Overleaf – A collaborative cloud-based writing and publishing platform for authors and publishers

Overleaf – A collaborative cloud-based writing and publishing platform for authors and publishers


My name is Don Samulack. I am President, US Operations of Editage at Cactus Communications, and I am here in the Digital Science offices at MacMillan Building in London, UK, and talking with John Hammersley, Co-founder and CEO of Overleaf. So, welcome and it’s a pleasure to be here and a pleasure to meet and talk with you. So, let me start off and just ask some very simple questions about what you do and what the value is for researchers. So, if you can just describe what the company is that you started and where the value proposition is? So the company I started is called “Overleaf” and it’s a collaborative writing and publishing platform that makes it easier for researchers and authors to write, share and then publish their research papers and their project reports online. And it’s really very simple. It takes an idea such as Google Docs, which is a great collaborative platform and for writing notes where it adds the typed in output to that process. So as you are writing, you can see what the typed submission of the document will look like. You can share a link so that others can collaborate on your paper at the same time. That’s really great because it means that everyone has always got the latest version… …and you don’t have problems with V1, V1.1, 1.2, popping up And through the work we have now begun with publishers, we are now making it easier to submit directly… …to different journals, both directly and by integrating with the publisher submission systems… …and also in very simple ways by providing the author with all the files they need to download, so they can then take those to the submission site. So, we are trying to really help authors and make it easier for them… …at the start of their writing and publishing process. So it’s very specific. In my understanding whether chemistry, math or physics… where there is a lot of formulations and things that are not typically handled well by other word processing software, this is where your software and your existence really comes to shine. Yes, so what we’ve tried to do is combine a really nice editing experience that mirrors a lot of the great features… … that editing packages and standard writing packages have, but behind the scenes. And we use the language called LaTeX, to make it easier for then that content to be transformed… …into a professional typeset document. So from an editor’s point of view, they can write either using the LaTeX code… …or they can edit in a rich text mode, much like MS Word. But from our output point of view, they get both the PDF and the source files which the publishers can then use… … to turn that submission into a fully typeset professional document. And so, this is the big difference really. With collaboration tools such as Google Docs, the problem then is that either the author has to spend a long time… …formatting and going through and trying to sort out formatting requirements from lots of different publishers, so the author has a bad experience. Or the publisher takes it on himself and then that’s a cost that the publisher has to bear in formatting manuscript… …for later publication. What we do is we provide templates for authors, so they don’t need to worry about any formatting, They just write their paper. The formatting is handled automatically. Then, the publishers receive much more consistent submissions which, they already know, conform to certain guidelines that they require. So they can then pass that through their submission checks much more quickly, and so you have an easier process and also a faster process from writing to publication. So I didn’t know that myself that the templates were there, so templates for a specific journal, so top of mind what would be some major journals
that the templates exist? So, we are working with a lot of the major publishers. So, I mean a great example is this week. We are just launching the first template
with Oxford University Press… …for their new EMPH and Clinical British Journal. And we have done some work recently
with the Genetics Society of America. We write templates for their genetics and G3 Journals. We’ve worked with the Optical Society of America. And we have worked with a number of others: F1000Research, PeerJ, and, for example, two new life sciences journals. We’ve also recently launched our first integration with some of the major publishing group journals, specifically scientific data and scientific reports. And what we were doing is we are working with the editors at those journals to take their guidelines… …that they have in many different forms. So, some may already have a template that they provide… …and some may just have a long list of formatting requirements. And we are taking that and producing a template, which is easy for the authors to use when writing their paper, but provides the editorial team with what they need on submission. Because it’s an online system and because we use the structured format underneath the document, we can pass across not just the files but also the metadata. So from an author’s perspective,
not only have you had a template, but you’ve also saved time on that submission form. So it’s not just about providing the templates, it’s about providing a more streamlined experience all the way through. Yeah, so the author really doesn’t have the transparency to the behind-the-scenes publishing mechanics that we do …and what the author doesn’t realize is that upon submission of the manuscript to a journal, the journal has to actually process that manuscript to extract this metadata to identify… …what’s the title in the manuscript, these are the co-authors, their institutions, the keywords, and if that is all tagged before submission, the author’s information is actually
captured more accurately. So LaTeX, as a platform, convince someone who is in math or physics or chemistry or other fields, working LaTeX in their own structured environment, why should they, other than the submission process, the ease of submission process, what are the advantages of working in the Overleaf platform? So we provide a fully featured LaTex editor, so you can go to overleaf.com, hit “create a new paper”, and you are taken then to a LaTeX editor straightway. So, there is no need to download and install it
or to keep your own version up to date. We make sure our service runs the LaTeX version of
TeX Live and stable distribution of LaTeX. And it also means that if you are used to using LaTeX on one computer but you go to someone else’s house or… …you’ve got a conference with just your iPad, you can still edit all your files if you have them on Overleaf. And also, you don’t have to switch entirely, so you can now sync your papers offline, so if you want to work whilst you’re on the
train or a plane or elsewhere, you can do that and then when you next log on you can push those changes to Overleaf. So you can combine the benefits of offline working in your preferred environment with the benefits of Overleaf… …when you are in different situations. The other big advantage is if you are collaborating and a lot of papers now are multi-author, you know, there’s an increasing number of interdisciplinary papers and multi-author papers. Rather than you having to send across all your LaTeX files and potentially have an author use them with a… …different LaTeX distribution or maybe they don’t know LaTeX at all. They just have to edit in an editor with no real idea of potential errors they might introduce by making changes. They can edit it on Overleaf and we provide automatic compilation as you type. So if you do make an error or you do make a mistake, you pick it out very quickly and can correct it. Using Overleaf is a great way to work collaboratively. We have recently launched an integration with reference managers and including Zotero, Mendeley, and CiteULike. So then if you have all your references stored in those systems, rather than having to extract them manually and you can now pull your reference library into your paper and then as you click to cite something, it will auto complete from your list of references. So, rather than having to do all that manually we have got this integrated reference management system. This is what I like about Overleaf and quite honestly all the other companies in the Digital Science envelope or umbrella is that you really, as individual companies and collectively, are really changing the face of science… and really building the interconnectivity of collaborative tools, of tools in general. Not only is it a collaborative tool for the people who use it but, you, as an organization, are also collaborative with… many other organizations, for example with Editage, with us, we have a relationship and that relationship allows… ..authors who are using the Overleaf tool, to seek editorial services on what they have created. So to you what is the value to the author through these extraneous collaborations with Editage and others. I mean, first of all, I think like science and research at the moment… …and research communication is a hugely exciting field now. There are a lot of new things happening, like you said – you mentioned before that there are all these different… …companies now providing lots of different services within the research community that are open data, better access to research, measurements around research and providing author support in editorial services. I think what all the companies are doing in trying to solve different problems for authors, but from an author’s perspective what you want to do is you want to write your paper… …or you want to get your research out to as many different people as possible. I might be writing a research paper that has a lot of data involved with it and so I might need to store that data somewhere so that I can access it and so that when I publish it that data is then available and so that’s why we are working with companies like Figshare to provide access to data for the people that need it. Certainly, you might have… A clarification and Figshare again is another company within the digital science umbrella of companies. Figshare provides a way for you to be able to share things that aren’t necessarily papers, so if you have a large dataset, you can upload it to Figshare and then you can cite it from a paper… …or reference it from a paper that you are writing on Overleaf for example. But there are other people who are writing who may be – for them English isn’t their first language and so they don’t necessarily need access to data services but what they may need is some support on polishing and tidying up that paper
ready for publication. They won’t necessarily use a Figshare integration or they might use it as a link with a company like Editage, so prior to publication they can have someone else come in and use the platform and provide them with the feedback. What Overleaf does is it provides the documents in the cloud that different people can access at different times and it could be linked to different sorts of services, so that rather than emailing files backwards and forwards and things getting passed around and different versions being created, by having Overleaf, they are providing people – giving different people access to it at different times, whether that be other authors, whether that be editorial and support staff or whether that be the publishing team when it’s out in June getting ready for publication or whether that be peer reviewers sometimes who are using it to provide reviews back to the author. That can all be done on a central document so that none of our information is lost and you can see that in history of the paper, the full history of the paper, right from the idea and the first creation, when it was set up with a title and maybe a few place-holds all the way through to this polished version which is now ready for consumption by the public, by the scientists. That’s great. Thank you for this discussion and again. It’s Don Samulack, President, US Operations of Editage, Cactus Communications, talking with John Hammersley, Co-Founder and CEO of Overleaf. Thank you.

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