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This software for academic paper writing is inspired by Git

Authorea is a website for collaborating on scientific papers that makes it easy to incorporate a researcher's data into his or her analysis of that data. The platform has about 10,000 active users and recently raised $600K.

Alberto Pepe (left) and Nathan Jenkins, scientists and cofounders of Authorea. (Photo courtesy of Authorea)

Authorea is writing software that makes it easier for collaborators to write an academic paper at the same time. But it doesn’t stop there.

What makes the platform important is the way it makes it simple to incorporate a researcher’s data into his or her analysis of that data. More importantly, it makes it simple for another researcher to make use of that data, while seamlessly giving the scientist that collected it the credit that’s due.

In other words, “It should be possible to fork a paper,” Alberto Pepe, a data scientist and cofounder of the company, told us during a recent phone interview. We covered Authorea’s recent $610,000 equity round.

Cofounded with physicist Nathan Jenkins, the two first met while doing work at CERN. Later, they encountered each other again doing postdocs at NYU, where they realized they each had many of the same frustrations with writing papers. They both had backgrounds in coding, so, they decided to do something about it.

Pepe and Jenkins believe that moving data into the basic structure of scientific papers will both spur more science and improve the incentives for doing original science. Right now, scientists earn credibility by writing a widely cited paper. With Authorea, its makers say, scientists could also earn status for creating widely used datasets.

Three improvements to the service the team is working on now:

  • A WYSIWYG editor.
  • A more flexible workflow that can be adjusted to better serve the life sciences. Authorea is currently optimized for physicists and such. Each branch of science has some of its own particular ways of working, and Authorea wants to build the site to adapt to all those workflows.
  • In-line commenting. Right now, journals circulate for peer review with PDFs, by and large. In line commenting could make this much more precise and less painful for reviewers.

Pepe said that Git is the most fundamental technology to the project. He and Jenkins also built it in Ruby on Rails and made frequent use of Resque for job queuing and Faye for messaging.

Right now, the staff is just the two cofounders, but Pepe says that with the funding round they plan to be a six-person team by the end of the year. The platform has about 10,000 active users now, with very little marketing to speak of.

Companies: Authorea
Series: Brooklyn
People: Alberto Pepe

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