Never Ending STories

In preparation for a conference on substitutable platforms in health IT, I was directed to an instance of a growing form of self-publication that we call the Never Ending STory (NEST). This instance of NEST is the knol which has become an increasingly popular venue for publications including ones that look a lot like standard peer reviewed journals. More generally, a NEST starts as an embryonic paper. With iteration and with the help of co-author and reader suggestions, it incubates a mature manuscript. Unlike a blog, it is not just a snapshot of a narrative perspective in a sequence of snapshots, but a single integrated document. Unlike a wikipedia article it does not claim encyclopedic authoritativeness (or at least sole authoritativeness so that disagreeing contributors have to battle it out) but only the moderated perspective of the authors. Unlike a standard peer review article, it's publication does not signify the end of its incubation and the hatching of a fully mature narrative. And it is timely and time efficient to make NEST's more prevalent. How often, have you read a scientific article from five years ago and wondered if more recent developments had influenced the authors' perspective on their prior results and/or conclusions? Would it not be more effective to allow the author to update their articles (while maintaining an archival history of all prior versions) so that they continue to be current? Or if there were additional data that bolstered the case of the original article, the author could add these data to that article without having to go through an entire process of a new publication just for the incremental data. That would reduce unnecessary publication noise and increase the value of the article to the reader.

Although, right now, we are using the knol as the infrastructure for our NESTs, we can hope that academic publishers will provide vehicles of similar functionality. Until, then we will just have to incubate our own.

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