MediaCommons as Digital Scholarly Network: Unveiling the Profile System

kfitz's picture

Over the last several years, as we’ve worked to establish MediaCommons as a new kind of publisher for scholars in media studies, we’ve been very conscious that what we’ve been building is not, or at least not wholly, a new form of scholarly press. There are good reasons to build such new kinds of presses; the publishers that have served the academy in recent decades find themselves in grave fiscal danger in the current economy, and at least in part due to that danger, they haven’t been able to take on the kinds of experimentation that new fields such as media studies require. The academy desperately needs new forms of publishers, and new publishing models, in order to ensure the ongoing ability of scholars to communicate their research with one another, and in order to ensure the ability of our scholars to access the artifacts produced by that communication.

But we’re also aware that, in the age of digital social networks, we have to varying extents become our own publishers; we blog, we text, we tweet, and in so doing we communicate with one another through an increasing variety of channels, and with an increasing immediacy and ubiquity. Given this proliferation, what we need as scholars may be less a system that will manage our communication for us than a system that will allow us to manage our communication, a system than recognizes that the key aspect of scholarly communication into the future may be less the distribution of the products of our research than the management of the social networks through which our research is distributed.

It’s for this reason that MediaCommons has billed itself since its inception as a “digital scholarly network” rather than a digital press; while we have particular projects we want to publish, our primary goal is enabling scholars to make connections with one another in, through, and around those projects. And for that reason, with the support of an NEH Digital Start-Up Grant, we’ve been hard at work building a robust social network that will serve as the backbone of MediaCommons, making possible the publishing and review that we hope to foster.

We’re thrilled to unveil the MediaCommons profile system today. This system promises to provide members of MediaCommons with a rich set of ways to gather the work they’re doing across the web in one place, to organize their writing in both print and electronic forms in a digital portfolio, to form connections and relationships with other scholars in the field, to keep up with the work being done in their areas of interest, and to create new collaborative projects within the MediaCommons network.

Here’s how it works: any registered member of MediaCommons can create a profile by logging in and clicking on “my account.” (Right now, clicking on “my account” in In Media Res will take you to a separate profile with a link to your main MediaCommons profile, but those two profiles will be merged soon.) You can edit the various aspects of your profile by clicking “edit,” and selecting from the submenu of profile options. Among the most important of those options is “activity stream,” which allows you to bring together the kinds of writing you’re doing across the web together in one place; your activity stream can capture your Twitter and Facebook updates, your and Netflix feeds, your blog updates, and several other kinds of information, allowing you to archive and preserve the various kinds of writing and interaction you’re engaged in across the web.

You can also capture and organize more formal kinds of scholarly activity as well, through the publications feature; this section of your profile allows you to enter the bibliographic data for your published texts, whether they’re in print or online, thus creating a sort of virtual vita. Citations can be imported from a range of filetypes including EndNote files, BibTex and MARC records, and RIS files exported from Zotero and or other citation managers. Once added to your profile, your citations can be edited, by clicking on their titles. Ensuring that your publications are up to date in your profile will not only enable other MediaCommons members to get an easy overview of your work but will also enable those members to access your publications through OpenURL links, which connect to your library’s holdings, and will allow users to download citations for their use in a range of formats.

In order to ensure the greatest interconnection among your various accounts across the internet, and to prevent MediaCommons from becoming just one more such account, we’ve also enabled OpenID access; by registering an OpenID account here, you will be able to use that user ID and password to log in. In the future, we hope that OpenID implementation will enable us to create further connections between MediaCommons and the many other sites through which you communicate.

To see what a completed profile looks like, you can take a look at mine: Kathleen Fitzpatrick. We still have a good bit of work ahead of us yet, but we hope that you’ll help us build the MediaCommons network by building your profile, by making connections with other members, and by letting us know what other features you’d like to see us develop.

And remember, every member of MediaCommons has not only a profile but a blog here on the site; by writing and publishing here, and by making connections with other scholars in the field, you’ll help us make MediaCommons into the network we’ve envisioned as supporting scholarly communication into the future.


Lisa Lynch's picture

Great idea!

I’ve enjoyed playing with the interface today, though it’s take a little bit of figuring out.  Do you plan on adding any documentation or help?  Might be a good idea, if anyone has the time.  But it’s a wonderful concept.  Also, any thoughts about linking in to as well as FB?

Kathleen Fitzpatrick's picture


Hi, Lisa. Yes, we absolutely plan to add documentation; we’ve been building some video tutorials that should be up soon, and I’m hoping that we can refine the verbal instructions on various pages, too. I’ll look into the thing, too — thanks for the suggestion!

Jeremy Butler's picture

Very Impressive

This is a terrific idea. And one that greatly intrigues me as I’m currently trying to figure out what my department should do about faculty profiles.

I particularly like the attempt to get beyond the standard of (1) contact info, (2) publication list, and (3) statement of interests. Bringing in social media stuff means that the 21st century has come to faculty profiles!

I’ll probably have more comments/suggestions as I work my way through this system, but here’s one to get started with:

I think there are privacy concerns if the contact info form defaults to “Display _______ to everyone” Although “unchecking shows information to colleagues only”, I would recommend it be reversed. Contact info — especially phone numbers — should default to “colleagues only”. As it is now, you’ve got eight boxes you’ve got to UNcheck if you want to keep your contact info from “everyone.”

Jeremy Butler's picture

And related to this… After I

And related to this… After I only partially filled out the contact form, I wound up with some blanks on my main profile page (see below). I reckon the script either needs to check to see if those fields are blank, or something…


University of Alabama


City: Tuscaloosa

State: Alabama







Brian Hoffman's picture

Privacy checkboxes and empty contact fields

I’ve entered both of these into our issue tracking system. The fixes should be out before long.

Jeremy Butler's picture

'Nother Bug

When MC imports blog posts, it timestamps them as RIGHT NOW. This leads to temporal trouble in the “Recently on the Web” listing. E.g., in my “recent” list are blog posts from two years ago and each is timestamped as Nov 19 2009. Also, they are all from one blog and I’ve listed three in my account. The other two don’t seem to have been imported.

Recently on the Web

Brian Hoffman's picture

Fixed dates for self-syndicated content

Hi Jeremy,

Thanks for catching this glitch. Please take a look at your profile when you have a chance and let me know if the dates and the ordering look right.



Kathleen Fitzpatrick's picture


Thanks for these comments, Jeremy; I’ll make sure the development team sees them. The time stamp thing is definitely wrong; I’m pretty sure our Drupal upgrade must just have the wrong field mapped to date, because the feeds do pull in the originally-published time stamp. The blank fields, I’m less sure about, but I’ll see what can be done!