This week, Nature announced a new online commenting facility and noted that:
Online discussions about our research papers are likely to be considerably more subdued, according to the experience of other publishers who already allow commenting.
They offer several reasons why this might be the case. Here’s one: it helps if you make it easy.
I recently attempted to comment on a paper at the website of a certain publisher. Here’s the sequence of events that unfolded:
- I read the paper and noticed a small error in a sample of code – specifically, a missing “[“.
- I clicked on the “comments” link and was asked to log in. Fortunately I had an account already.
- I wrote my comment, taking care to fill in all the fields, pointing out the error and the correction. I also suggested that better formatting of the code at the website would make it easier to read and copy/paste, for users wishing to try it.
- I was presented with a preview of my comment, which I accepted.
- My comment vanished. A message told me that the staff would review it and contact me.
- Almost two weeks passed.
- I received an email – yes, an email, informing me that (1) the authors had been contacted, (2) yes, the code did contain an error and (3) would I like to submit my comment again, but could I leave out the suggestion about formatting, since this was the responsibility of the PDF – yes, the PDF team, who do not follow comment threads.
- I tried to recall my original comment (since there was no record of it), posted it anew and replied to the email, suggesting that this was all a bit ridiculous.
Here’s what I think should happen:
- I post my comment. It is saved and visible to me for editing, even if not accepted immediately.
- The comment is moderated quickly and provided that it isn’t spam, offensive or libellous, is published.
- The authors are notified automatically (since the journal has their email addresses) that a comment has been posted, to which they may like to respond.
PLoS has the commenting model about right. Others – could do better.