On July 25, Kayla Anderson and Bert Carelli (Directors of Partnerships at TrendMD) attended the SSP Webinar, “The Changing Discovery Landscape - Part 1”. A few days later, Paul Kudlow (CEO and Co-founder of TrendMD) caught up with David McCandlish (Assistant Professor, Simons Center for Quantitative Biology, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory) about his presentation at the webinar and his thoughts on content discoverability.

Guest post by Bert Carelli - Director of Partnerships, TrendMD San Francisco

This two-part seminar, sponsored by the Society for Scholarly Publishing, focused on the changing discovery landscape and new developments in the tools available for librarians and researchers. Issues discussed included what tools and workflows researchers/end-users find indispensable, and how discovery tools help end-users discover the content that suits their needs at different points in their academic careers, or in the research cycle.

While the first part of the seminar focused on libraries' use of enterprise discovery services offered by vendors like EBSCO and Proquest, we were especially interested in the presentation by David McCandlish, Assistant Professor, Simons Center for Quantitative Biology, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, on the perspective of the end user/researcher. David detailed how he discovers new content that is relevant and useful to his work, and it turned out to be less reliant on the library, and much more on input from his peers in social media, preprint services, and interactive tools available on the Web, including personalized recommendations on articles. As an Evolutionary Biologist, his interests are highly interdisciplinary, drawing from new ideas in mathematics, physics, and computer science, as well as biology and biochemistry. For him, this latter group of machine learning-based tools have been a huge help in accelerating his exposure to new content that can inspire new ideas for papers. He described Netflix as an example of an ideal discovery tool, because it is constantly learning what he is interested in. In his view, journal tables of contents alerts and Google Scholar updates are important, because they call attention to new content, but Netflix will also sometimes recommend a classic movie that is relevant to something else he watched. He finds both types of service to be invaluable.

When asked during the Q&A session what he thinks about the recommendations that appear on article pages, he was enthusiastic about their usefulness; he clicks on those article recommendations all the time, and he expects this is true of many of his peers. In his words, “Researchers love to click!”

Co-founder and CEO of TrendMD, Paul Kudlow, followed up with David a few days after the webinar to further discuss the need for better discoverability. Their conversation started with David’s research interests requiring ambient awareness of progress in a multitude of fields.

“Not only am I trying to keep up with developments in my specialty, but I’m also trying to find cool ideas from other areas where I’m not an expert”, David stated. As a quantitative evolutionary biologist, he needs to keep abreast of the literature in his home discipline of evolutionary biology and genetics, but he also needs to keep track of relevant research in other fields such as math, physics, and engineering.

As a researcher himself (in psychiatry and neuroscience) Paul agrees with David that there is lot to be gained from inter- and multidisciplinary research. “Disciplines are a ‘man-made’ byproduct of how the human brain has organized research into buckets” Paul mused, continuing on to say that many great discoveries have come from people crossing those boundaries. However, crossing between disciplines can be incredibly difficult even for interdisciplinary work. David noted that papers are often framed for the “home crowd.” When he publishes in journals targeted to evolutionary biologists, he focuses the narrative of his research less on the math and physics principles applied than he would if he were presenting the same work to a physics or math audience.

In addition to the need for finding specific pieces of information (protocols, facts, theories, formulas etc) ongoing discovery is essential for researchers in several ways:

  • Communicating and keeping up with literature in your field wherever it is published
  • Discovering ideas, theories, models etc from other fields and importing them to your home field
  • Understanding the history of a field (exhaustive lists of previous citations and history of movers in the field)

Moving forward, David believes that online platforms will be key in facilitating all aspects of a researcher’s needs, but specifically in introducing researchers to new content: “Netflix and Amazon have that magic factor of enabling discovery of content you had no idea existed, but is valuable and interesting.” He believes that the key for recommendation engines like TrendMD will be providing high quality recommendations that balance serendipity and relatedness and drive value for the reader without appearing too “random”.

For us at TrendMD, and for the more than 300 publishers who have installed the TrendMD widget on over 4,000 sites to date, this was encouraging input. Publishers often decide to work with TrendMD for the increased traffic and exposure they get from being a part of the network. The larger question, however, is whether or not adding this feature to a website has value for the end user. For this researcher, the answer seems to be a resounding “yes!”

Have you gotten new insights or inspiration from an article you discovered through TrendMD? Tell us about it. We would love to hear from you!