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PLoS Computational Biology, PLoS Genetics and PLoS Pathogens forge ahead

PLoS Computational Biology, PLoS Genetics and PLoS Pathogens were launched in the Summer of 2005, and are now entering a new phase in their development. In a few days, they will join PLoS ONE and PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases on the Topaz publishing platform, and will benefit from more rapid publication along with tools for user interaction – commentary, notes and ratings.

Although the technical underpinnings of PLoS Computational Biology, PLoS Genetics and PLoS Pathogens have undergone a major transition (and a lot of people at PLoS have worked very hard to make this happen), the core values of the journals remain rock solid. Each journal is run by a dedicated board of academic editors (here, here and here) who oversee a highly selective peer-review process to publish great work covering their particular research field, along with an entertaining and at times provocative selection of opinion and commentary. And although the so-called PLoS “Community Journals” are just two and a half years old, they are already incredibly successful – citations, media coverage, and usage of the journals are climbing steadily, and the journals now each receive 50-100 submissions per month.

All the feedback that we receive indicates that the PLoS Community Journals have rapidly found their niches. They have developed their own ‘personalities’ and are highly rated by their respective communities, both as a venue for publication and as a valuable source of information. Building on these solid foundations, the Topaz platform will bring some valuable additional benefits. Authors of research articles, for example, will see an increase in publication speed, as a result of a streamlined publication process. Author files will be carefully checked, lightly edited and tagged (for XML production), but the body text of the article will remain largely unaltered. We are also introducing a workflow that will help authors who use Latex. Finally, we have a mechanism for highlighting any corrections that need to be made to published articles – this can take place within days, instead of the usual lag of several months between spotting an error and the publication of a formal correction. Once these new processes are bedded in, we hope to shave at least two-three weeks off the time to publication.

Readers will notice some more options when they are looking at the articles – notes can be added, a discussion can be started or joined, and the article can be rated. With respect to scholarly journals, these “web2.0” features are still in their infancy, and are yet to achieve a critical mass of activity. Nevertheless, it will be fascinating to see whether these discipline-based PLoS journals provide the nucleus for high-quality discourse. We shall make every effort to encourage that, and the editorial boards will be joined by some new faces who will take a particular interest in developing this aspect of the journals.

One final point about these changes concerns the finances of the journals. The streamlined production and web hosting via Topaz brings cost savings too, which will take the journals very close to economic self-sufficiency. If they continue to grow at their current trajectories, one or two of the community journals will be supporting themselves by the end of this year. This is important because one of our goals in launching community-run journals was to provide a financially self-sufficient model for a high-impact scholarly journal. This goal is now within reach.

The migration of PLoS Computational Biology, PLoS Genetics, and PLoS Pathogens places five of our journals on the open source publishing platform called Topaz. PLoS Biology and PLoS Medicine will follow later this year. That project has already started – no rest for the wicked…

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