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Monday, August 06, 2007

Improving SSRN, Part II

In my last post, I suggested that SSRN should enable us to receive personalized emails containing non-repetitive lists of the abstracts we'd like to receive.   Law professor Bernie Black, an SSRN managing director, reports in the comments that this feature and many others are already in the works.  Would that pay services like Westlaw and Lexis were half as nimble and responsive to user needs!

Frank Pasquale notes that SSRN should allow authors to enable people to add comments to posted articles.  The suggestion ties in well with Ethan Leib's suggestion that SSRN can be used as a much quicker and more flexible method of correcting errors in published works.  (I was a judicial clerk when my first full-length article was published in a law review.  When I received the printed issue, I was surprised to see that the author immediately following me attended the same schools that I did and clerked for the same judge.  When I realized that she acknowledged precisely the same people that I did, it became clear that there was a typesetting error and that my dagger footnote appeared under her name as well. The problem was eventually corrected, but I imagine it caused the author some distress.)  The proposed commenting feature is in development at SSRN, too.

Since we seem to be on something of a role here, I thought we might develop some more ideas.  Personally, I'd like to be able to revise a draft article and have the revision immediately take effect.  I'm not sure why it doesn't. (Is it to add the SSRN-style cover page?  To make sure that revisions upload properly?).  It seems, in any event, that the revisions should take effect immediately and any cover page additions or quality control checks can occur later.  It would also be helpful if I could receive an email update when an author revises an article that I have previously flagged.  Finally, it sure was convenient when SSRN converted Word files into .pdf for us.  I suspect there is some cost or licensing reason why SSRN now asks users to only submit .pdf files.  Perhaps, some day it will revert to the former method.   Other ideas to add to the wish list? 

Posted by Adam Kolber on August 6, 2007 at 10:09 AM | Permalink


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Question: Can I post to SSRN the transcripts of presentations I give at scholarly conference? My slides? If I can post both, is there a way to link the two?

Posted by: James Grimmelmann | Aug 10, 2007 8:20:03 AM

I've seen the author-specific RSS feeds, but I"m more interested in broader feeds: Namely, subject-specific RSS feeds. If I'm not mistaken, I can't get a quick roundup of the new Administrative Law articles without clicking on my saved search (i.e., this link). It would be much more convenient to just get updates in my RSS reader.

Posted by: Adam | Aug 7, 2007 9:49:37 AM

1. Immediately Available Revisions. SSRN allows an author to make an initial post immediately available, but does not yet allow this for a revision. The reasons are purely technical, it would take some programming to allow this, and it hasn't seemed to be such a big deal since the revision queue is usually cleared overnight and the original paper is already available. But this will be fixed soon, as part of a major revision and simplification of the submission process.

On why we review submissions -- there are enough times when a secretary, or an author, uploads the wrong paper, or the pdf file looks weird when downloaded, or the author forgets to list himself or herself as an author, or whatever. Plus we do want to ensure that what is posted is indeed scholarship, broadly defined. We care about this because allowing posting anything will reduce the value of the eLibrary to most users.

Having said that, we plan soon to expand the categories of documents that can be publicly posted, to include opinion articles, and lots else besides. In the meantime, you can post opinion articles as privately available, and then elect to have them appear on your author page. They won't be searchable, but they will be on your author page.

2. RSS feeds. My apologies for SSRN not answering Stephanie Davidson's inquiries about RSS feeds. Every complaint should receive an answer, even if we aren't sure what was wrong. Stephanie: If you can send Gregg Gordon enough details of what went wrong so we can reproduce it (the more the better), that would be great.

3. Converting word files to pdf. We provide a link that lets you download a free converter that Adobe provides (but only for a few uses, after which Adobe wants you to pay something. As to why we don't auto-convert the files for you, hey, I've asked that question too.

The problem isn't you law guys, who write solely in word and solely in English. Its the techy types, who embed lots of equations and figures and stuff into word documents, which may or may not convert properly. It's the people who write in other languages (which we allow as long as you give us a dual language title and abstract -- and I've posted Russian versions of several papers). For them, auto-conversion ain't automatic, and it ain't always right, and SSRN doesn't want authors to hold us responsible when the conversion comes out wrong. Also, in finance and economics, conversion to pdf is no big deal; it's mostly the untechy law folks who still would rather that we to do this for them. So, we've thought about this, but given this combination of factors, we've decided to leave it to you to convert to pdf, while helping out if you can't easily get a hold of someone who can convert for you.

4. The big picture, Please keep the comments and suggestions coming. But please also understand that for "little stuff" like auto-conversion to pdf and immediately available revisions, there are 500 things like this that we could do, and if we did them all we'd lose the bandwidth to do the big things that will really change SSRN for the better. So we pick and choose -- we fix the little things that seem most important quickly, we fix some of the others eventually, and some are on the list of things we'd do if a huge pot of money landed on us (actually, even then, we might have better uses for the development money). :)

Posted by: Bernie Black | Aug 7, 2007 9:33:24 AM

SSRN has RSS feeds for authors, but some are mysteriously broken. I'm not sure why -- it may be something the staff has to enable manually. I asked once, but didn't get a response. Though managing a large list can be cumbersome, and I'd welcome the ability to select a custom feed from within SSRN by checking boxes for authors and/or topics of some sort, a la SmartCILP.

Posted by: stephanie davidson | Aug 6, 2007 4:42:14 PM

I'm surprised SSRN hasn't given us an RSS feed yet.

Posted by: Adam | Aug 6, 2007 1:56:09 PM

On BePress and on any site you control directly, revisions take effect almost instantly. SSRN has human review to make sure that your paper is properly categorized and that it's sufficiently scholarly, among other things. (And yes, I have had SSRN refuse to add a paper of mine as anything other than "privately available" because it didn't meet their image of what real SSRN papers should look like.)

As for converting Word files to PDF, I can't recommend using a Mac highly enough. The standard print dialog box on a Mac includes a "Save as PDF" option. For PC users, PDF995 does the gives you a new "printer" that lets you save any print job as a PDF instead. (As the name suggests, it's $9.95, but you can use it for free if you let it show you ads.)

Posted by: James Grimmelmann | Aug 6, 2007 11:16:44 AM

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