Issue 19, 2013-01-15

Editorial Introduction: A Peer Network

Code4Lib, and the Code4Lib Journal, considered as a peer network.

by Andrew Darby

The Code4Lib Journal might, at first glance, seem to be in a client-server relationship with its readership: we publish an issue, you consume the contents. (This assumes you view the world in computer networking terms; you do, don’t you?) However, even the most inky of journals doesn’t work that way; the published article is a finished product, but also a starting point. People do something with the information. But I like to think that people can do more with our information, which suggests a different networking model.

A peer network is decentralized, “a distributed application architecture that partitions tasks or workloads among peers [where peers] are equally privileged participants in the application” [1]. It’s not a perfect analogy, but rather an interesting way to consider the Journal and indeed the whole Code4Lib universe or ecosystem or . . . network. The Journal, conference, Listserv, IRC: each of these nodes are separate but feed into one another. A post on the Listserv might transform into a presentation at the conference; a presentation might be elaborated as an article; an article might be referenced to solve a problem posed to the list. The data is disseminated, cited, copied whole, re-purposed or forked.

This sort of decentralized and distributed architecture encourages doing. A newcomer to the overall Code4Lib network quickly discovers that there is no waiting for permission; if something doesn’t exist on a peer network, well, put it there. If it’s good, if it makes sense, if it’s necessary, it will prosper; a distributed network is pretty egalitarian.

Or is it? Is Code4Lib really an egalitarian network? Are we all peers? A recent opt-in survey of gender diversity found that 18% of respondents (and 22% of female respondents) didn’t consider themselves members of the Code4Lib community [2]. You don’t have to self-identify as a peer to participate in a peer network, but there is room for everyone. Even if you are not a super-coder, there are ways to contribute, for example, writing documentation, beta testing, user testing, even editing articles!

Another feature of peer networks is some form of peer review: from a list moderator who can switch off misbehaving nodes to an up/down vote on an article or project to that holiest of holies, double-blind peer review. With each degree of review we move further away from a pure anarchic Internet vision, but we gain something–the ability to zero in on those nodes with a greater probability of value or usefulness.

So peer review, in whatever form, can chip away at the “just do it” ethic. Casual peer review (thumbs up! thumbs down!) will slowly suppress some ideas and elevate others. Double-blind peer review anonymously makes decisions that might seem arbitrary. At the Journal, the entire editorial committee reviews proposals, and while there is an assigned and second editor for each article, it is not unusual for other members to read and weigh in on drafts. In this system, a peer reviewer can be a collaborator as easily as a gatekeeper; we work with the author to produce the best article possible, and like a good friend (or peer) we sometimes suggest that an idea is not quite ready, or would make more sense attached to a different network [3].

We have a dozen articles this issue–it’s a big one. Topics and technologies range from APIs to XSLT. Find the articles that interest you, leave a comment, ping the author, blog about the ideas, fork the project, heck, why not submit a proposal for an upcoming issue [4]?

Thanks

Finally, a big thank you to Tom Keays and Mark Pernotto for all their work in getting our WordPress install and plugins up-to-date and running smoothly again.

Notes

[1] Yes, this definition is from wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peer-to-peer [accessed Jan 12, 2013].
[2] The survey was created and analyzed by Rosalyn Metz, and promoted on the Code4Lib Listserv (so presumably respondents were list subscribers). The summary of results is available here: http://goo.gl/8wTkc.
[3] So, is the Journal peer reviewed? Ed Corrado discussed this in a previous editorial: http://journal.code4lib.org/articles/3277 and Carol Bean outlined our process in a recent article in In the Library with a Lead Pipe: http://www.inthelibrarywiththeleadpipe.org/2012/open-ethos-publishing/.
[4] http://journal.code4lib.org/call-for-submissions.

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