An online and collaborative authoring and publishing services platform, AuthorCafe, a TNQ start-up, has been in public beta since January 2016. As an authoring platform, it offers users all the power features that scholarly writing needs. The application provides the space and means to organize input content. Users can import a range of digital legacy assets like TXT, DOCX, CSV, XLSX, EML, TEX, PDF, PNG, JPG, and BMP, and use them to build a project, and reuse them to build other projects. This is a unique product—there is no authoring application that provides this type of integrated asset management. So, a researcher can begin to organize the research long before one begins to write it.
There is embedded code support for audio-video and interactive libraries to create full-play HTML content. Authors can collaborate not only with fellow authors, but also with professionals who can assist in enhancing the manuscript in any way that authors need, such as editing, translation, and illustration.
PW sat down with M.V. Bhaskar, CEO of AuthorCafe, to find out more about the platform and its usage in the publishing world.
So how would a society publisher or organization use AuthorCafe? Is this a free product, or one that can be purchased for seamless integration into any production workflow?
AuthorCafe is primarily an authoring tool aimed at individuals, but that is not to say that it has no institutional relevance. We plan to offer a developer's license for anyone to build anything on top of AuthorCafe for any domain—medical, legal, pharmaceutical, and of course, publishing. The business model for the individual user is freemium. Free for anyone who signs up, to a limit, and pay, beyond that limit. Any service that authors avail of is paid.
Our services cover a broad spectrum: English editing, translation, proofreading, making the manuscript submission-compliant when there is a target publisher in mind, pitching the manuscript for publication, illustration, animation, and so on.
What differentiates AuthorCafe from other HTML authoring platforms out there?
The new class of authoring tools for researchers are all aimed at the last mile of authoring, namely pre-formatting for publishing. AuthorCafe is imagined for the full mile. AuthorCafe is not a mark-up/mark-down editor. It is not Word-like, which most WYSIWYG editors say they are. It is a completely original solution for born-HTML content with the full potential of HTML, yet with a certain amount of backward-compatibility, in the sense that one can write here, bring in legacy digital content, and take the project out as a DOCX, PDF, XML, or HTML. It has the cleanest UI/UX in its class and the content is set in libre fonts with the maximum character sets. The HTML export from AuthorCafe is a big novelty with great potential. And there's some AI to come. Great UI plus smart AI, that's how we see AuthorCafe.
What is the biggest advantage of AuthorCafe?
The biggest advantage is the authoring experience. Writing feels connected in AuthorCafe, with fellows, professionals, content, technologies, and media. You should try it. I am confident that every writer will see and experience the immediate benefit once they try it.
AuthorCafe supports a range of online applications. Users can import references from CrossRef, PubMed, Mendeley and Zotero, for instance. Users can consolidate their digital presence by aggregating their profiles from Orcid, Mendeley, LinkedIn and Facebook. We have plans to announce an application partnership every couple of weeks for the next three months.
Besides research papers, users can write their blogs in AuthorCafe and publish them to their WordPress account. Our marketing activity is for now focused almost entirely on India and we have faculty and student sign ups from the finest institutions in the country, especially in the life sciences. Our first set of users are drawn to the application from those who attended the Cell Press-TNQ Lectures and those who submitted papers to the Inspiring Science Award instituted earlier this year by TNQ for the best published paper in the life sciences from India. The growth that we have been getting is organic.
What prompted its creation in the first place?
TNQ identified the author services market as a potential business opportunity and considered it for a period of time before deciding to enter. A catalogue-based services portfolio approach would have been the standard entry model. But we felt that we should create a workplace that the marketplace is built on top of, or under, where the services will sell themselves. The workplace that we have imagined and executed is essentially collaborative for scholarly content. Fellow authors co-write. Professional contributors like copyeditors and illustrators, always available in the platform, are invited to join the project to enhance the manuscript. The collaborative work is taken through to its final output without the need for version control, and the additional time, effort and confusion that version control causes. To sum this up, through the authoring process, AuthorCafe is a content creation platform. Through the services process, it is an iteration workflow.
TNQ has put in excess of $2.5 million to develop the product. Now, we only need to bring people to use our free editor. Let them work there in peace. And when they need a service, they know we are around. The information is secure and double-encrypted.
How is AuthorCafe doing presently?
We have more than 6,000 users. There are about 1,500 live projects including reports, books, theses, dissertations—the kind of work that requires collaboration, approval, and in some cases, publishing. We have over 800 participating institutions. The platform is building itself out as an institutional repository. More than ever, institutions need their own 'pre-print' archive. They need to set their own publishing goals within a standard publishing model. AuthorCafe sets it up. There is good traction from higher-ed publishers. The main response from the publishing circle is, "where is the workflow?" We will get there.
Who are some of its users?
The users are mainly students and faculty. Students use it in the lab for writing and submitting their work to faculty. Faculty uses it for approving the student report. The institution uses the platform to host the content. AuthorCafe supports and maintains all of it. In one project, we have 14 collaborators; I am one of them. It's great to see real-time collaboration, bright young students and amazing reports. I am also a collaborator on some book projects—absorbing stuff.
This market is a breath of fresh air. You encounter leading researchers with stellar credentials who are always ready for any activity that they see as having a positive impact on education and society. In this direction, AuthorCafe will join the community to host a series of on-campus workshops on research writing. We are waiting for the academic year to commence.
On a different note, societies are interested and engaged. We hope to have a few journals hosted out from AuthorCafe in early 2018.
What can AuthorCafe do, and what are its limitations?
It is primarily an authoring tool and not an authoring-cum-typesetting tool like TeX, or even a pseudo-typesetting tool like most word processors try to be. We believe in a target-neutral authoring space and have assumed that typesetting is a post-authoring activity that is taken care of at the publisher’s end.
In the near future, what new features are you planning to add to make it even better?
In and Out XML support is top priority. Both ways, we have some deep learning AI tested in TNQ production to give us the cutting edge. Many additional features are being planned. One-click presentation from long-form content is one of them. An export dashboard with target templates to specific editing and publishing styles is another. Browser-based pagination to these ‘templates,’ greater support for stylesheets, and API integration with a host of third-party tools for data visualisation, content aggregation, and the like, are features that we are looking into.
(For more information on AuthorCafe, check out authorcafe.com.)