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Ginsparg: Researchers Wary of Online Annotation

Developers of a new open-source software believe allowing reader annotations of online research papers will enable “conversations over the world’s knowledge”. However, it remains uncertain whether or not researchers themselves feel as enthusiastic about the technology.

That’s a concern laid out by Info Sci Professor Paul Ginsparg in this Nature article on, a non-profit start-up specializing in online annotation. 

Ginsparg, who founded Cornell University Library’s arXiv electronic archive, believes efforts to validate identities of commenters is a good step toward improving adoption of the system among scholars. The less “graffiti”, the better, he said.

“If people start looking at articles and they see the equivalent of graffiti, then people will turn off the comments and the experiment will fail,” he tells Nature.

arXiv is one of several archives using the software. Articles within arXiv that are referenced by external blogs via trackbacks receive annotations viewable on the paper's abstract page, according to the article.

Ginsparg concludes by noting researchers have traditionally been hesitant to add comments to published papers.

“There's no incentive structure for people to comment extensively, because it can take time to write a thoughtful comment, and one currently doesn't get credit for it,” he says. “But it's an experiment that needs to be done."