Yesterday I met about twenty others at the London Scholarly Tech
Meetup. It was good. It was my first time. A varied group
mostly, it seemed to me, working for publishers of scholarly books and
journals. And in related areas, such as the online LaTeX platform
Overleaf. It seemed, although I'm not in a position to
judge, that much of the group were interested in workflow and
data-flow innovation and improvement.
There were three talks, each about 15 minutes, with time for
questions. There was pizza after the first talk.
Researcher and social bookmarking
First on was Jonathan Cremers, talking about
Researcher. This provides a web and app front end, that
provides a feed of new journal articles in the areas that interest
you. The back end is a database of journal articles, updated
regularly, together with search tools.
It also provides community features, such as sharing of links with
other users. In some ways, Researcher reminded me of bookmark sharing
site Delicious. I used Delicious, and liked the
social aspect. I could see who had bookmarked the same URLs as myself,
and see their other bookmarks. It seems that Researcher understand
better its business model than Delicious did. Delicious was acquired
and discontinued by the social bookmarking site
I'm pleased to hear that Researcher now provides LaTeX
support for the papers it feeds to its
users. Looking at page source, I see that they're using SVG rather
than MathJax to provide fonts and layout. This interests me, and I
might post about this later.
From Marketing to Product Management
Next up, after pizza, was Roberta Cucuzza, from
Overleaf. This described her personal journey. She started
with a triangle, whose vertices are Users, Developers and the
Business. In the centre of the triangle is the Product. Her journey
was from Business to Product. My journey started at the Developer
vertex of the triangle. So it was interesting that she found hard the
things I found easy, and vice versa.
I particularly welcomed the sensible suggestions she made, for looking
after oneself, and one's long term goals, during such a journey. We
all face change in our life, if we are to grow. Someone once suggest
that I should try to make the best of what there is. I found that
advice helpful. Particularly understanding what there is.
During her transition, Roberta had to work two roles at the same time.
I enjoyed this gif (below) she showed us, to demonstrate the problems this
Note: Apologies. I've not found an easy way to allow the user to
stop or start the animation of this GIF. I regret this perhaps as
much as you do. I know it's an accessibility problem. I wish the
framework and theme I use came with a ready-to-use solution.
Improving web accessibility
Finally, Ali Smith, also from Overleaf, described his
personal experience of improving web accessibility. This was a case
study, based on his experience as a front-end web developer. I learnt
a lot from this talk.
My main lesson for me, I think, was that small things done at the
right time can make a big difference. And that the basics of
accessibility are a helpful force, for bringing about good design for
I used to work at the Open University. This is a very
large institution. It has over 1,000 academic and research staff, and
170,000 students. An organisation of this size needs internal
standards and procedures, to work efficiently. And this affects the
approach to accessibility.
So it was interesting to see accessibility done in a smaller
setting. Most Overleaf pages are simple, concerned with communication
of information, and things like account management. There,
accessibility should be straightforward.
The big exception is the online LaTeX editor (which is the core of the
business). That's necessarily complicated, and perhaps lies outside
Ali's range of experience.
Overleaf allows its users to create LaTeX documents, and compile them
into PDF output. Arising from Ali's talk was an interesting
conversation about how the back-end might be improved, to produce more
Because Overleaf relies on TeX/LaTeX to produce the outputs, this is
probably not a problem they can solve by themselves. Again, I might
post about this later.
The meetup was a pleasant experience. I look forward to the next one.