Matthew Salganik: The Open Review of Bit by Bit

By Chris Burnage. Senior Marketing Executive, SAGE Ocean

Matthew Salganik wanted the publishing process of his new book Bit by Bit: Social Research in the Digital Age to mirror the modern creative outlook that was central to the books premise; a must-read for anyone combining ideas from social science and data science. Enter Open Review: making your manuscript publicly available via an open source annotation system and encouraging participants to leave feedback in the form of annotations. Combined with the traditional peer-review process Salganik was able to harness all this feedback to create the best possible version of his manuscript. 

This post summarizes Salganik’s three goals of Open Review: better books, higher sales and increased access to knowledge. You can read the full blog here.

1. Better books: the mechanics of Open Review 

Overall, I think that these many small improvements added up to a major improvement.

Open Review allowed contributors to annotate the text in a different way to the work being done in traditional peer review. The contributors were a mix of experts and novices, often suggesting improvements at a much more granular level. Contributors also suggested alternative research papers which Salganik says ‘helped improve the intellectual content of the book’. Annotations like this were less likely to come from a traditional copy editor. 

You can view the first post in this series here

2.    Higher sales: An economic assessment of Open Review

Aren’t you giving your book away for free?

Yes the book is available online for free but the process itself harnesses data that can be used to sell the book. During Open Review, Salganik gathered email addresses of those interested in buying the published book. This gave the publisher unique access to potential customers as well as providing information on the demographic of the audience. These are techniques used by companies we interact with almost every day such as Amazon or the New York Times. Salganik builds a convincing business case for Open Review and whilst improvements are necessary there are benefits for both author and publisher alike.

Read the full post here

3. Increased access to knowledge

Readers around the world before the books publication

Readers around the world before the books publication

By making the book available ahead of publication Salganik was able to observe a fairly ‘constant level of traffic averaging about 500 sessions per week’. Without Open Review this audience would never have gotten access to the book at this stage, especially on a global scale. Importantly the book was also available in over 100 languages. Adding all the non-English language page views up this amounted to a 20% increase in traffic to the book. The quality of translation using machine translation such as Google Translate is not high but Salganik argues 'reading a bad translation might be better than no translation at all'. 


You can put your own manuscript through Open Review using the Open Review Toolkit, either by downloading the open-source code or hiring one of the preferred partners. The Open Review Toolkit is supported by a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

Matthew J. Salganik is professor of sociology at Princeton University, where he is also affiliated with the Center for Information Technology Policy and the Center for Statistics and Machine Learning. His research has been funded by Microsoft, Facebook, and Google, and has been featured on NPR and in such publications as the New Yorker, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal.