Matilda is finally available… or how open academic search engines are a key part of open science

Matilda homepage, 6th Ocotber 2023.

There was a time, towards the end of the 20th century, when things were simple. If you just wanted to count the publications of an author, an institution, a country, you had to refer to the databases of the Institute for Scientific Information (ISI), created and directed by Eugene Garfield. The most famous of these, the Science Citation Index, was built on the idea of selecting the most relevant journals to capture the heart of science, in the already long tradition of bibliotheconomics. And these core journals wer sufficient to draw a relevant picture of the whole of scientific content. Taking the part for the whole raised many questions about the representativeness of the journals present, data and calculation errors, biases in favour of certain disciplines, languages and countries, but as Margaret Thatcher said about her economic world: ‘There is no alternative’

25 years later, commercial competition is fierce between Clarivate’s Web of Science, Elsivier’s Scopus and (almost) Springer’s Dimensions to capture the most money available from Higher Education & Research institutions . In another world, Google Scholar has woven its web, Google Scholar (GS), the only corporate service without advertising or direct tracking of usage. But these systems still have their drawbacks: the commercial databases still are still excluding machines, deciding what is “searchable” among the whole literature; GS services are restricted in their uses (eg no massive downloads) and its sources are neither described nor open.

This is the landscape in which Matilda was created, thanks to Huma-num and an ANR grant. If you want to know more about how it was envisionned in 2019, there is an “origins” paper1. For now, let’s get straight to the tutorial. The video below is all you need to use it, no API coding, no computer skills, just an idea of what you are searching for as an academic or someone avid to find academic sources.

Open citations at the heart, open data everywhere.

Matilda: is one the outcomes of the “open citations” movement: Originally, in 2010, it was a reference data corpus, the Open Citation Corpus (Pironi et al. 2015), before these remarkable precursors2 were joined by various organizations demanding the release of Crossref citation data to publishers. The I4OC collective has consequently obtained the availability, under a CC0 license, of the whole CrossRef database by default., But what to do with this pile of data? A number of tools, including the VOS Viewer developed by Leiden University, use them.. However, they hope that other actors would take them and build services on this new shared resource. Like the Open Citations databases3, they often presuppose professional users, either experts in API manipulation or interested in very advanced bibliometric developments. Matilda took a different approach by making the simplest tool possible,

Follow an author, make citation tracking of a core text in your field, search for texts with a given expression in their title, download full metadata to zotero, download a copy of the text if it is legally available, create an alert through a RSS feed that is publicly available, share it in your team project through a Zotero group, all this and more with just a few clicks. It is free, reusable so are results, because the metadata has been liberated thanks to these activists and to the collective movement that followed, including publishers.

Almost real time, always get freshest texts

Even if there is almost no literature on how academics practically search for their sources, we assume that when they know their field, they are searching for new information, that is texts that weren’t there yesterday but are available today. That has been the promise of many information devices, from the first academic journals to ISI Current Contents, from abstracts/review journals to contemporary Scopus/WoS alerts.

Beyond openness, one of the promises of Matilda is to offer you this freshness by going to the sources, applying YOUR search keys and deliver them to you in no time. In practice, that means that around 2 days after their creation in Crossref, RePeC, ArXiv, Pumed, you will get the relevant metadata in your Zotero RSS feed. As a mean, around 40,000 new texts appear in Matilda and some will probably interest you, that is discover the title, read the abstract, include it in your bibliography while other will be rejected.

What’s next and how you can help Matilda

The current version of Matilda is V. 2.0.2 and we have money to build the V3 with plenty of new features, the most spectacular being full-text search as we will index every found PDF so that you can add these results to those on the metadata. We also will add boolean operators for search – currently by default it is OR. In the long run, codes will be available – everything is open source software – and APIs will be open for direct reuse, for example instead of an uncheckable “WoS citations”, you will find a tracable “Matilda citations”.

We also think about adding new sources such as aggregated online archives as we wish to be inclusive as possible, so that YOU choose what is relevant for your research, not US.

The ultimate aim is clear: offer an alternative to current WoS/Scopus users, so that their institutions stop paying millions for tools that were not made for lay researchers – the bibliometrics uses of such platforms are debatable, though the Open Research Information spurring movement could also push them into history. Show that we need to decolonize scholarly metada that was for long limited to 1/ jorunals 2/ with articles written in English 3/ from Global North scholars 4/ and especially those owned or disseminated by big publishers. It also aims at providing an open alternative to Google Scholar, with open, tracable sources and enrichments and no limitations in download and uses. As everybody knows, Google can decide to shut down services in a day, so there is no long-term garuantee that GS will exist in the long run.

What can you do to help develop and sustain this open science platform? First, talk about it, create and share links, go to your institution head and show them that they could invest in open science rather than funding capitalistic vilains. Second, use it, test it, send us some feedback, good or bad, ask for features, explain what you need and expect from such a tool. Third, your IP addresses are not traced, but we have the aggregated image of RSS feeds, so even by just using it, you will help us.

  1. Didier Torny, Laurent Capelli, Lydie Danjean, Stéphane Pouyllau. Matilda: Building a bibliographic/metric tool for open citations and open science. ELPUB 2019 23rd edition of the International Conference on Electronic Publishing, Jun 2019, Marseille, France. ⟨10.4000/proceedings.elpub.2019.22⟩. ⟨hal-02141839⟩ []
  2. Disclaimer: I have been a member of the Advisory Board of Open Citations on behalf of the French Open Science Committeee since 2021 []
  3. see Heibi, I., Peroni, S. & Shotton, D. Software review: COCI, the OpenCitations Index of Crossref open DOI-to-DOI citations. Scientometrics 121, 1213–1228 (2019). []
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