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Proposal for the American Astronomical Society

Published onAug 27, 2019
Proposal for the American Astronomical Society

Executive Summary

We at the Knowledge Futures Group appreciate the opportunity to craft a proposal for the American Astronomical Society to host two publications, The Bulletin of the American Astronomical Society (BAAS) and Research Notes of the American Astronomical Society (RNAAS) on PubPub. While PubPub is a new player in the open infrastructure space, we currently meet the publishing and engagement needs of more than 500 communities. Our feature set includes the requirements designated as desirable for a successful launch in January 2020.

About KFG

The MIT Knowledge Futures Group (KFG), a joint venture of the MIT Press and the MIT Media Lab, develops and deploys technologies that form part of an emerging open knowledge ecosystem. The partnership, the first of its kind between a leading publisher and a world-class research lab, promotes and builds technologies that will transform our relationship with information.

KFG serves as a test kitchen and staging platform for the development of open source technologies, standards, and aligned open access publications. Our goal is to develop and deploy projects that enrich our open knowledge infrastructure. At the forefront of infrastructure supported by academic institutions, the KFG is committed to designing and building next generation technologies that serve the public interest.

The KFG is responsible for the ongoing development of PubPub, an open authoring and publishing platform initially developed as a Media Lab project. PubPub socializes the process of knowledge creation by integrating conversation, annotation, and versioning into short- and long-form digital publication. PubPub is home to over 400 communities, as well as distinctive works published by the MIT Press including the Journal of Design and Science, the Harvard Data Science Review, Frankenbook, and books from the MIT Press <strong>Ideas series.

KFG is also incubating The Underlay, an open, distributed knowledge store architected to capture, connect, and archive publicly available knowledge and its provenance. The Underlay provides mechanisms for distilling the knowledge graph from openly available publications, along with the archival and access technology to make the data and content hosted on PubPub available to other platforms.

About PubPub

PubPub is a non-profit home for publishing groups of all kinds. Our communities range from journals to conferences, from lab groups to entire publishing houses. While we aim to accommodate a variety of content genres, forms, and sources, our roadmap and feature set is designed directly from user feedback to support specific use cases. Everything on PubPub is published open access and our code is open source.

The four main organization structures on PubPub are Communities, Pages, Pubs, and Collections. The community is your site. Pubs are the core unit of PubPub: your articles, blog posts, or book chapters. Pages are for creating layouts for journals, books, or sections. Collections are for organizing lists of Pubs within Pages and for relating a group of Pubs to each other as a meaningful unit (issue, book, etc.) in metadata.

Features developed for and used by our communities include:

  • Turnkey community creation

  • Landing page builder with flexible options

  • Clear article layout and design

  • Rich styling options for pages

  • Multi-user, real-time editing

  • In-line citation styling options

  • Content imports and exports from and to a variety of file types

  • Rich media embeds

  • Version tracking

  • Flexible peer review management, from open review to double blind

  • Collections metadata

  • Draft-level permissions

  • In-line annotation tool

  • Direct DOI assignment

  • A user-friendly mobile experience

Mission alignment with AAS

The AAS serves as the membership organization for more than 7500 physicists, mathematicians, geologists, engineers, and others across the subjects comprising contemporary astronomy. Together these members form vital communities who both enrich and benefit from the AAS’s mission to enhance and share humanity’s scientific understanding of the universe.

After a nearly decade long hiatus, AAS relaunched BAAS in January 2019 as an online only, fully open access journal, hosting a wide array of content types and formats of interest to members. The AAS wants BAAS to be an important part of its expanding portfolio and to be “the publication of choice for white papers, commentary papers and mission/instrument concept and white papers from Astro 2020.” Given its scope, BAAS serves as a vehicle for member engagement around “commentary, opinion, thought pieces, instrument and facility proposals, descriptions and updates, articles about the discipline itself or issues related to the discipline and other content deemed appropriate for publication.” With its flexible ingest system and online authoring tools, PubPub is uniquely positioned to serve such a dynamic and varied publication as BAAS. In addition to conference reports, PubPub enables hosting of multimedia, posters, and other conference outputs.

In October 2017, AAS resurrected RNAAS from an earlier incarnation some decades ago, for “short communications of interest to the community.” Moderation by lead editor Chris Lintott enables publication within days of submission, making it ideal for works in progress and null results. This focus on rapid publication and rapid communication of research as it happens aligns with the KFG’s desire to accelerate the dissemination of knowledge in support of a healthy and diverse scholarly communications ecosystem. We look forward to learning more about the new Astropy time series tool and how it can be integrated into the publications.

Through the MIT Knowledge Futures Group, the team behind PubPub shares AAS’s desire to foster community engagement both through hosting of BAAS and RNAAS and through the establishment of communities of interest and practice for AAS members. Itself the product of a collaboration between the MIT Press and the MIT Media Lab, the KFG was born from a desire to give rise to new forms of scholarly communication. Collaborative authoring tools as well as annotation capabilities provide partners with the latest technology to interact with each other, with underlying data and code, as well as with other communities. With the ability to host books, journals, and other content types, PubPub would give AAS the flexibility to experiment with varied content or open peer review without the need for an additional RFP. The PubPub team looks forward to learning from AAS about challenges and opportunities with communities, ranging from staff to members to the general public.





Support for ingestion and serving of multiple file formats, including but not limited to pdf, lsp, docx, png, jpg, r, mp4, mp3 (formats typically provided by authors as supplemental material but that will live alongside articles on new platform)

PubPub supports ingesting articles from PDF, Microsoft Word, Markdown, EPUB, HTML, OpenDocument, Plain Text, JATS XML, and LaTeX. Our multimedia article format supports natively embedding jpg, png, gif, mp4, webm, mp3, wav, and ogg. Authors can also upload any file type as a supplementary download directly in the article text. Finally, authors can embed any html as an iFrame to embed everything from iPython notebooks to custom visualizations. We provide convenient shortcuts for embedding content from YouTube, CodePen, SoundCloud, and Vimeo. We would consider adding more shortcuts to commonly used embed sites on request. (Examples)

Validation and rendering of standards-based XML content, preferably JATS

To enable PubPub’s collaborative, real-time multimedia editor, we store and render content using a JSON document schema based on the commonly used, open-source text editor software ProseMirror. PubPub supports importing and exporting to and from basic standards-compliant JATS XML.

Ability to assign and edit metadata at the object (article, image) and aggregate level (issue, journal)

PubPub currently supports editing and depositing a wide range of metadata at the article- and issue-level, with limited ability to edit journal-level metadata. Our roadmap includes expanding metadata support to include more fine-grained journal- and object-level metadata for figures and supplementary material within articles.

Ability to preview new content and changes prior to publication

PubPub’s article editor is fully “what you see is what you mean.” This means that, except for styling controls and document management options, the editing interface itself is a pixel-perfect representation of what readers will eventually see. PubPub’s version system allows users to make changes privately and share those versions with others before making them public.

Permissions management for the sharing and editing of content

PubPub includes fine-grained control over viewing, commenting, editing, and management at the article version level. This means specific versions of articles can be completely private, shared with a specific set of users, shared with all journal admins, shared publicly, or anything in between. For example, a journal could release a preview version of an article publicly, while editing a final version behind the scenes with just the author and editors. Or, an author could solicit feedback from just a few advisors before sharing it with the editorial team. Additionally, for quickly sharing drafts or getting feedback, users can generate sharing links that give anyone with the link the ability to view, discuss, or edit the article.

Immediate one-click publication to the web

Yes, by default. Administrators can also restrict this ability on a per-article basis.


Rich visual displays supporting text, image, video, audio, and HTML5-based integrations with external applications (e.g., an application that allows figure and table reconfiguration when the reader chooses to focus in on a particular variable in the figure or table)

Our multimedia article format supports natively embedding jpg, png, gif, mp4, webm, mp3, wav, and ogg, in addition to LaTex math and tables. Our tables are not currently user sortable, but we would be open to working on enhancing our table support with input from key partners. In the short-term, authors could embed a custom-made HTML-5 table with sorting, or any other visualization, as an iFrame. We could provide a freelancer to produce such a visualization if desired. PubPub provides convenient shortcuts for embedding content from YouTube, CodePen, SoundCloud, and Vimeo. We would consider adding more shortcuts to commonly used embed sites on request. (Examples).

Browsable content by issue, date, topic, and journal

PubPub’s Page editor and collection systems allow admins to configure browsing by issue, topic, or journal. We do not yet have built-in support for automatically browsing by date, but plan to provide that functionality by the end of the year. In the short-term, admins can easily create manual layouts of articles by date.

Searchable text and metadata with visual results display

The full text of every article and page on PubPub is searchable. Search results include titles, preview images, descriptions, and basic metadata. We plan to expand search functionality to include filters and searching of other objects like users by the end of the year. (Example)

Basic web analytics support, such as with Google Analytics

PubPub stores a full range of common web usage statistics like pageviews, sessions, locations, etc. We currently display pageviews and location on a per-article basis. It is also in our short-term roadmap to implement more robust analytics, and we would happy to consult with you on your needs as we develop this. We would consider allowing journals to individually use third-party analytics tools on a case-by-case basis, but we believe strongly in protecting user privacy by default.

Ability to collect email addresses/ID if login needed to post a comment

By default, PubPub requires users to login via email. However, to protect user privacy and conform to GDPR regulations, we do not share email addresses by default. We are working on an integration that would allow users to opt in to publisher mailing lists at the time of login, which would effectively allow publishers to collect email addresses from commenters.

Cost estimate

Below is pricing for hosting BAAS and RNAAS, such pricing does not preclude AAS from creating additional communities for experimentation with other content types.

The PubPub team will create a community for each publication. Once Organizational functionality is complete in 2020, these communities will become part of the AAS Organization to allow for central management. The costs below shall not prevent AAS from experimenting with additional use cases or communities.

BAAS Community: $2,000 annually (discounted from $3000)

RNAAS Community: $2000 annually (discounted from $3000)

Costs include

  • Implementation

  • Team training

  • Hosting

  • Storage up to 100GB

Costs will be reevaluated on an annual basis.

Experience in Domain

PubPub allows you to create a document and evolve it into a book, journal article, conference paper, or research report through your own series of review, curation, copyediting, or other processes. As such, we’ve had many diverse experiences in academic publishing. Working with societies, publishers, and individual researchers has given us a valuable multiplicity of perspectives into the processes and workflows behind how people want to publish and the varying challenges they face. You can see a list of some active PubPub communities by visiting


PubPub supports books in the pre and post-publication phase. Frankenbook, an annotated edition of Mary Shelly’s novel, for instance, was published on the platform with additional notes, including multi-media material. Its annotations were categorized to enable readers to tailor their experience, and classrooms are encouraged to create their own private discussion channels for teaching and learning. Communities like The Good Drone and Data Feminism host pre-prints of books to be published by the MIT Press for open review and commentary. In this way, the involved authors seek to benefit from a broader review process while also communicating their ideas before publication.

Examples include:

Screenshot of annotations and labels from Frankenbook.

Screenshot of annotations and labels from Frankenbook.


Journals on PubPub are able to take advantage of available features throughout the journal workflow as they see fit. The Journal of Design and Science (JoDS), for instance, accepts abstract proposals, revises, and publishes its articles through the platform, but manages its various forms of review separately. Once launched, the Harvard Data Science Review will manage its entire workflow on PubPub. Journals on PubPub seek to benefit from the interactive nature of rich media embeds and annotation tools that encourage reader feedback and engagement.

Interactive embed from “The Enlightenment is Dead, Long Live the Entanglement”, an article in JoDS by Danny Hillis.

Interactive embed from “The Enlightenment is Dead, Long Live the Entanglement”, an article in JoDS by Danny Hillis.


PubPub began as a space for research groups at the MIT Media Lab to better share and provide feedback on their interactive, iterative research outputs. Experimentation and supporting the different forms modern research can assume toward the goal of improved scholarship and learning have always been foundational to PubPub’s development. To this end, communities such as the Duke undergraduate journal, Visible Thinking, Projections, the journal from MIT’s department of Urban Studies and Planning, and Responsive Science speak to this original use-case in new and critical ways.


Conference are growing use case for PubPub. The platform’s functionalities work well to extend the valuable information-sharing and conversation that take place at conferences before, during, and after these events. Celebrating Millie, a conference to honor the late MIT physicist Millie Dresselhaus, made posters, video, and transcripts from the conference available on PubPub to both include those unable to attend the proceedings in Cambridge and those who wished to engage further with the material after the weekend. In early 2019, the Metropolitan Museum, Microsoft, and MIT convened for a hackathon during which they used PubPub to take notes and share ideas.

Timeline by main phases



TBD (estimated October 7)

Project Kick-off

October 7-December 13, 2019

Weekly (or bi-weekly) Planning Calls to determine workflow, design, and outstanding issues around initial sites.

December 13, 2019

Journals ready for first articles

December 13-January ?, 2020

Refinement of MVP prior to Journal launch, including determinations on workflow integrations, additional features

January ?, 2020

Sites launch and first articles publish

  • After the project kick off, weekly (or bi-weekly) status meetings will then be conducted online to track all the progress, questions, answers and resources. Other meetings with pertinent team members will be scheduled as needed to resolve questions or issues that arise. This will ensure that the team works well together and stays on schedule.

Project team

Catherine Ahearn, Senior Project Editor, PubPub

Catherine Ahearn, is the Senior Project Editor for PubPub. After joining the team in 2017, she helped initiate and develop books and journal communities on the platform. She works closely with community admins and authors as well as with PubPub’s development team on content strategy and the platform’s roadmap. She has previous experience working as a content strategist at Eric Mower and Associates, as well as in editorial with New England Review, the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses, the TS Eliot Research Project, and Studies in Arts and Humanities. She has a PhD in Editorial Studies from Boston University. [[email protected]]

Gabe Stein, Product Lead, PubPub

Gabriel Stein is the Product Lead for PubPub. He has worked at the intersection of publishing and digital technology in multiple technical and editorial roles, including front-end engineering at Ogilvy, support for Google's display advertising platform, reporting and editing at Fast Company, audience development and product management at Upworthy, and product development at Heleo, a digital trade publishing startup. Before joining the KFG, he founded Massive Science, a company that taught researchers how to communicate their work to the public and partnered with scholars to study the impact of public communication using interactive web tools. In his spare time, he bakes a lot of sourdough bread. [[email protected]]

Heather Staines, Head of Partnerships, Knowledge Futures Group

Heather Staines is Head of Partnerships for the Knowledge Futures Group, helping to fulfill our mission of creating truly community-owned knowledge infrastructure. Prior to the KFG, Heather worked as the Director of Partnerships for Hypothesis, an open source annotation technology. She has two decades of experience in the scholarly communication space, both with publishers and with vendors and working on both books and journals. She has a Ph.D. in Military and Diplomatic History from Yale University. When she is not busy hanging out with her family, she enjoys karaoke and putting together programming for industry events. [[email protected]]

We recommend that AAS designate a staff member who will act as a single point of contact to communicate with KFG, collecting guidance and feedback from other AAS staff and users. KFG will also designate a single project manager who will be available for all questions and issues. Both points of contacts will bring in other resources into meetings and discussions as needed.


Contact names and contact details should be provided, in addition to a brief description of the type of organization and the nature of the assignment:

  1. Xiao-li Meng | Whipple V.N. Jones Professor of Statistics, Harvard Faculty of Arts & Sciences; Founding Editor in Chief, Harvard Data Science Review ([email protected])

    After reviewing platforms, publishers, and teams to help him launch the Harvard Data Science Review, Meng chose to work with the PubPub team and publish HDSR on the platform. He worked closely with us on developing new landing page and article-view designs, as well as how to better accommodate data visualizations.

  2. Sarah Kember | Director, Goldsmiths Press ([email protected])

    As the director of an open access press and a Professor of New Technologies of Communication at Goldsmiths University, Kember chose to publish her press’s books on PubPub after a 12 to 18-month embargo period. Her staff and authors work with the PubPub team on new titles and designs.

  3. Nick Lindsay | Director, Journals and Open Access, MIT Press ([email protected])

    Since 2017, Lindsay has played a key advisory role in PubPub’s development for books and journals. His insight into what publishers, editors, reviewers, authors, and readers need from a scholarly publishing platform has shaped our development roadmap, existing functionalities, team composition, and partnerships.


  1. “Knowledge Futures Group: An interview with Amy Brand, Director of the MIT Press",” by Robert Harington, Scholarly Kitchen, 13 June 2019. Access:

  2. “New Works in Progress Available: Collective Wisdom from the Co-Creation Studio at MIT Open Documentary Lab",” MIT Press Blog, 12 June 2019. Access:

  3. “Discussions on Open Access: Frankenbook and OA Publishing,” MIT Press Podcast, 24 October 2018. Access:

  4. “MIT Press, Media Lab launch Knowledge Futures Group,” by Kate Wilson, MIT News, 27 September 2018. Access:

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