In the nearly eight years since the web-publishing platform OpenScholar was developed at Harvard’s Institute for Quantitative Social Science (IQSS), it has enabled Harvard scholars, academic and administrative departments, centers, and projects to create and maintain high-quality websites without programming knowledge or the steep costs associated with outside web development firms. After the core technology was developed at IQSS, a partnership with administrators at Harvard University Information Technology (HUIT) and Harvard Public Affairs & Communications (HPAC) fostered the software product’s use across campus.
After considerable planning, Harvard announced today that most of the team working on OpenScholar is leaving the University and forming a company, OpenScholar LLC, to help spread use of the software and take it to the next level. While the software will remain open source and free for anyone to use, OpenScholar as a company will offer a range of services — including hosting, custom development, live support, and training — to other colleges and universities interested in adopting the platform.
OpenScholar sites have been specially designed for Harvard’s purposes. They increase academic citations and web visibility for faculty and student scholarship, but also serve administrative needs, assisting common branding across departmental sites and offering design choices and URL naming options for faculty. To date, more than 17,000 Harvard faculty, students, and staff, individually or in groups, have created more than 9,000 OpenScholar websites.
“Harvard has a long history of creating startups based on its academic work,” said Gary King, the Albert J. Weatherhead III University Professor, director of IQSS, and principal investigator of the OpenScholar research project, “but this is the first time in Harvard’s history that researchers partnered with administrators in this way, and the first such effort to lead to a new startup.”
“The platform as we know it today is the result of strong partnerships across the University, with each group bringing its expertise to this project,” said Anne Margulies, the University’s chief information officer and vice president. “The OpenScholar software has transformed how Harvard faculty, staff, students, and researchers share information and knowledge with the world. It will be exciting to see what the platform can achieve in its next phase of development.”
King added, “This is what Harvard does really well. It creates innovations and then distributes them to benefit the world. And in this case we were able to benefit Harvard first. Now we can supercharge the development of the platform and give even more back to the community and higher education in general.”
Unlike most website-building apps, OpenScholar has always been tailored to the academic community, and was unveiled across the University by Harvard Web Publishing, an internal web development group.
“The features in the platform address almost all the needs universities look for in a web platform,” said Jessica Drislane, who was director of strategy of the project at IQSS and is now CEO of the startup. “It can manage a university’s entire web ecosystem, unify branding on an enterprise level, and has a smart and powerful system underneath that supports the unique needs of academics. Most importantly, it’s easy to use.”
For instance, King said, any work that a scientist or psychologist has published to an academic journal can be formatted on the website with a single click. And any research articles that are uploaded via OpenScholar will automatically be distributed to citation services. “If you are a faculty member, your goal is to distribute knowledge. OpenScholar understands what a department is and what a research project is,” said King. “It understands who you are.”
OpenScholar is expected to undergo continuous development as more universities adopt it and add their own innovations. “We are excited by the prospect of OpenScholar taking the platform to the next level and developing innovative solutions that will be informed by higher education more broadly,” said Alan Wolf, HUIT’s managing director of Academic Technology Services.
Through the master services agreement now in place, the thousands of Harvard websites currently running on the platform will continue to receive hosting and support, and the Harvard community will be able to use OpenScholar to create and administer websites just as it now does. With OpenScholar LLC focused on developing the platform further, Harvard Web Publishing will focus on building consulting and digital strategy services to help the Harvard community develop its digital presence, and find solutions to its needs.