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Publication platform aiming at ROS based robotics!?

When I was working with ROS I profited a lot from design.ros2.org (ROS2 design), index.ros.org/doc/ros2 (overview), answers.ros.org (stackoverflow.com kind "question and answer approach) and discourse.ros.org (discussions, etc.). There are other great learning resources for ROS like e.g. provided by theconstructsim.com (courses) as well.

However in the non-paid context it seemed like there have been little people contributing much. In the broader software industry writing for publication platforms like medium.com has become almost self-evident. Apart from the self-marketing effect one of the main reason why so much developers contribute content is the Medium Partner Program. The concept is as follows: You become a member for a monthly or yearly membership fee and are allowed to access all content. If you contribute content yourself you get paid dependent on how many times your content has been read. A quite fair concept. Members which are not motivated to contribute profit from the content provided by others which get payed for contributing content. Members which contribute themself can compensate their membership fee or can even make money via providing content. In the robotics domain the potential user base is probably not big enough that contributing members can make a living with it. Nevertheless such a platform could be a great way to help people to learn about ROS2 as well as to contribute to further adoption of ROS2 in a complimentary manner to the already existing resources.

Some time ago @Tobias and his team mates released their github.com/protontypes/LibreSelery. The idea behind this project is to give open source developers the credits they deserve for their contributions to open source projects by paying them money dependent on metrics like contributions made, etc. Their project release triggered me again: I’ve asked myself why there is no medium.com publication like towardsdatascience.com (data science) aiming at robotics, specifically ROS based robotics?

I’ve profited a lot from towardsdatascience.com and similar platforms myself. Finally I decided to start a little side project during my Christmas holidays with the aim of evaluating some content management software and user centered publication platforms which can be used to setup a ROS based robotics publication website. I’m using medium.com for some time now and I’m running a wordpress website for my parents. After checking out some other content management systems (CMS) which could be used to setup a potential publication platforms I decided to choose ghost pro to run and host the platform. The reasons for choosing ghost pro is beyond the scope of this announcement. One important fact is that it is based on open source ghost, that I did not want to spend a lot of time setting up the platform (the CMS itself, email support for newsletters, etc.) ATM but I want to be able to change my mind later if reasonable. The editor is better than the one from medium. Posts can be exported by their authors. etc.

To be fair the membership functionality of ghost is relatively new. It is possible to protect content to allow member only reading. However at the time of writing there is no way to payout members which provide content yet. But I asked the community about to add membership payout functionality. I hope a server side feature for tracking post reading time will be added soon.

Initially I thought about to run a non-profit website myself. I’d have used a concept of passive and active membership. Active members pay a monthly fee of 5USD/month and are allowed to read any content. Of course they are allowed to write content themself but they don’t have to. If active members write own content they’d have been paid for dependent on their post reading time or a similar metric as soon as such a feature would be available in ghost. Until then all member fees would have been collected and used for compensating the effort related to ghost pro site maintenance, ghost theme creation/customization and potentially paying a developer for implementing a server side payout feature for ghost. In case active members would not need access to content for some time they could save money by “freezing” their membership by downgrading their membership to a passive membership. They could access their own posts, export their own posts for backup purposes but they could not read others people content. They could upgrade to active membership after some time again or remove their membership account. In the later case all of their content would not be accessible to other people anymore. Unfortunately doing/managing something like that in Germany implies a lot of overhead (registering a non-profit association, open a bank account for tracking membership fee, etc.) which takes a lot of your free time.

Therefore I decided to run a minimalist prototype on ghost pro for the duration of the free trial time period (until January 12, 2021). Feel free to visit towardsrosbotics.com, sign in as free member, create some fake posts (for trying out the editor and other functionality like image upload, etc.) and spread the word. Dependent on how good the feedback is I’d love to hand over the ghost theme and the domain (towardsrosbotics.com) to the Open Source Robotics Foundation (@tfoote) or any other potential non-profit organization guaranteeing a user centered, non-profit manner of running and maintaining the website. Feel free to get in contact with me to try out admin features.

EDIT: It turned out that emails are supported for admin related features only and invitation mails are not send ATM. In case you want to try out the website please send a personal message via discourse that I can add you as a user manually.

Kind regards,
Florian

4 Likes

Hey Florian,

I like the idea and would suggest to combine it with another platform I stumbled upon over the last weeks: https://joss.theoj.org/

It is a community-based peer review process that is completely open for the publication of papers related to open source projects.

The ROS community would highly benefit from such a platform from my point of view. Maybe you should include other areas like Machine Learning into the approach. In this way, you will much easier find the critical mass of users.

I need to think about it a little more and will get to you with some suggestions.

3 Likes

I believe JOSS has a different aim and is targeting a different audience than the platform proposed here - making software academically ‘citeable’ vs. blog posting.
Nonetheless the ROS community would certainly benefit from having more papers than can be ‘properly’ cited such as e.g. ros_control.

1 Like

@Jeremie Depends on how you declare the goal of JOSS. When I visit JOSS I do it to find high-quality open source with good documentation. What @fkromer described is more about news/blog articles in general but it could also fulfill this goal by reporting about new packages. opensource.com for example allows and motivates members to write a blog post for the website. Authors from opensource.com just help to improve the articles for publication at the end. Maybe this would be an option for ROS.

I think in general we can say a high-quality resource for news, reports, new packages and ideas is missing in open source robotics. Paying people to create that quality content on a regular basis would be an option. The question is how to create the business model to still keep access to this content open and free in some way.

I’m not sure I’m a fan of the purchasing / membership items. While monetizing robotics blogs sounds interesting (buy me a coffee on occasion or something), I don’t support any concept of a paywall on my work / research - especially those touching open source. I’m definitely not a ra-ra everything in my life needs to be open-source person, but I do feel that if I do something in the open, I don’t want anyone to be disenfranchised from accessing content based on a profit model. Even research papers I publish are always cross-listed on arxiv if I know the publisher is going to create a paywall. I think its unfair to the community to block access when the work it represents is freely available (e.g. you can use package X but you can’t access the documentation around it to know what it does and how it does it).

JOSS is a good resource, I’m actually currently in a peer-review process with them for a paper on SLAM Toolbox and have signed up to be an editor on C++ / Robotics topics. But that’s alot more peer-review-y and less blog-y.

3 Likes

When I visit JOSS I do it to find high-quality open source with good documentation. What @fkromer described is more about news/blog articles in general but it could also fulfill this goal by reporting about new packages.

I definitely agree with you. I was simply pointing that the proposed platform would most likely not end up issuing DOI numbers (the whole journal publication shebang) like JOSS does. They address different issues, in different formats and are complementary.

@Tobias

It’s possible to cross-reference a paper published on JOSS from a blog of course. JOSS and a blog are complementary of course.

For generic, non-robotics specific AI there’s a medium publication https://medium.com/towards-artificial-intelligence already. If one would like to publish a post including AI on towardsrosbotics.com this could be considered using tags like ai, deeplearning, etc.

As a user of a publication platform I’d expect from the maintainers of such a website that they keep spending financed with membership fees to a absolute minimum. This allows to increase the payout to contributing members. In my opinion maintenance cost are:

  • maintaining the server or paying for maintenance of a server (ghost pro)
  • review of posts w.r.t. something like the towardsdatascience.com publishing rules
  • review of posts to ensure that no intellectual property of a company is made public without permission (employees usually hand over their intellectual property to their employer via their employment contract)

@smac

I think one has to distinguish between people which are contributing content which is created as part of their full-time job like in research or hobbyists. In the first case you are paid for your time as part of your full-time job. If you want to motivate hobbyists to contribute you have to motivate them by, at least, paying them a coffee for their time. The profit model is not “the platform provider is making money” but the “members are making money to compensate their contribution efforts”.

:+1:

@Jeremie

Right. JOSS is about papers, a publication platform is about blog posts.

Blog posts may address

  • paper announcements (including reference to paper),
  • package announcements (including reference to packages),
  • tutorials w.r.t. in-depth package usage (a lot of software I’ve worked with so far does provide an API documentation without any more than a “hello world” style usage documentation),
  • tutorials w.r.t. generic design patterns (but different implementation variants),
  • tutorials w.r.t. hardware/software integration (e.g. like in the driver layer),
  • tutorials w.r.t. software integration,
  • tutorials w.r.t. system integration,

From a technological point of view I like Ghost better than Medium (editor, etc.). However running the blog as Medium publication is free and one does not have to stick to payed membership. People are not forced to put their content behind a paywall. If someone wants to put posts behind a paywall they are allowed to and benefit from the Medium Partner Program. All the payment stuff should be managed via Medium.

I decided to create a publication: https://medium.com/towards-rosbotics. It’s totally free and a Medium account (free as well as payed) is optional. In case someone of OSRF would like to take over ownership this would be possible by contacting Medium BTW. I’ll shut down the Ghost Pro blog towardsrosbotics.com at January 12, 2021. The Medium blog https://medium.com/towards-rosbotics does not cost me anything and won’t be shutdown the next time.

I’m looking forward to how this experiment will evolve. Of course experiments are allowed to fail :slight_smile:

If someone wants to publish a medium post on towards-rosbotics let me know. I’ll add you as writer and you can submit the post like described in https://help.medium.com/hc/en-us/articles/213904978-Add-a-draft-or-post-to-publication . No worries. You are free to unpublish the post on towards-rosbotics any time in case you want to publish somewhere else instead.