Scholarly communication has arguably experienced just two major perturbations in recorded history. The first was the invention of the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg in 1440 and the second, the invention and widespread use of the internet starting in the 1990s.

To date, in the realm of scholarship, the internet has merely served as a tool to distribute the printed word. Using the internet reduces the cost of publishing and has led to the creation of new kinds of business models, e.g. open access, author pays models. But having the full text of scientific discourse online opens up all sorts of possibilities [Fink, J. L., and Bourne, P. E., CT Watch (2007) 3 (3), 26] at a time when we estimate that 25?000 new science research articles appear each week.

SciVee [] is attempting to leverage this rare perturbation in scholarly communication without upsetting the ideals of peer review. At the heart of SciVee is the notion of a ‘pubcast’. An abstract of a research article takes about a minute to comprehend, at which point you either move on or commit to spending hours understanding the paper. A pubcast is a 5–10 min video clip of the author describing the paper that sits somewhere between the abstract and full paper in content. If the full text of the paper is available online and is open access with no copyright restrictions, the contents of the paper can be easily synchronized by the author with the video to create a new kind of learning experience. A good example of this approach can be found at Even for those who favor the printed word, the paper can be read online as usual. When encountering a difficult section, the author can be made to pop-up and describe that part of the paper in a way that is, hopefully, easier to comprehend.

Our initial evaluation showed that the graduate students of today, who are comfortable in a Web 2.0 world, enjoy learning using pubcasts. The viewer can also comment on the pubcast, either directly on SciVee or by using a social bookmarking site such as digg or, interact with colleagues by forming communities, and start blogs.

The oldest pubcasts are only a few months old, but some have been viewed over 100?000 times and have brought renewed interest in the paper as measured by downloads from the journal site. It remains to be seen whether this is a novelty factor or is sustainable over time. If it does bring attention to one's work, making a pubcast could become as compelling as writing the paper itself.

In developing SciVee, it quickly became apparent that we should let the users define what the site looks like. After making a presentation at an educational forum, a member of the audience checked out SciVee and sent a posting to Slashdot ( for others to check out the site. Within an hour or two, 15?000 people had visited the site. Beyond pubcasts, these visitors told us that they wanted science videos as well and this has proved to be the fastest growing feature of the site. Clearly video conveys features of our science that is not possible with the printed word.

As SciVee has developed, we have felt like we are rediscovering broadcasting but in a different medium. For example, two students were discussing a paper via Skype (voice over the internet) that one of them had written. They decided to record their conversation and, before we knew it, we had a podcast interview with the author about the paper. We discovered that the interview format was more compelling than just one author relating the salient features of the paper. The interview format has been compelling on radio and TV for many years; we had just realized that it worked for the internet as well.

It is not clear how SciVee will evolve, but we do know we are having fun experimenting in a new way. Initially, we thought graduate students would just open their laptops, turn on the webcam, and make a pubcast, uploading it in the same way they would upload a clip to YouTube. This has not happened, rather the author wishes to take as much care on the pubcast as they do on the original paper. This is time consuming and certainly a barrier when the work is complete and the author is already thinking about their next paper.

Notwithstanding, new ideas on scholarly communication emerge from these beginnings. The latest is ‘postercasts’, where a student is filmed at a conference talking about their poster, which we just tried for the first time. Time will tell whether this proves popular.

We do know that, if many years ago when we published our first work, someone had said to us you can give a talk about that work to a worldwide audience at any time of day or night, we would just not have believed them. Well it is possible, and we will see if this new found freedom changes the dynamic of scientific discourse.

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DOI: 10.1016/S1369-7021(08)70131-7