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WriteLateX/Overleaf launch event at the British Library

Sat Jan 18, 2014

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Posted In: LaTeX, science, publishing, tools, authoring, WriteLaTeX

Last Thursday I attended the launch event for OverLeaf. The event was composed of a set of very short talks, followed by a good chance to chat to people. It was a pretty nice evening.

Dr Bibiana Campos Seijo - MRSC - magazines publisher and editor of chemistry world.

Science is changing, publising is changing, a lot of this is being driven by technology. There is information overlaod. Publishers need to try to provide solutions to these issues.

What was interesting in 2013:

  • OA mandate
  • Predetary OA journals
  • Luxury journals - (Go Randy!!!)
  • Takedown notices from Elsevier
  • Peer reiew developments
  • Data management storage and sharing

(I think that’s a pretty good overview, I also think that the rise of tablets is the main broad technology trend. Another big story that might change how we think about interacting online are the NSA stories, but it’s not clear how that will break down in scientific publihsing. I also think that the increased focus on reproducability is of interest).

New publishing models

  • PeerJ
  • Rubriq

It’s noticed that chemists are a bit more conservative.

  • Figshare institutional data platform is mentioned.

The finishing line is in sight for libel reform (this is a great move). Is mentioned that this is indirectly related to publishing, but core to freedom of expression.

The example of “Emma, please insert NMR data here!” was mentioned. It was noticed by bloggers, and they are now playing a role in what is happening see comments on blogging by David Weinberger, one of his quotes from this article is

We have changed where we turn for analysis, if not for news. We expect the Web to be easy to post to. We expect conversation. We are more comfortable with informal, personal writing. We get more pissed off when people write in corporate or safely political voices. We want everyone to be human and to be willing to talk with us in public.

What’s in sotre for 2014?

  • OA, more and more OA

Linus Schumacher - a scientist - Wolfson Centre for Mathematical Biology, University of Oxford @WCMBlog

Language. Differences in understanding of jargon can hinder progress. He thinkgs more and more scientists in the future could act as connectors - jack of all trades, masters of none - but critical to the success of progress of science. They will translate across disciplines.

Meeting in person is still more critical and productive that vitual meeting.

In terms of sharing artefacts, and raw data, this can take a lot of space. Cloud based storage often does not cut it any more. BitTorrent Sync can be one way around this (I like that idea).

Sharing annotations and literatire can be helpful, but the tools to do this are still not great, or are costly (should check out the OpenAnnotation standard).

Finally on writing, a lot is still done on emailing word documents back and forth. (Yeah, that sucks).

Preprints opens and accelerates the scientific process. In collaborations this is still often hindered by reservations of some researchers (mentioned bioarxive, interestingly PeerJ’s preprints have more volume, genreally things are going in the right direction here).

He mentions contributions. Now that the maths and biology are so intergrated that you no longer can see the maths anymore, it’s harder to see what contribtions a mathematcian might have made in a particualr paper. This integration is great, but how do you capture quite abstract contributions, and how do you acknowledge and mesure them beyond word of of mouth.


  • more scientists as connectors
  • better software needed
  • praise for preprints
  • acknowledge coneptual insights

Karen Rowlett - Managing Editor, F1000 research.

They insist that authors include all the data (I wonder how they deal with very large data - ah, they use figshare, so there are very well understood data limits).

Karen talks through the review process (of which I am a very big fan indeed).

They have published 372 articles as of 2014-01-15.

They are gonig to be working on:

  • ORCIDs
  • doi’s for reports
  • article collections (planned for February - that’s almost certainly the BioJS collectoin of papers).
  • integraion with WriteLaTeX into editorial workflow
  • more repository integration
  • data plotting tool to allow readers to play with datasets

I do like that they have a template on their site that includes all of the elements that are required to produce a paper that will run through the F1000 process quickly.

They are also very interested in focussing on reproducablity in science.

John Hammersly - OverLeaf

WriteLaTeX launched in 2011. They now have:

  • 50k authors in 170 countries
  • over 500k documents created

OverLeaf is that system in which the document is held centrally, and authors, reviewers, editors and publishers can come to the document. (I will be very interested to see how they manage the premissions process for the reviewing stage, it seems the idea is that where the document lives is held externally from the workflow process of managing the permissions of who gets to review the paper. In my opinion we need to improve that interface, and the place where the document is held can be abstraced, and become a plug and play kind of thing).

Overleaf also has a RichText editor, this will be critical for gaining wider adoption.

Conclusion from the evening

It was fun evening. I got to chat to quite a few people that I’d not met before. The space is continuing to evolve, and this event was a good example of the innovation that is happening here. There was nothing earth shattering mentioned, it was nice to see the Luxury Journal meme being taken up, and it was very nice to chat to Karen and to Bibiana. WriteLaTex have a very small, agile team, and they have created a nice tool, that is gaining market share amongst LaTeX users. I will watch with interest how it evolves.