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Thursday, January 29, 2009

Notifying authors when they are cited

Elsevier has launched CiteAlert, a free service notifying authors when one of their papers is cited by an Elsevier journal.  (Thanks to ResourceShelf.)  The service only covers citations to articles published since 2005 in journals indexed by Scopus.


  • This is useful as far as it goes, and I can see why Elsevier can't take it much further on its own.  But imagine if all journal publishers offered similar services.  The utility of receiving their reports, knowing that they comprehensively covered the field, would be immense.  But the labor of signing up for each one separately would also be immense, not to mention the labor of re-creating the service at thousands of different publishers.  The bother of reading separate reports from separate publishers would also be immense.  I understand that Elsevier's portfolio is larger than anyone else's, but the long tail of academic publishing means that Elsevier's titles still constitute less than 10% of all of peer-reviewed journals.
  • I'd like to see a service that notifies authors when one of their works is cited by any journal, regardless of its publisher.  If this can't be done by a creative developer harvesting online information (because the harvester doesn't have access to TA sites), then how about a consortial solution from the publishers themselves?  And don't stop at emails to authors.  Create RSS feeds which users can mash-up in any way they like.  Imagine getting a feed of your citations from this hypothetical service and a feed of your downloads from your institutional repository.  Imagine your IR feeding the citations in your articles to an OA database, upon which anyone could draw, including this hypothetical service.
  • Who could do this?  OpenURLCrossRefParaCiteGoogle ScholarOCLC (after it acquires OAIster)? A developer at an institution like Harvard with access to the bulk of TA journals?  Perhaps someone could build the OA database now, with the citation-input and email- and RSS-output functions, and worry later about how to recruit publishers and repositories and/or how to harvest their citations.

Update.  In my list of players in the final bullet, I should have mentioned ISI Web of Knowledge, which has offered citation alerts since 1965.  (Thanks to Eugene Garfield.)  I knew about ISI, of course, but I didn't know (or forgot) about its email citation alerts.  They come very close to the service I was describing, if only they covered citations published in any journal (not just ISI-indexed journals) and were available without charge to any user (not just those at ISI-subscribing institutions).

Update.  Also see Stevan Harnad's comments on this post.  [They are now also on his blog.] Excerpt:

It is clear who should notify whom -- once the global research community's (Green OA ) task is done....Once all current and future articles are being immediately deposited in their authors' IRs, the rest is easy:

The articles are all in OAI-compliant IRs. The IR software treats the articles in the reference list of each of its own deposited articles as metadata, to be linked to the cited article, where it too is deposited in the distributed network of IRs. A citation harvesting service operating over this interlinked network of IRs can then provide (among many, many other scientometric services ) a notification service, emailing each author of a deposited article whenever a new deposit cites it. (No proporietary firewalls, no toll- or access-barriers: IR-to-IR, i.e., peer-to-peer.)

A brief response:  Of course I agree with Stevan that authors should self-archive, and that the service I was describing would be easier to build if 100% of peer-reviewed research articles were on deposit (with accurate metadata) in OA repositories.  And I imagine that Stevan agrees with my point that, until we reach that goal, the service will be thwarted by the difficulty of harvesting citations published in TA journals.  My question was not whether to launch this service instead of working toward 100% OA, but who could launch this service, or make a significant start on it, before we reach 100% OA.

Update (1/29/09).  From Michael Kurtz on the AmSci OA Forum:

The weekly myADS-arXiv service includes a notification when papers in arXiv cite the subscriber, for an example see the one for me.

There is an equivalent myADS service for the Astronomy and Physics journals (nearly all TA).

Update (1/31/09).  Christian Zimmermann of RePEc tells me that "RePEc has been notifying authors about found citations for several years already. Our CitEc project is analyzing bibliographies of all documents it can grasp in OA, plus bibliographies that some publishers provide. Interestingly, Elsevier explicitly prohibits RePEc from analyzing its articles."  Also see the CitEc FAQ.  From the CitEc home page:

Citations in Economics provides citation analysis for documents distributed on the RePEc digital library. For each document made available in electronic format we automatically extract and parse its list of references. In this way we know which documents have been cited, how many times and what the citing documents are.

Citations in Economics uses CiteSeer algorithms in the process of identification and parsing of references....

Data created by Citations in Economics is not intended for direct user access. On the other hand, it is made available to RePEc services so that they may improve their added value to the research community. The following RePEc services have already implemented citation data: Socionet, EconPapers and IDEAS....