First Monday

The first of its kind: a 15-year-old open access journal about the internet, catering to a diverse audience

What is it?

Edward Valauskas

First Monday is an open access journal on the internet, about the internet. It was launched in May 1996 by chief editor Professor Edward Valauskas with the Danish publisher Munksgaard, who were keen to experiment with then nascent forms of e-publishing without risking one of their established titles.

In 1999 Munksgaard sold the journal to its founding editors, Valauskas, internet visionary Esther Dyson and economist Rishab Ghosh, and it moved servers from Copenhagen to the University of Illinois at Chicago where it has remained since, publishing monthly, under the editorship of Valauskas and a committed team of volunteers.

It is now one of the longest established, most respected peer reviewed journals of the internet. It has published (August 2011) 1,133 papers in 181 issues, written by 1,469 different authors representing institutions in over 30 different countries. It is read in 180 different countries.

How is it a success?

While Munksgaard was a commercial publisher of subscription journals, Valauskas was an advocate of what would come to be known as open access from the beginning and was determined that First Monday should be free to all.

“We didn’t call it open access in 1995 but we were certainly a precursor to the whole notion of open access. We felt very strongly that the journal should have all its content made freely available and we insisted with Munksgaard that the scholars who contributed would retain copyright of their work that they published in the journal. We felt it would encourage scholars to contribute and then re-use their content in lots of different ways,” says Valauskas.

He was acting on principle, but it also proved to be a canny move in terms of publicising the journal. An article from the very first issue of First Monday was soon turned into a well-received book – The Social Life of Information by John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid – and a number of other articles have since followed suit and been expanded into book form after first publication in First Monday.

It’s typical of the lively debate that surrounds the journal. Authors are consistently contacted with a range of positive and critical feedback from readers all over the world after publication, and First Monday articles picked up by other media around the world, including the New York Times, the Washington Post and Wired.

While this is certainly a consequence of the journal’s subject matter, which encompasses the full range of internet issues from social behaviour online and World of Warcraft to the open source movement, it is also a credit to its accessibility, which is embedded in more that just free availability online. The journal strives to combine both intellectual rigour and accessibility, with its editors going to some lengths to encourage authors to consider the diverse, international audience they are addressing through the journal. Contributors are urged via author guidelines to use simple explanations and less complex sentences and to be mindful that a large proportion of their readers are not part of academia and do not have English as a first language.

The visibility afforded to First Monday is undoubtedly of great benefit for the authors who publish in the journal. In addition to the general buzz around the journal, First Monday “does well” in terms of citations and some of the most popular papers have been downloaded tens of thousands of times.

“Authors choose First Monday because they get more readers when they publish in First Monday than anywhere else, and scholars want people reading their ideas and talking about their ideas and using them. First Monday provides that medium for that kind of dissemination of ideas. It’s why readers and contributors keep coming back,” says Valauskas.

It also means that Valauskas has no shortage of submissions to worry about. With an acceptance rate of around 15%, he explains that in an average month he will have some 20 papers to assign to reviewers, 76 papers in review, six papers waiting to be published, and seven ready to be published in the next issue. It makes for a hefty workload but, says Valauskas, “at the heart of the success of First Monday is a lot of dedicated people who like and contribute to the journal and who could easily send their papers elsewhere to be published.”

“We have so much high quality content sent to us for review that if didn’t have a monthly journal we would have a large backlog. Being monthly also means that papers get out pretty quickly (usually a 60-90 day cycle though we can publish much, much faster if required), and internet research demands that quick publication because the internet itself is moving so quickly.”

“One of the interesting things about First Monday is that we have no bank account, we have no income and in these days when there are all these journals that are very expensive – there are some journals where the subscription costs as much as it would cost to buy a car – that scholars can get together and make something like this and make it work, well, it makes me feel very optimistic about the future,” concludes Valauskas.

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