Preface: In the latest interview in our series on innovative companies that are developing support for researchers, we asked Carsten from SciFlow about how their technology for creating research publications is making academic writing easier. Not only is SciFlow a powerful platform for students and scientists to write and collaborate on journal articles, theses, and other documents, but we learned that SciFlow is also supporting libraries in the Open Access movement. Through technology created with scientific publication in mind, university presses and researchers alike have the ability to easily create and format their publication materials!
Can you tell us about yourself and what led you to create SciFlow?
My co-founder Frederick Eichler and I started SciFlow in 2016, but the idea of SciFlow goes back even further to 2009 when Frederick was a student. He had to help many of his fellow students with writing their Master’s theses in Word, especially with the formatting. As a good computer scientist, he thought that there should be a way to automate thesis formatting and developed the first SciFlow prototype. Back then we decided not to start a company, so we got normal jobs – I worked at Oracle in sales, and Frederick worked at Capgemini in project management. When I did my PhD some years later and it came time to write my thesis, I found that since Frederick had made his first prototype of SciFlow, nothing really had changed – I still faced the same problems with formatting, collaboration, and revision. So we talked again and decided to start SciFlow.
We began testing our first prototype with researchers and students, and during this time also became aware of what was happening in the Open Access movement. We saw there was an interest from research libraries not to just provide information to researchers and students but also to invest in infrastructure that supported their people. So we began focusing on what we could do for libraries and found that SciFlow can do more than just write text – we can also support researchers and students in getting published.
How is SciFlow improving access to science?
There are a couple of ways we support that. Firstly, through the process of creating SciFlow and working with researchers and libraries, we found that libraries were building the infrastructure to create their own Open Access publications. For that, they needed publishing tools that can create nice, formatted PDFs, or machine-readable formats like XML, or HTML, but they didn’t necessarily have the means to do that. With SciFlow, we provide libraries and university presses with easy to use technology to produce and share public issues.
Another way we support access is that when users write a manuscript and want to submit it to a journal which is not open access, they have an additional option to export the text from SciFlow in a different format and provide it to their library, which can then use the Green Open Access model to make their work available. That’s another cool thing that supports access.
SciFlow is a powerful collaborative writing tool for creating research publications, with templates for different academic stages. Do you think you have more researchers or students using SciFlow?
Looking at Germany, I would say it’s close to 50-50, but this varies by institution. At some applied science universities for example, we have more students working with SciFlow than researchers, but of course at research institutes like Max Planck and Helmholz, SciFlow is only used by researchers. Last year we expanded into a couple of new countries, and I would say outside of Germany it’s mostly used by researchers, and around one third are students.
With integration for reference managers and journal submission templates, it seems easy to create research articles—does SciFlow support researchers in creating books and other publications?
We support all kinds of publication types; we have support for fields that require heavy equations like computer sciences, physics, and mathematics for example, we have a lot of theses at all educational levels that are written in SciFlow, there are conference proceedings created with SciFlow, basically any kind of publication should be possible. The audience we have in mind is anyone who needs a specialized tool to write down their research.
For writing theses—if my institution has a specific template, could I import it to work on in SciFlow?
Thesis templates are something we have as part of our campus agreements. When we start working with a university, we sit down with the library and ask them to provide guidelines for their thesis templates. It might be the case that we have to create several templates for one university as part of our service, as different faculties require for example different citation styles, and this needs to be taken into consideration. Right now there isn’t a way for users to create their own SciFlow templates, but we do have it on our road map to allow for that.
Aside from templates and research-specific integrations like ORCID, are there any other benefits to creating with SciFlow over Word or other word processors?
Currently, if you’re writing a research article that you want to publish in a journal, you need to export a Word document from SciFlow for the submission stage. Once the journal receives the file, they need to transform it back into a format like XML for their production workflow. If we look a bit into the future though, that might change. It’s possible that researchers could soon write articles in SciFlow and submit directly to the publisher in a format the publisher can use. I think this would streamline the submission and production workflows tremendously, because once the data is structured in a semantic way in XML it’s really easy to transform it into numerous export formats. In addition, we integrate tools and services like reference managers, ORCID and text improvement services to allow researchers to perform all writing activities on one platform.
Can you tell us a little bit about what we can look forward to with the SciFlow Authoring platform and SciFlow Publish?
Last year on the authoring platform we launched a major feature with over 5000 journal templates, growing from 400 templates at the beginning of 2022 to now close to 6000. The next big feature will be our Microsoft Word importer with general availability for all, which I think is going to be very good for first-time users. It’s a great way for someone who has already started writing an article in Word to import their document and try out our exports and the SciFlow template engine.
We launched SciFlow Publish last year and worked with one journal, and now have grown to working with 6 journals, so we see that there is a tremendous need for SciFlow Publish for Open Access journals. We are also working with KIT Scientific Press, our first university press, to support them in producing books. This is a very special project, as it’s one of the first times a university press in Germany will be able to provide a nice PDF and printed book and also an XML epub. It’s an exciting project.
What is your vision for the future of SciFlow?
Ultimately, our goal is to support Open Access via technology. It’s not our vision to be a publisher ourselves, but we want to support publishers, university presses, students, and researchers by giving them technology that makes it easy for them to publish Open Access. This could be by providing SciFlow for a university press to create and disseminate a book or a journal in various formats. Thinking towards the future, we also have in mind allowing students and researchers to self-publish their work with SciFlow technology.
We would like to thank Carsten for sharing his insight!