DOAJ’s UX consultant.
  • A lot of work on the editorial back-end (so you might not notice much change on the public side) to improve the throughput and usability of the system for the editors and administrators.
  • A new, revamped application form, which will be easier to use and offer you better support in applying to DOAJ or updating your existing Journals.

If you have any questions or would like more detail on anything you have read here, do please contact us or leave a comment here.

‘Indexed in DOAJ’ versus ‘the DOAJ Seal’

I need to clarify what being indexed in DOAJ means and how the Seal is related to that, and how the reapplication process works.

There is a common misunderstanding that only journals that get the Seal are “indexed in DOAJ”, that only Seal journals are quality, peer reviewed open access journals. This is incorrect. ALL journals in DOAJ have been approved as quality, peer reviewed open access journals. The whole DOAJ list is the approved, community-curated list of reputable journals!

  1. What ‘Indexed in DOAJ’ means
    Being indexed in DOAJ means that a journal has passed up to 4 stages of independent and objective, manual review. It means that the journal has been investigated by our Editorial team who have researched whether or not the journal/publisher does what they claim to do on the journal site and in their (re)application to us. During the investigation, the DOAJ editors go through the pages on a journal’s site to make sure that all the information presented to a user is easy to find, clearly and accurately presented and easy to understand. The editorial board is investigated, and sometimes members of the board are contacted and their institutional connections verified, their work on the board is confirmed and which other boards that member sits on. Being indexed in DOAJ means that the journal adheres to high levels of quality of its publishing services and services to authors and users, including: peer review, licensing terms, a strong open access statement, a fully functional editorial board and more. Being indexed in DOAJ means that the journal is a good open access journal, a trusted open access journal.
  2. The reapplication process
    DOAJ upgraded its requirements for journals to get into DOAJ. The upgrade, which covered all new applications, was made live in March 2014. This meant that there were about 9000 journals already in DOAJ—accepted into DOAJ between 2003 and 2013—that had been accepted under less stringent requirements. We require that every one of them upgrades their information with us. To make it easier for users to see which journals have been accepted under the new criteria we added a green tick next to them. Journals without a tick next to them still have to be reviewed against the new criteria. Note however that even journals that have no tick against them have been manually reviewed and accepted into DOAJ as being reputable.If a journal is in DOAJ, it is on the list of approved and reputable journals.
  3. The DOAJ Seal
    The DOAJ Seal, think of it like this: journals that have the Seal are journals that adhere to outstanding best practice; journals that don’t have the Seal are good, trusted journals adhering to best practice. The Seal has been allocated to a handful of journals accepted into DOAJ since 2014. Journals that are awarded the Seal have answered ‘Yes’ to 7 questions that DOAJ has chosen specifically as indicators of an extra high and clear commitment to open access best practices, of extra high levels of commitment to publishing technologies, and the most ‘open’ form of open access. Importantly, the journals that DO NOT have the Seal still adhere to high levels of quality required for indexing in the DOAJ, especially those journals that have a green tick. No Seal DOES NOT mean low quality, non peer reviewed, questionable, ‘dodgy’, ‘scammy’.

I hope that this helps. DOAJ spends all of its time improving information on reliability, trustworthiness and accuracy. DOAJ also spends a lot of time ensuring that questionable journals do NOT get into the directory. DOAJ is already doing that work for you so that you can be exactly sure what levels of service you can expect when you choose a journal to submit to, to recommend to faculty, to read research in.

As ever, if you have any questions, leave a comment or get in touch!

Updates to DOAJ will be switched off while we upgrade the site

Earlier this month I wrote about the twelve developments that we were working on. These are now ready to be released to the live site this week and we will be making the upgrade between Tuesday (21st April) evening and Wednesday (22nd April) morning British Summer Time (GMT+1). During this time, we will switch off all parts of the site that allow new data to be submitted to us:

  • the application form
  • the form for adding article metadata
  • the XML upload page for uploading article metadata
  • the CSV upload page for submitting bulk reapplications
  • the reapplication form

All other aspects of the site will continue to function as normal. We expect a full service to be reinstated by Wednesday 12 noon BST. I will post further updates here.

Get involved and volunteer for DOAJ

We are always looking for ‪‎volunteers‬ to help us review the applications for journals wishing to be indexed in ‪‎DOAJ‬. We have well over 100 people, from all over the world, helping us already. It’s a growing and exciting network to be part of and the work being done directly contributes to the quality of peer-review, open access publishing. Are you interested in joining us?

How much work is it?
We ask our volunteers to give us 4 or 5 hours of their time per week but you are left to manage your own schedule.

Who should volunteer?
Anyone who has knowledge and enthusiasm for academic journals, scholarly publishing, ‪‎open access‬, electronic publishing, librarianship, digital preservation. We particularly welcome ‪librarians‬, information studies professionals and students, PhD students, researchers and people affiliated with research institutions. The important thing is that you understand some of the mechanics, principles and politics behind open access and scholarly publishing.

We are always looking for people who have an excellent grasp of English as a first, second or third language.

If you can speak the following languages, with English, we would love to hear from you:

‪‎Arabic (العربية)
Bulgarian‬ (български)
‪Chinese‬ (中文)
‪Czech‬ (česky)
‪Farsi‬ (فارسی)
‪French‬ (français)
German (deutsch)
‪Hungarian‬ (magyar)
‪Indonesian‬ (Indonesia)
‪Macedonian‬ (македонски)
‪Polish‬ (Polski)
‪Portuguese‬ (Português)
Romanian (român)
‪Russian‬ (Русский)
‪Serbo‬-Croatian
‪Slovak‬ (slovenský)
‪Slovenian‬ (slovensko)
‪Spanish‬ (Español)
‪Turkish‬ (Türkçe)

How do I apply?
If you have any questions, contact me here or email feedback@doaj.org

DOAJ is raising the quality bar for open access: SPARC blog post

DOAJ’s managing director, Lars Bjørnshauge, has been interviewed by SPARC about DOAJ’s enhanced application form and raising the quality bar in open access publishing. The post, published today, highlights how effectively the new form is providing a much-needed filter against questionable, unethical and non-transparent publishing practices.  Combined with OASPA’s efforts, the form is an important tool for fighting  “the scholarly community’s legitimate concerns over the quality of Open Access journals” said Heather Joseph, Executive Director of SPARC. “The actions that the DOAJ are taking… provide an important new safeguard, and helps raise the quality bar.”

Of course, we are delighted to hear that our efforts over the past two years are bearing fruit. With financial support from the community, via sponsorships and donations, we have worked hard to implement the new form and its comprehensive administration system that our volunteers use to review the applications. We are also helping publishers improve their practices, helping them understand how their operations can be more “professional, ethical, and transparent”.

DOAJ will not be resting on its laurels quite yet though as there is still much left to do. DOAJ is currently inviting 99% of all the journals indexed in it to reapply. It is anticipated that this process take the rest of this year to complete, progress of course depending on how fast publishers return their reapplications to us. The review work requires a large amount of manpower so we are seeking further financial contributions to help us speed up the process and more volunteers who know Turkish, Indonesian, Farsi, Spanish and Portuguese.

If you or your institutions would like to donate, you can do so here: http://doaj.org/supportDoaj. If you know anyone who might like to volunteer a few hours of their time reviewing applications with us, please show them this post.

Onwards!

Update on our reapplication process

I just read a great post in the Digital Commons’ DC Telegraph which has prompted me to write a little update of where we are with the reapplication process that we have been speaking about—that is, the process where all existing journals in DOAJ have to reapply to stay indexed.

As happens with some development projects, the launch of the functionality that will handle all the reapplications had to be moved out from our original estimated date. We’re sorry for the delay. The good news is that we are in testing now and, if all goes to plan, should be ready to release the functionality in December. If testing throws up some serious flaws in our developments then we may have to wait until January 2015. Either way, we are almost there.

As mentioned in the DC Telegraph, and in Nina Rose’s post on L.J. eds., we will be emailing all publishers as soon as we are ready so if you haven’t heard from us yet, that’s OK. We will also be publishing an announcement here, on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn AND every publisher that logs into their account will see a blue ‘sticky note’ across the top of their account letting them know that they have reapplications to make.

Sample sticky note

The sticky note appears in your Publishers’ Area once you have logged in.

As always, get in touch if you have questions.

 

Proactive not reactive

Earlier this week, Nature News & Comment published a piece about the DOAJ under the heading ‘Open-access website gets tough‘.

We are happy about the exposure but there are a couple of things to address.

1) Coming to the end of a process started in December 2012

The process of drafting new, tougher criteria started way before the so-called “Science sting” which found problems in the peer review process of many of the questionable open access journals deliberately selected for the study.

IS4OA (www.is4oa.org) officially took over the responsibility for DOAJ on 1st January 2013 but it announced on 18th December 2012 that one of the most important things it would do was to ensure the implementation of stronger selection criteria for journals to be included—and to stay included—in the DOAJ. This was primarily to make it easier for authors to find a proper open access journal in which to publish their work. It makes it easier also for research funders, universities and managers of open access publication funds to make an informed decision on which open access journals comply with their policies in terms of licensing, archiving and APCs. In June 2013, after input from the DOAJ Advisory Board, I tweeted that a draft of the new criteria was available for public comment:

The draft received a lot of attention and constructive input from the community and the new application form finally went live in March this year, after a platform migration and a good deal of development.

All new journals wishing to be indexed in DOAJ and all journals indexed currently have to complete the form and then pass a much more rigorous and detailed evaluation. All the information provided by the journals will eventually be publicly available and searchable, further empowering the community to make better decisions re which open access journal to publish in and to help the DOAJ team monitor compliance. At time of writing, 231 journals have been accepted into the DOAJ under these new criteria.

Naturally, this change means much more evaluation is needed per application—multiplying current operations by a factor of 10—so DOAJ put out a call in January 2014 for voluntary editors to assist in the (re)-evaluation of the journals. The call generated 250 applications from researchers, PhDs, professors, librarians and academic publishing professionals from more than 30 countries mastering more than 30 languages. For DOAJ to achieve its vision of being a truly global service, extending coverage around the world, this is an important landmark.

With further development, DOAJ has also implemented a 3-tier evaluation process which will, as far as possible, filter out any questionable journals. This process will take time, especially since 99% of the 9939 journals have to be re-evaluated. We expect the process to be completed late 2015.

2) Even more vital to the community

The DOAJ Team knows for a fact that these efforts are taking DOAJ in the right direction that will ensure it continues to meet the needs of the public. It has already had excellent feedback on the new developments via social media channels, via training sessions held by Redalyc throughout South America and from its sponsors and supporters. It is also known that many university open access publication funds list inclusion in the DOAJ as being one of the criteria for a successful funding request. Furthermore, someone looking for a quality, peer-reviewed, open access journal in their field is more likely to start their search with the DOAJ list of journals, than with any other list; a curated list of reputable journals that uses a 3-tier review process, that harnesses the skills and expertise of the community and that requires 48 pieces of different information from an applicant before a journal can be considered for inclusion.

All the improvements above add up to a dramatic change for the DOAJ and the way it operates. It can only continue this approach if the communities that use and value DOAJ continue to support it. DOAJ has been operating entirely on financial support and is one of the oldest community funded, open access infrastructure services. Along with its sponsors, more than 100 university libraries, 15 library consortia and others already support DOAJ financially but more are needed! Become part of this impressive group of sponsors and supporters by going to http://doaj.org/supportDoaj and donating.