Xanadu rules for OA publishing

Any new project in OA publishing meets high expectations. That is why most of them fail. Truth is that, until now, and with few exceptions, no such project meets the expectations of us, anonymous creators of net content.

I am interested in research and communication of it, particularly in mathematical research (but math is everywhere and best challenges are now in the sciences of the living, so it does not matter much what kind of research we are discussing about).

Discussions about new OA publication proposals, I noticed, quickly turn to some sensible points, which are usually not considered by the creators. Central among those is: we need more interactive forms of communicating research. The notion of the article as the main communication vehicle is challenged, because if we are willing to allow the article to bear online, perpetual examination and commenting then, at some point, we obtain a complex product, with many contributors, with many levels of complexity, something which is no longer an article, but something else.

For simplicity, let’s call such an object a “document”, which may have various versions in space and in time (i.e. a version 3 in London and a version 2 in Singapore).

Contributors to documents are called “creators”, be them authors, reviewers or commenters.

We have a kind of a mess, right? Something not quite easy to handle by the www, something which will entropically turn to chaos.

Not quite. It would be so in the world of the html link.

There is an old attempt, the Project Xanadu, with it’s tumblers and enfilades, which look to me as an ideal system of meaningful organisation of scientific communication. We don’t need the whole net to devolve in time to the ideas of the ’60’s and then re-evolve with tumblers instead of html links. Instead, for those of us who are nerdy, have long time attention spans and want to communicate original, creative research, the rules of the Project Xanadu could be taken as an example of what would be nice to have.

In the following I reproduce those rules, but with some words replaced, like “server” with “journal” (that’s a bad word, journal, but for the moment I don’t have another), “user” with “creator”. Also, “document is to be understood in the sense explained previously. Finally, I shall strikethrough the rules which I don’t think they apply (or I don’t support, because are the kind of evil thing a legacy publisher would adore).

Here they are:  (source for the original rules)

  1. Every journal is uniquely and securely identified.
  2. Every journal can be operated independently or in a network.
  3. Every creator is uniquely and securely identified.
  4. Every creator can search, retrieve, create and store documents.
  5. Every document can consist of any number of parts each of which may be of any data type.
  6. Every document can contain links of any type including virtual copies (“transclusions“) to any other document in the system accessible to its owner.
  7. Links are visible and can be followed from all endpoints.
  8. Permission to link to a document is explicitly granted by the act of publication.
  9. Every document can contain a royalty mechanism at any desired degree of granularity to ensure payment on any portion accessed, including virtual copies (“transclusions”) of all or part of the document.
  10. Every document is uniquely and securely identified.
  11. Every document can have secure access controls.
  12. Every document can be rapidly searched, stored and retrieved without creator knowledge of where it is physically stored.
  13. Every document is automatically moved to physical storage appropriate to its frequency of access from any given location.
  14. Every document is automatically stored redundantly to maintain availability even in case of a disaster.
  15. Every journal provider can charge their creators at any rate they choose for the storage, retrieval and publishing of documents.
  16. Every transaction is secure and auditable only by the parties to that transaction.
  17. The client-server communication protocol is an openly published standard. Third-party software development and integration is encouraged.


UPDATE: Among the Xanadu Projects, as listed on this page of Xanadu Australia, there is

Committed (persistent) online publishing

2 thoughts on “Xanadu rules for OA publishing”

  1. I came across Xanadu, while designing some new kind of internet. A system that eventually could erase the borders between websites. Unfortunately I never really took the effort to understand how Xanadu works.

    There is one thing that I consider to be essential for the implementation of such a system: ‘content addressability’. This would ensure that a given link will forever refer to the same data. Exactly as a git sha1 hash will always refer to the same commit of the same project. It also allows the use of distributed indexing techniques like distributed hash tables.

    In my case I would use ‘node’ instead of ‘server’ and ‘public-private key pair’ instead of ‘user’. Furthermore my system would only store byte-streams and records, with each entry of a record being a link and links being bidirectional.

    I also envisioned a complex reputation system for keeping the system (of systems) clean. One in which every user can implement and use its own system. The system of systems should be very decentralized, you are entirely free who to trust to be able to work with it.

    What I have so far is a lot of pieces that I still need to fit together and need to implement, way too many requirements (including privacy, censorship and spam protection) and a working implementation of the back-end database: https://github.com/bcmpinc/dagdb. On top of that I want to build a class-system, loosely based on https://github.com/bcmpinc/metamodel. The next part would be to implement multiple means of communication between the databases.

    In any case, I have tons of ideas and foresee tons of uses, including the creation of a universal publication library that includes a review and merit/reputation system.

    Especially that last part would be very welcome, I’ve recently encountered too many articles that are damaging peoples lives because most readers are unaware that they contain false claims inspired by the personal views of the author.

    1. Thanks! There’s a huge need for systems as you describe. There are two parts of this effort: technical and social.
      I shall look at the links, again thanks for those!
      UPDATE: I started to read. I already have questions (why the weak point of having a direct acyclic graph only?), but the question I would like to ask is the following. Forget a bit about a new net. There’s a huge problem concerning new modes of scientific communication. I believe Xanadu (or alike) may be used for that. That’s a system designed for nerds. Xanadu has some unique features, like those you mention, which makes it, I believe, very close to what we all nerds who want to communicate research, need.
      The question is: are you into this?

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