journaling in internet time?

Given that virtually all journal articles are published on SSRN, and read and discussed, before they hit actual journals, could journals seek to substantially shorten the amount of time between submission and publication, so that authors feel that journals are active contributors while the article is ‘hot’, rather than feeling that they are the finishing polishers of an already-cooling project? In particular, is journal work ‘parallelizable’? In other words, if you put four times as many people on it, would it get done four times as fast? Columbia Law Review publishes on the order of 40 pieces a year, and takes around 12 weeks off for summer break. So it averages out to a piece a week, but it is lumped together into eight issues. Could they be publishing one piece a week, and turning pieces around in 1-2 weeks, instead of every 5 weeks or so, turning them around in longer than that? I think that might be a bit ambitious- some parts of the publishing process do not get faster the more people you put on them- but it might not be. I’m curious if any journal is trying this model.

Speed by José Juan Figueroa. License:

I also have some thoughts on journaling at internet attention span (which pre-date, but are similar to, Berkman’s Publius Project) but they aren’t quite ready for prime time yet. (Caveat: they aren’t really my thoughts; something a friend shared with me instead, but I love them.)

5 thoughts on “journaling in internet time?”

  1. Luis –

    There’s an interesting model in the physics world that is quite mature in this regard:

    It actually began in the early 1990s on an old NeXT box under the desk of a Los Alamos scientist who was frustrated with the then-current method of sharing preprints: faxing around. If you were not part of the in crowd, you didn’t get to see the faxes, and therefore had to wait until publication. But all the cool discussion happened at the outset, prior to publication. So Paul Ginsparg built a server that allowed people to upload essentially anything they wanted, at any stage of publication.

    The NeXT-under-the-desk model didn’t quite scale, so it’s moved to Cornell, under the umbrella of its library science department, but it’s basically unchanged from the simple model under which it was originally developed.

  2. John: that happens in the social sciences too (, making our journals more irrelevant than they already were. What I guess I’m asking is if the journals can publish quickly enough so that our edits and improvements go public in time to be relevant to the discussion that starts happening once you hit ssrn/arxiv/etc. In science I imagine that the answer is almost certainly no- the peer review process takes too long. In law, since we have no effective peer review process, the answer could possibly be yes, is my thinking…

  3. Publishing more frequently won’t shorten lead time. Articles take a certain amount of time to make their way through the editing process. Articles don’t sit on the shelf much at the law review. Issues contain articles edited in parallel. Throwing more people at them would make the process marginally faster, but there are significant bottlenecks where more staff won’t help.

    At any rate, the problem with law review articles isn’t the lead time. It’s that they’re irrelevant from conception. Do you know anybody that actually reads law review articles anymore?

  4. James: I agree completely that there are problems that this doesn’t fix, but since I don’t have the option of shutting down my journal… :) The goal would be merely to improve the process of putting out the useless unread papers- if you’ve got to do it anyway, might as well make it less painful.

    Also, I’m really not sure that, in an electronic/non-paper journal, given the right tools, you couldn’t parallelize a lot of it. But this is only something that struck me this morning and I haven’t given it much thought. If I only published fully polished thoughts this would be a journal, not a blog ;)

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