Open Access Button project: updates, prototypes, next steps

We’ve been hacking on the Open Access Button for the last few months (which we first wrote about here) with the help of our colleague Victor Ng, a services engineer at Mozilla. At the Science Lab, we’re keen to see how we can move science forward by building and extending existing open tools and projects on the web, and Victor’s work with the Open Access Button is doing just that. We’ve been busy working to turn the tool from a means of flagging that you’ve hit a paywall to one that can help increase discoverability of Open Access content on the web. In the post below, Victor writes of where we’ve come with the project, what issues remain, and how you can get involved.


We’ve quietly released a new release. There’s a bunch of smaller bits we’ve added to round out some long standing bugs. A few big changes since we last wrote about the project:

1. We properly send out confirmation emails with a link that you can click on to verify your email address.

2. Bookmarklets that are associated with a verified email address will now have the option of notifying authors that access to their paper was denied because of a paywall. For authors – this happens once and only once per paper per publisher.

3. Authors can now submit links to open access versions of their documents. When subsequent users try to access the paper through the paywall – the open access button will provide the link to the open access version of the paper.

From paywalls to surfacing Open Access content

When we first started working on this project, the Open Access Button was largely a tool to flag paywall activity. What we wanted to explore was what if when you register you’ve hit a paywall, there’s a way to see if an Open Access preprint or copy of the article is available, which you’d be redirected to.

Let’s give it a try. (First, you’ll need to download the Open Access button bookmarklet.)

Let’s see if we can access this article.

Now, hit the Open Access Button in your toolbar. The first panel is the same as always: you have to fill in some information about why you’d like access to this journal article.


Next, you are asked to share your frustration over social networks.


If you’ve confirmed your email address with the Open Access Button, you will then be presented with an option to notify the author of the paywall event.


We try our hardest to grab anything that looks remotely like a reasonable email address from the webpage behind the scenes, but ultimately, we rely on people to double check that the addresses we are grabbing look correct.

If you choose to notify the author, we send the author an email with a link where they can submit a pointer to an online preprint or other open access version of the journal article. We only notify the author once per web domain – mostly so that authors don’t get spammed.

The author then has the choice to point us towards an open copy. Once we have that (and we’re building a repository of redirects) the next time someone tries to access the same article and hits the Open Access Button, they’ll be sent to that open version.


Why does this matter?

Simple. The world already has a lot of open access content available. We just don’t have a good way of discovering it. This problem manifests itself in a number of ways:

a) When a person who is not already familiar with scientific publishing goes to find a journal article, they are never made aware that freely available versions exists. It’s not like a publisher is going to say “Please pay us $40USD for this paper. Oh – you could get the preprint version from over here. For nothing. But please pay us.”.

b) Even if a preprint exists, it’s not clear which institution to go to, or how to find the relevant paper. Some open access repositories like escholarship from the University of California publish their documents as images instead of text. By doing so – all that content that is housed there is not reachable by search engines.

Most research these days is addressable by something known as a DOI – a digital identifier for documents. It’s like a digital dewey decimal number. Unfortunately – resolving a DOI to a web URL will always give you only one URL – and that tends to be a paywall.

We need an alternate mechanism to point people to the Open Access version of a document.

What’s next?

* Archives / institutional repositories – Do you want help in increasing discovery to the content in your repository? Get in touch. We’d love to talk.

* Building a means to plug in to repository systems – Want to help? We’ve got some plans on doing deeper integration into the institutional repository systems that power some of the open access systems like DSpace and Eprints. Ideally, we want to play nicely as a plugin so that we can automatically push data from the repositories up to the Open Access Button.

* Help us test! Download the Open Access Button here, and help test.

* Bugs! Oh so many bugs to close out still.

The most glaring bugs right now that are pretty easily solvable are:

* We are completely broken in Safari and Chrome. Fixing it means going through the codebase and just fixing a couple links.

* We need to trim down the size of the map. Right now – I think this means we need to drop the fancy cluster graphing and just use something like a geohash to display coarse details on where the paywall events are happening.

* CORE API integration and Google Scholar is broken. The JSON API to CORE changed a while ago, but nobody has gotten around to fixing the codebase on the OAButton side.

* Also, we’re looking at collaborations with Wikimedia and others, as well as moving from a bookmarklet system to a full on browser add-on. Want to help us build version 0? Get in touch. We’d love your help.

Help us make it easier to discover Open Access content on the web. The future of research depends on it.

4 responses

  1. Graham Steel wrote on :

    This is great. Have just uploaded a video version here

    1. Graham Steel wrote on :

      IMO, it would be even better if an addition to this, there is also an option for the author to email a copy of the PDF to the person who can’t access it. Or would that be labor intensive on the part of the author ?

      1. Kaitlin Thaney wrote on :

        Feel free to add it as an issue!

        1. Graham Steel wrote on :

          Done :)