Millions of people use research everyday. From students, medical professionals, to curious hobbyists, we all benefit from being able to access, read, and cite reliable, tested information. But getting the research we need can be hard and costly when it's locked up behind expensive paywalls. Two university students, David Carroll and Joseph McArthur, were finally fed up with being denied access to online journals and articles that were necessary to continue their studies—so they decided to take matters into their own hands. The result was Open Access Button, a browser-based tool that records users’ collisions with paywalls and aids them in finding freely accessible copies of those research articles. The previous version had over 5,000 users and mapped nearly 10,000 encounters with paywalled research.
This week they have re-launched the tool as an updated, more powerful app suite. If a user hits a paywall to an article or paper, the tool will automatically notify its author on the user's behalf to let them know that someone has been blocked from accessing their work, and ask them to submit a link to a freely accessible version. If the author responds with a link, the app will not only provide that link to the original user but will also display the alternative link to anyone who tried to views the research in the future. In practice, this could incentivize authors to deposit their work into open research repositories.
Users also have the option to share why they are seeking a particular article, which creates an interactive map of stories by people who need research around the world. The hope is that this new Open Access Button will not only help users get better, quicker access to inaccessible research, but will further transform the experience of hitting a paywall to research from being a disempowering denial of access to an explicit call to action.
The new apps are available both for mobile phones and web browsers, and can be downloaded at openaccessbutton.org.
Between October 20 and 26, EFF is celebrating Open Access Week alongside dozens of organizations from around the world. This is a week to acknowledge the wide-ranging benefits of enabling open access to information and research—as well as exploring the dangerous costs of keeping knowledge locked behind publisher paywalls. We'll be posting on our blog every day about various aspects of the open access movement. Go here to find out how you can take part and to read the other Deeplinks published this week.