Josh from The Winnower (thewinnower.com) here. I wanted to reach out and see if SE Mathematica, Academia, Chemistry, History of Science and Math, and Overflow would be interested in permanently archiving and assigning digital object identifiers (DOIs) to top exchanges with The Winnower.

We’ve begun to offer DOIs and permanent archival to blogs, scholarly Reddit AMAs (https://www.reddit.com/r/science/comments/3finu8/doi_assignments_for_science_amas/) and other forms of new media (student essays, how-to's) and we think various exchanges are equally deserving of these services, services that are typically only afforded to traditional scholarly articles. In short, we’d love to make these Stack Exchange Q&As citable in the scholarly literature and count on users CVs for credit in the workplace/academia. But of course, we’d like your feedback before we do anything. We’ve met with some great people at the Stack Exchange offices and based upon your feedback they are willing to help. So…

  1. Do you think DOIs for certain Stack Exchange sites are worthwhile?
  2. Which Stack Exchange sites should receive a DOI within those which posts?
  3. Where should the DOIs be displayed, etc.

For those unaware of what a DOI is, here is an entertaining read: Now I am become DOI, destroyer of gatekeeping worlds

And for those curious we archive content via Portico, the same method used for many leading scholarly journals.

How would you determine when a question is "done" and ready to be archived? We (or SE) could assign versioned DOIs to posts set by some defined criteria (question is answered and/or gets enough upvotes).

Would you assign a DOI to every question, or are there metrics you use to select, or dynamically as people request them? We'd set some threshold so only the best threads get a DOI/archival. Think of it as a step beyond reputation points.

Just noticed this image on Twitter that I think is relevant to the discussion here.

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    For those, like me, who wonders what a DOI is: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digital_object_identifier – Simon Forsberg Sep 14 '15 at 16:52
  • Isn't this related, if not a duplicate? – rene Sep 14 '15 at 17:15
  • @rene actually this is a bit different. We want to treat threads as academic literature itself and assign a DOI to ones that deserve it. – Josh Sep 14 '15 at 17:34
  • Does assignment of a DOI prevent changes to the document? This is unclear from your post, though implied by your use of the term "archive". – jscs Sep 14 '15 at 19:52
  • @JoshCaswell When a DOI is assigned, it should point to the version of the document as it was when it was assigned. So they would have to archive a version at assignment, and if the question or answers changed, the original DOI would always point to the archived version. If someone wanted to point to the newer version, it would require a new DOI and a new archive. – Pollyanna Sep 14 '15 at 20:32
  • @AdamDavis thanks, that is correct. We will version the DOIs so that we can ensure a stable record but also ensure modifications/changes. – Josh Sep 14 '15 at 20:43
  • I can't see that fitting in with SE, then. The ability to add new answers at any time, and more importantly, editing of posts, are fundamental here. We have some things that we archive -- we call it "locked" -- but they're the things we don't want but can't justify getting rid of. – jscs Sep 14 '15 at 20:47
  • @JoshCaswell To clarify, you would still be able to do that under what we are proposing. But archival and DOI assignment would not occur after every small change. Only after major ones. – Josh Sep 14 '15 at 21:34
  • Most likely due to my cynical mind - this looks to be a product being spammed. – user289879 Sep 15 '15 at 20:09


  • How would you determine when a question is "done" and ready to be archived?
  • Would you assign a DOI to every question, or are there metrics you use to select, or dynamically as people request them?
  • What is the likelihood that you will charge for access to the archived versions the DOI points to, or place advertisements on those versions?
  • Does your archived version comply with all the linking, attribution, and other requirements of the CC license Stack Exchange uses, or are you going to have to make changes or have special pages for Stack Exchange archived topics?
  • How will you handle updates - will a question have multiple DOIs assigned if major changes are made to it or the answers, each referring to a specific version, or once assigned and archived are the newer updates never linkable without special effort?
  • When you ask for help or support from Stack Exchange for this effort, are you merely asking for guidance, or are you hoping to have DOIs show up on Stack Exchange pages, or otherwise altering the Stack Exchange codebase/database/sites?
  • Why is using Winnower better than Stack Exchange simply registering to issue DOIs and using the existing revisions system to return a specific DOI assigned version of a question?

Initially I'm skeptical. It seems like a great way to aggregate content, and lock people in to using your DOI, which you can later monetize. Perhaps your intentions are purely altruistic, but there's no way for Stack Exchange to take control of the DOIs you might assign it in the future.

If Stack Exchange wants to be part of the DOI system, it could readily implement it.

On the other side of the coin, given that all the content is licensed CC-BY-SA with attribution required, you can go ahead and do essentially nearly all this without any sort of assistance.

Please understand I'm not trying to be antagonistic, but there are a lot of questions unanswered even if the answer to "Should Stack Exchange articles have a DOI?" is yes - which is clearly debatable.

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  • Thanks. These are great questions and I appreciate the candor in your response. I'll try and answer them as best as I can. How would you determine when a question is "done" and ready to be archived? We (or SE) could assign versioned DOIs to posts set by some defined criteria (Question is answered and/or gets enough upvotes) Would you assign a DOI to every question, or are there metrics you use to select, or dynamically as people request them? We'd set some threshold so only the best threads get a DOI/archival. Think if it as a step beyond reputation points. – Josh Sep 14 '15 at 17:20
  • In response to your other questions here are my thoughts: I think Stack Exchange could assign their own DOIs and if they are interested in doing so that would be great! It would cost them some money upfront but clearly this is much less of a barrier to them then it is to The Winnower. At the same time it may be nice to have Q&As from SE in the same place as AMAs from reddit and blogs etc etc. We could also approach this by allowing users to submit their content directly to The Winnower, but we think it would be best if the DOI were on the pages and supported by the community. – Josh Sep 14 '15 at 17:28
  • If of course the community doesn't want these things, then that is fine. We are not trying to hoodwink anyone. To be frank, the benefit to us would be great content appearing on The Winnower, which would drive submissions where we do charge (essays, blogs, etc.). – Josh Sep 14 '15 at 17:30
  • @Josh Please edit your question to provide clarifications such as these. – PolyGeo Sep 14 '15 at 20:25
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    @Josh You should probably just go ahead and, following the attribution guidelines, implement the system on your end so that after a year you can show clear value - that researchers are creating articles, blogs, etc using Stack Exchange DOIs via Winnower. At that time it might be that SE will consider DOIs on pages. – Pollyanna Sep 15 '15 at 13:27
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    @Josh If you want to convince them and/or the community now, though, I suspect you'll have to show clear value to the community itself, as well as existing evidence that researchers really are using Stack Exchange entries extensively in published journals and articles. Showing that a DOI system would greatly benefit both Stack Exchange and researchers will go a long way toward convincing people that DOIs on Stack Exchange pages will improve them. Doing it yourself as suggested above may provide the evidence you need to get buy-in, but you could try now with existing evidence. – Pollyanna Sep 15 '15 at 13:30
  • @AdamDavis thank you for the kind response. I will do some more research on this and approach it in a more systematic way. If the community is interested then we will pursue it. If not, we will still have learned some thing. – Josh Sep 15 '15 at 13:43
  • @Josh Well I hope it works out, it's a nice system and so far I like what you're doing with it. Good luck! – Pollyanna Sep 15 '15 at 14:02

No. In my personal opinion, they're not worthwhile. What would be the point? What problem would it solve? It's not clear to me what problem this solves, or why it should be Stack Exchange's concern to solve it. I can't see a use case for it, and the question doesn't describe one.

Of course, this is just my personal opinion... but since that's what you asked for, I'm giving it.

If the problem this solves is "some journals only let you cite things with DOIs", the fix to that is to fix those journals' policy. A campaign to give selected things DOIs will never be enough to fix that problem -- there will always be something else out there that is cite-worthy but doesn't have a DOI. We already have a thing that serves that purpose: it's called a URL. We don't need to re-invent another URL thingy that's like a URL only not as universal and not as good. Anyway, even if this is a problem, I don't see that it's our problem to solve.

And the proposal is vague: if you were going to do it, what pages would receive a DOI? Every page? Every question? Each individual answer? Only those that someone specifically requests? And why does this need support from the Stack Exchange software? Why can't you just do it today?

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  • Thanks for the feedback. I don't think it is problem for Stack Exchange to solve per se. I view it as a way to make sure things on stack exchange and other "new mediums" of communication get academic credit and are preserved past the lifespan of The Winnower or even stack exchange. We are trying to provide traditional scholarly publishing tools to new emerging tech/communities. Here is how it was received at reddit reddit.com/r/science/comments/3finu8/… Github repos can also be assigned DOIs too. Why not SE? – Josh Sep 14 '15 at 16:43
  • @user305420, If you don't get a positive response here, the next thing you might try is to pick a specific science-oriented site (e.g., Physics.SE) and post on their Meta to see if they are interested in doing it for their site. – D.W. Sep 14 '15 at 16:45
  • Thanks! We are really only trying to empower this community and the content it produces. – Josh Sep 14 '15 at 16:47

I'm strongly against it. Stack Exchange is by no means an academic resource. Yes, there are some brilliant folks doing the answering, but the standards of proof and of reference are way below peer-reviewed articles. Yes, there are now DOIs to GitHub repos and whatnot, and I do understand the value of having a frozen linkable version of code for scientific publications to cite.

Yet the use case for DOIfication of SE content eludes me. SE (ideally) should be a living organism, not a frozen outdated archive because it (in principle) is targeted at practitioners, and practitioners don't need DOI - they need URLs and they get URLs from search engines.

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    Strongly disagree that it is not an academic resource. It is enormously beneficial to many academics and people across disciplines around the world. Why shouldn't it get basic tools that publications get and why shouldn't it count for an individuals career? SE is dynamic and that is great. We can harness the dynamic properties of SE threads and archival, thereby enhancing how people share knowledge. SE and other new media allow so much great interaction (like this). Let's make sure it is around for decades and let's incentivize people to use it. No? – Josh Sep 14 '15 at 17:55
  • @Josh do you DOIfy Wikipedia? – Deer Hunter Sep 14 '15 at 17:58
  • No. However, Wikipedia will use the DOIs to reference material such as reddit AMAs, blogs etc. DOIs are simply a persistent unique identifier and are the gold standard in scholarly publishing (they are not perfect). We are trying to evolve what scholarly publishing means by offering them to new/different forms of communication, which will undoubtedly increase as time goes on. It is very much a cultural signal as it is a technical one, but we think it can help evolve scholarly communication. – Josh Sep 14 '15 at 18:04

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