A new revolutionary workflow for a unified collection of citations: say hello to the OpenCitations Index

Blog post by Ivan Heibi (University of Bologna), Arianna Moretti (University of Bologna) and Chiara Di Giambattista (University of Bologna).

In the past five years, the OpenCitations data has been enriched with numerous new indexes of open citation data from different sources. However, the quantity and diversification of the ingested information have raised several issues, which recently made it essential to conduct a complete revision of the ingestion workflow. The result was a revolution in the way OpenCitations data is delivered. In this blog post, we will explain the context and challenges raised by the old procedure. Then, we will present the new ingestion workflow, designed to produce just two comprehensive collections: OpenCitations Index, collecting open citation data, and OpenCitations Meta, for the open bibliographical metadata. 

Once upon a time, there were five OpenCitations indexes…

In 2018, OpenCitations released the kickoff version of its first citation index, COCI (citations from Crossref), which contained around 300 million citation links derived from the subset of the reference lists in the Crossref database, where citing and cited entities were identified using Digital Object Identifiers (DOIs). COCI gathered citations with associated metadata in compliance with the recommendations from the Initiative for Open Citations (I4OC) that citation data should be structured, separable, and open, thus marking a turning point by providing a disruptive and free and open alternative to earlier sources such as Google Scholar, which provided freely accessible data although not downloadable, and Web of Science or Scopus, which demanded paid access. 

In a short time, COCI became a competitive and trusted index of citation data, used by numerous institutional repositories, including B!son and Optimeta. In 2021, COCI was taken into account in a comparative study with the most relevant sources in the landscape, including the proprietary ones, which showed its coverage approaching parity with those of the other sources involved in the analysis (Microsoft Academic, Scopus, Dimensions, and Web of Science). At the time of its most recent update in January 2023, COCI counted more than 1.4 billion citations. The reason behind this outstanding number lies in several factors, including Elsevier’s endorsement of the Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA) in December 2020, leading to the open release via Crossref of the reference lists of the articles published in all its journals, and confirming the value of initiatives such as the Initiative for Open Citations (I4OC)

However, before this change of heart, in 2019 OpenCitations had tried to narrow the open citations coverage gap by launching its second index, the Crowdsourced Open Citations Index (CROCI). This index allowed publishers and scholars to contribute directly by uploading crowdsourced open citations into the OpenCitations infrastructure.

In December 2022, a new concrete step towards a factual plurality of OpenCitations indexes was taken by the ingestion of new data sources into the infrastructure, with the publication of the inaugural dumps of DOCI (citations from DataCite) and POCI (citations from PubMed). In June 2023, the first version of the OROCI (citations from OpenAIRE) dump was released too, and JOCI (citations from JALC) is expected to be available by the end of November 2023, for a total of five collections from different sources. 

Why a new workflow? The issues with multiple sources management and new challenges

While having such a variety and richness of indexes helped present the extent of OpenCitations sources, the recent increment in the number of sources and the diversification of data integrated led to two primary issues:

    1. the necessity to handle the ingestion of new identifier types in a DOI-based software infrastructure, and
    2. the consequent possibility of encountering the same citation expressed by several sources with different identifiers.

Moreover, it soon became evident the need to optimize the reuse of the already developed software components to facilitate the metadata crosswalk processes between the new sources’ data models and the OpenCitations Data Model, with the aim to define a functional and easily extendable workflow to be easily reused when it comes to incorporating new data sources, which should be: 

    1. sufficiently generic to establish a globally unique procedure; 
    2. customizable enough to capture the necessary information within each of the specific data models and formats. 

As a solution, we decided to use OpenCitations Meta, the new OpenCitations database and tool for managing bibliographic data related to the publications involved in the citations. OpenCitations Meta makes it possible to assign each entity involved in a citation an internal identifier, nominally the OpenCitations Meta Identifier (OMID), to which all the associated persistent identifiers of the same publication are redirected.

As a result, the allocation of an OMID for each bibliographic resource also enabled the unambiguous identification of each citation, regardless of the persistent identifier schema originally used by the data source to identify the resources. This approach allowed us to perform data deduplication and finally make all the sources’ contributions converge into a unified index containing all the unique citations managed by OpenCitations, expressed as OMID to OMID citation links.

The revised workflow

The new workflow is based on three main components with the benefit of optimizing the process both in terms of computational cost and in terms of flexibility. As shown in Fig. 1, in a preliminary step, source-specific software converts the input dataset – structured according to the source data model – to extract two OpenCitations Data Model compliant data collections in tabular format for bibliographic metadata and citation data, respectively.

The following steps are common to the process of each dataset.  

STEP 1: The bibliographic metadata collection is used as input for the META software. At this stage, it is checked whether or not the bibliographic entities have been previously integrated into our infrastructure (coming from other data sources). If so, the existing OMID is linked also to the new alternative identifiers of the new bibliographic resources. New metadata values, if any, are also integrated. A new OMID identifier is produced for entities never previously encountered, uniquely representing the bibliographic resource in OpenCitations. The outputs of the process are: (I) an updated version of the OpenCitations Meta collection that also includes the metadata of the bibliographic entities provided by the new source, and (II) a collection of provenance data. An internal database is constantly refreshed to preserve correspondence between IDs and the associated internal OMIDs.

STEP 2: Starting from the collection of citations expressed as directional links between identifiers of potentially any type (e.g., DOI-DOI, PMID-PMID, PMC-PMID, etc.), the INDEX software queries the internal database mapping IDs to OMIDs to produce an updated version of the OpenCitations Index: unique citations expressed as OMID-OMID links in different formats, accompanied by their corresponding provenance data.

Fig. 1: An overview of the data ingestion workflow, starting from the data source-specific conversion and production of citations and bibliographic metadata tables, progressing through the META process and the assignation of an OMID identifier to each bibliographic record involved in a citation, and culminating with the exposition of the OpenCitations Index collection of OMID-OMID unique citations.

What we have now: The OpenCitations Index 

From now on, OpenCitations will no longer display an index of citation data for each source. Instead, we will publish a single collection of citations into which the contributions from each of the sources will flow, which we will simply call ‘The OpenCitations Index‘. The first version of this unified index of OMID-OMID citations is posted on Figshare. It was produced in RDF, CSV, and SCHOLIX formats, together with a collection of its provenance information, provided in RDF and CSV formats. For each citation, it is possible to trace the source of the information by consulting the Provenance data collection, thanks to the http://www.w3.org/ns/prov#atLocation property, which defines the location of each citation.

This new solution has the benefit of simplifying the consultation of the data maintained by our infrastructure without reducing the information content. In addition, by including efficient handling of the deduplication problem, the new Index not only provides accurate data on the exact number of unique citations exposed by the framework but also verifies the individual contribution of each source, as well as their overlapping data (Fig. 2).

Fig. 2: An overview of the number of citations stored in the OpenCitations Index as of October 31, 2023. The diagonal cells in the table (highlighted in yellow) show the unique contribution of each collection to the OpenCitations Index, while the other cells represent the citations that are shared between the collections. More in detail, the green cells show the overall input of each source, while the pink cells represent the number of overlapping citations between two data sources.

Currently, the Index contains almost 2 billion unique citations. By the end of November, a new version of the collection will be published, including the contribution of the new Japan Link Centre (JaLC) source. 

How to access the OpenCitations Index data

To maximize the reuse of the exposed information and to ensure the greatest possible interoperability, the collection will always be published on Figshare in all formats listed above. In addition, the data will be accessible via an API, a SPARQL endpoint, and a web interface.

The redesign of the ingestion workflow marks a fundamental step for OpenCitations towards a more intuitive and simple access to our services while always preserving and improving the quality of our data. If you need further information on how the new workflow works, please visit our website, contact us at contact@opencitations.net  or leave feedback and/or suggestions in the dedicated card on our public roadmap to help us improve our services and communications. Thank you!

Cite this article as: Chiara Di Giambattista, "A new revolutionary workflow for a unified collection of citations: say hello to the OpenCitations Index," in OpenCitations blog, 27/11/2023, https://opencitations.hypotheses.org/3499.

OpenCitations needs you: support the change in research practices

In OpenCitations, we like to define our infrastructure organization as “community-based” and “community-driven”, and we really mean it. The support coming from the number of academic libraries and consortia coming after OpenCitations’ involvement in the 2nd SCOSS funding cycle has made it possible, starting from 2020, to make OpenCitations develop from a small university project based on time-limited grant incomes to being an open infrastructure globally recognized for the provision of open citation data and bibliographical metadata. We want to thank all our members and donors, for trusting our mission and sustaining OpenCitations activities with their continuous and generous support, despite the pandemic and post-pandemic times. 

While retracing our work in the last three years, we are astonished by the achievements our team has accomplished, and by how in such a limited time frame OpenCitations has approached David Shotton’s initial vision (who is one of the co-directors of OpenCitations), when he first shaped the project back in 2010. Here are just some of the technical developments that have marked the last years:

  • in 2021, COCI, the OpenCitations Index of Crossref open DOI-to-DOI citations crossed the threshold of one billion citations stored;
  • in 2022, we released the two new OpenCitations indexes of open citations, DOCI (citations from DataCite) and POCI (citations from PubMed);
  • we expanded our collection besides the citation data by releasing OpenCitations Meta, a database storing and delivering bibliographic metadata for all the publications in the OpenCitations Indexes, including the publication’s title, type, venue (e.g. journal name), volume number, issue number, page numbers, publication date, identifiers and details of the main actors involved in the document’s publication (the names of the authors, editors, and publishers); 
  • as of October 2023, OpenCitations Indexes contain information on 1.82 billion unique open citations. 

However, the most significant achievements for OpenCiations in the last years have been the creation of a prolific network of collaborations with other Open Science projects, such as OpenAIRE-Nexus, RISIS2 and GraspOS, and the establishment of a structured team, involving young researchers and PhD students, whose work at the University of Bologna has made it possible to work on the technical developments day by day. 

Our results are a strong indicator of the growing sensibility on the theme of the open provision of bibliographical metadata and citation data, of which Open Citations is at the forefront as a founding member of the Initiative for Open Citations (I4OC) and the Initiative for Open Abstracts (I4OA). The effort and awareness campaigns led by these initiatives, by DORA and the Open Science community as a whole, have led more and more publishers to a change of heart and to open their reference lists. OpenCitations is an integral part of an ongoing process of transformation of the research environment, and we have collected and interpreted some of the needs of the academic community to plan our future activities and developments. We still need your help and support to make it possible to maintain and improve our infrastructure and to sustain the team working at OpenCitations

If you believe in

  • the importance of open bibliographic data for the creation of reproducible metrics for research assessment exercises
  • the power of the scholarly community to change existing practice by reclaiming ownership of its own data– and you want to become an active part of this change

please consider supporting OpenCitations either via membership or donation. You can find all the information on membership on our website at https://opencitations.net/membership, or you can ask for information by contacting us at membership@opencitations.net

Together, we can work to create an open and inclusive future for science and research. 

Thank You!

Cite this article as: Chiara Di Giambattista, "OpenCitations needs you: support the change in research practices," in OpenCitations blog, 17/10/2023, https://opencitations.hypotheses.org/3488.

OpenCitations’ 2022: one year, numerous outcomes

2023 has arrived, and it’s the time to put aside the old agendas and to fill the freshly printed organizers with new tasks. However, it is also worth looking back over the achievements of the past year.

So, before consigning 2022 to the archives, we want to take a moment to recall and celebrate all that OpenCitations has achieved over the past year, in terms of technical developments, community building, and our own internal organization.

Clarifying our objectives

Since its foundation, OpenCitations has been presented to the scholarly community as a infrastructure organization guided by the values of openness, equity and accessibility. In 2022, we publicly clarified our mission, our aims and our unique points by publishing these three documents:

In addition, we continued to monitor OpenCitations’ compliance with the Principles of Open Scholarly Infrastructure. Because one area in which we were still falling short involved stakeholder involvement in OpenCitations’ governance, in 2022 OpenCitations started reflecting on its organizational structure by creating a Governance Evolution Working Group. In addition, we explored the further development of our stakeholder community by establishing a parallel Community Building Working Group. These two small working groups, involving members of the OpenCitations International Advisory Board, will continue to meet throughout 2023 to develop strategic plans concerning OpenCitations open governance structure and outreach.

More people, more tools

In 2022, OpenCitations welcomed two new full-time developers to its team: Arianna Moretti as software developer, and Ivan Heibi as the person responsible for OpenCitations’ technical infrastructure. As of January 2023, the OpenCitations team consists of our two directors Silvio Peroni and David Shotton, our administrator and research manager Claudio Fabbri, myself as our communications director and community development manager, and our four developers: Giuseppe Grieco (software and systems developer), Arcangelo Massari (developer of OpenCitations Meta), Arianna Moretti (software and indexes developer), and Ivan Heibi (technical infrastructure manager). This team meets weekly at the Research Centre for Open Scholarly Metadata within the University of Bologna.

This enlarged technical workforce has been crucial in the development of the two new OpenCitations indexes, DOCI (citations from DataCite) and POCI (citations from PubMed), and our new database of bibliographic metadata, OpenCitations Meta, all of which were released in December 2022:

  • DOCI, the OpenCitations Index of DataCite open DOI-to-DOI citations, is an RDF dataset containing details of all the citations that are specified in the most recent dump of DataCite metadata. The citations available in DOCI are treated as first-class data entities, with accompanying properties including the citations timespan, modelled according to the OpenCitations Data Model. Its first release (December 2022) contains information on 169,822,752 citations from 358,277 bibliographic resources.
  • POCI, the OpenCitations Index of PubMed open PMID-to-PMID citations, is an RDF dataset containing details of all the citations from publications bearing PubMed Identifiers (PMIDs) to other PMID-identified publications, harvested from the National Institutes of Health Open Citations Collection (NIH-OCC). As for DOCI, the citations available in POCI are treated as first-class data entities, with accompanying properties including the citations timespan, modelled according to the OpenCitations Data Model. Its first release contains 717,654,703 citations from 26,024,862 bibliographic resources.
  • OpenCitations Meta database stores and delivers bibliographic metadata for all the publications involved as citing or cited publications in the citations recorded in the OpenCitations Indexes. For each publication, the metadata exposed by OpenCitations Meta includes the publication’s title, type, venue (e.g. journal name), volume number, issue number, page numbers, publication date, and identifiers such as Digital Object Identifiers (DOIs) and PubMed Identifiers (PMIDs). In addition, OpenCitations Meta includes details of the main actors involved in the document’s publication, i.e., the names of the authors, editors, and publishers, each with its own additional metadata and identifier (e.g. ORCID). Its first release (December 2022) contains information on 87,321,593 bibliographic entities, 277,750,235 authors and 2,359,301 editors (counted by their roles, without disambiguating individuals), 710,226 publication venues, and 17,268 publishers.

As can be seen on OpenCitations roadmap, we have many tasks already scheduled for 2023, and for this reason OpenCitations team needs to expand further: we now seek applicants for a new Research Fellow position to work on the further development of the OpenCitations technical infrastructure from April 2023.

Our role in the community

Throughout 2022, the OpenCitations team has participated both online and in person in a number of international events, presenting details of OpenCitations to potential stakeholders and to Open Science experts, and connecting with similar organizations.

In October, OpenCitations organized our third workshop, the Workshop on Open Citations and Open Scholarly Metadata 2023, as a three-hour online event, to gather together and connect researchers, publishers and policy makers interested in the creation, reuse and improvement of open citation data and open scholarly metadata. The invited speakers provided a broad overview of the current state and future development of open bibliographic metadata and the scholarly record, and the role of OpenCitations in research assessment.

We have participated in two major European research and development project: In the context of the EC-funded project RISIS2 we released the new database OpenCitations Meta and the index DOCI, while within the OpenAIRE-Nexus project network we continue to provide open bibliographic citations as part of the open data components of OpenAIRE and the European Open Science Cloud. During 2022, the OpenAIRE team supported our activities in many areas, with a particular attention to communication and dissemination, as we explained in our blog post OpenCitations and EC funding: OpenAIRE Nexus and RISIS2.

The end of 2022 brought with it two new exciting collaborations that will be developed during the coming year: the inclusion of OpenCitations in the Jisc Collections, thereby permitting UK institutions to support OpenCitations through JISC; and our involvement in the GraspOS project (starting date January 1, 2023) as an open and trusted federated infrastructure for next-generation research metrics and indicators.

Continuing support

At OpenCitations we are deeply grateful to all our members and donors that have supported us financially so far, thus making it possible to enlarge our team, maintain our technical infrastructure, and work on our new data releases.

Much of our success has been due to our selection as an infrastructure worthy for inclusion in the SCOSS second pledging round in 2019. SCOSS helped us get in touch with a wider community, and enabled OpenCitations to have an increasingly significant role in the research environment. OpenCitations is now part of the SCOSS family, the community of all SCOSS-supported infrastructures, that provides a framework of mutual support for the the Infrastructures during their growth and a safety net should troubles occur along the path.

However, OpenCitations still has a long way to go along the path from being a sustainable open infrastructure to becoming a sustained open infrastructure providing reliable and invaluable services to our global stakeholder community. There are still many long-planned activities that we hope to initiate in the near future, given sufficient resources. This is why OpenCitations requires ongoing support from the scholarly community as our three-year period of SCOSS sponsorship draws to a close. All the information you may require to start helping us financially is available on the OpenCitations website: https://opencitations.net/membership.

2023 has just started. With your support, you can help us in making it an impactful year for OpenCitations and the Open Science community as a whole.

Cite this article as: Chiara Di Giambattista, "OpenCitations’ 2022: one year, numerous outcomes," in OpenCitations blog, 28/01/2023, https://opencitations.hypotheses.org/3320.

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