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Cassyni aims to make online seminars more findable and citable

A young woman makes notes on a piece of paper while watching, on a laptop, a man presenting at a whiteboard.

Seminars on Cassyni receive a digital object identifier, making them easy to cite.Credit: Getty

A new online tool, Cassyni, aims to help academics run and keep track of research seminars worldwide. Its creators say that it will also make it easier for researchers to claim credit for conducting them.

Peter Vincent, an engineer at Imperial College London and one of Cassyni’s co-founders, estimates that there are around one million academic seminars worldwide each year. Although seminars are an important part of academic discourse, they lack technical solutions to make them more discoverable, he says.

Cassyni allows researchers to organize seminar series directly through the tool, enabling them to track which speakers have accepted slots and which need chasing. It also enables speakers to upload their abstracts, slides and biographical details, and is free for anyone attending webinars.

In 2017, Vincent created Kopernio, a one-click tool that finds free, legally accessible versions of paywalled papers online. Andrew Preston, another of Cassyni’s co-founders, previously created Publons, a site that allows academics to claim credit for peer-review activities. The US firm Clarivate Analytics, which owns the popular scholarly search engine Web of Science, subsequently bought both Kopernio and Publons.

Cassyni was formally launched last month, with a name that plays on the surname of the Italian–French astronomer Giovanni Domenico Cassini (1625–1712). With Cassyni, seminar organizers pay a flat fee of US$25 per month to host one seminar series, $55 a month for three or $130 for ten. Prices vary for institutions or journals that adopt the tool. Cassyni has around 2200 registered users so far and has been running talks since March, Vincent says.

Zoom integration

Cassyni integrates with the video-conferencing service Zoom, and its interface provides information not otherwise available on the platform (such as a participant’s institution, biographical data and publication history). Video is automatically captured unless speakers opt out. Cassyni also contains editing tools to make videos look more professional before they are published.

After each seminar, the tool automatically runs a 48-hour Q&A session. Cassyni also features a library in which users can store their favourite talks. Users can receive notifications about an event’s status, including diary prompts 30 minutes before an event starts, and an alert whenever recorded video of it is posted online. Alerts are sent either by e-mail or through integration with calendar tools such as Google Calendar, Microsoft Outlook or iCal.

Alongside information about the topic of the seminar, the series it belongs to and the details of the speaker, Cassyni assigns each seminar its own digital object identifier (DOI), a unique tag that is typically associated with academic papers.“The idea is that they are registered as a proper part of the academic discussion and academic output,” Vincent says. It’s important that speakers are able to claim credit for giving these talks, he notes, and that the knowledge communicated and the discussion afterwards be captured as part of the permanent record.

The tool might also help academics to avoid duplication of work — such as having to repeat talks in different locations — and boost audience diversity by enabling virtual attendance. That means it could reduce the need for air travel and the associated environmental impacts, Vincent says.

The Journal of Computational Physics and Computer Physics Communications, both published by the Amsterdam-based Elsevier, have started running webinars directly through Cassyni, Vincent says. Victoria University of Wellington (VUW) in New Zealand is the first institutional subscriber to start running its seminars through Cassyni.

“What appealed about Cassyni is that link with the formal publishing world,” says Katherine Edmond, director of communications at VUW. With the lack of international travel during the COVID-19 pandemic, she says, Cassyni enabled the university to explore “different ways that our researchers, and particularly our early-career researchers, can get their research out and connect with the research community”.

Christian Catalini, who studies the economics of innovation at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, tried Cassyni at the request of Nature. He says the tool is an interesting effort and has the potential to make content more discoverable, enable searches for personalized content and allow for more diverse participation.

However, Catalini doesn’t think online seminars, with or without Cassyni, will completely replace in-person ones. “It’s kind of fascinating that we do have technology that’s really good at scheduled interactions and structured meetings,” he says, but that cannot yet replicate “some of the serendipity and more spontaneous [encounters] that take place when we’re co-locating”.

doi: https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-021-02983-9

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