RePEc celebrates 25 years and 4 million indexed items

May 12, 2022

25 years ago, on 12 May 1997, a meeting among a few economists and librarians laid the foundation for RePEc. Thomas Krichel describes this meeting in a recent RePEc blog post. As more research was starting to get shared on the web, it became infeasible to index all of it by hand. A new scheme was agreed on that, in essence, set rules for sharing metadata about research publications in economics. These rules still apply today, despite the tremendous growth that RePEc enjoyed. Over 2000 publishers maintain RePEc archives, carrying over 10,000 serials, including close to 4,000 journals. 25 years ago, no one was expecting that much.

Coincidentally, a few days ago RePEc surpassed 4 million indexed research items. The graph about shows the evolution of the number of research items. What is striking is that there is steady growth and that each additional million takes less time. Thus it is not that there was a big stash of research that was waiting to be tapped. Rather, the body of research evolved steadily with the popularity of RePEc. Its composition changed over time, though. The goal of RePEc was always to enhance the dissemination of research in economics, and early on the biggest need was for working papers (pre-prints) that did not enjoy the marketing or networking of commercial publishers. But soon the latter realized that they needed to participate in RePEc as well, as RePEc became the central point of dissemination in the field for big and small publishers. As all RePEc services are free for users, authors, and publishers, RePEc can thus democratize access to research.

Calling it a central point is kind of ironic, because RePEc is anything but centralized. The scheme relies on each publisher maintaining the relevant metadata on their own ftp or web site. The only central aspect of RePEc is a file directory containing pointers where those decentralized RePEc archives sit. All data is public, and other services can leverage it to disseminate economic research in any way they see fit. Now most dissemination services, not just those within the repec.org domain, use RePEc data one way or another. This makes RePEc an extremely efficient dissemination tool. It reaches a lot of users at minimal cost, as the publishers are in charge of hosting content and indexing. Even running a service using RePEc data is cheap, as the full-text content is still with the publishers. Various sponsors take care of the hosting costs or host themselves a few servers.

To make things right, there are still some non-monetary costs, though. A team of volunteers takes care of new RePEc archives, answers queries, monitors data quality, provides updates to participants, and maintains some important RePEc websites. For more details, see a short history of RePEc, instructions on how publishers participate in RePEc, and a list of RePEc archives, which are currently located in 103 countries.


RePEc in April 2022

May 6, 2022

Shortly before RePEc celebrates its 25th birthday, we have to deplore the closure of Socionet. It used to display RePEc data for Russian users but ran into legal issues. We welcomed a few new RePEc archives: Superintendence of Companies of Ecuador, Omsk Humanitarian Academy, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, Lodz University Press, Strategic Management Business Journal. We counted 493,485 file downloads and 1,888,113 abstract views. And we reached the following milestones:
125,000,000 cumulative downloads from reporting RePEc services
120,000,000 cumulative abstract views on EconPapers


Why is RePEc 25 years old?

May 5, 2022

I once read a quote that claimed that the reason why humanity has never reached its full potential, and never will reach it, are meetings. Interesting enough, RePEc was “made” at a meeting. That meeting took place on 12 May 1997. It is considered the birthday of RePEc. Now that is 25 years ago.

RePEc really started with the NetEc project. An account of February 1997 is in my note “About NetEc, with special Reference to WoPEc” at http://openlib.org/home/krichel/hisn.html. This gives a reasonable idea of the state of play before the meeting. In some ways that piece is an infomercial. It highlights the role that JISC funding played at that time.

What it does not mention are the the plans to build Swedish branch of WoPEc. The idea arose at a meeting in London where I met Frans Lettenström. He worked for Swedish Royal Library. I suggested they fund Sune Karlsson for a project to bud a Swedish economics working paper system.
On January 16 of 1997, Sune reported

“We had a meeting with our potential funders today and have reached a preliminary agreement on what to do. The idea is that we, as a pilot project, should get all the economics working paper series in Sweden on-line and into WoPEc.”

On March 1997, I received a cold email from Thomas W. Place of the library of Tilburg University. He was the technical lead for the DEGREE project. This project coordinated the publication of economics working papers by Dutch universities. I was aware of the project. I had tried to contact them on several occasions before, but never read from them. He proposed to furnish me data directly in the internal format used by WoPEc. This was an unprecedented act. As far as I can remember, until that point, Jose Manuel Barrueco Cruz (henceforth: JMBC) and I always has to take data from a provider and do conversions ourselves. But rather than accepting this offer with extreme enthusiasm it deserved, I wrote

“In the medium term I think we need to think over the whole structure of a distributed, mirrored archive system. I have already proposed that we use the list wopec-admin@mailbase to discuss a successor format to the WoPEc format. That would allow for administrative metadata, series descriptor, archive descriptions, permissions to mirror etc. This is longer term effort. I will publish some reflections soon.”

In fact, the email from Thomas W. Place gave me the impact to actually proceed in the direction outlined above. On 15 April I wrote to him

“My plan is to radically overhaul the structure of what we are doing, and I am writing a document that contains proposals for doing this. I have shown a draft to JMBC and he thinks it is very unclear at this stage … It is called the Guildford protocol.”

Thomas W. Place indicated he would be in London for a meeting on the May 13, so the 12 or 14 May would be good for him. Sune expressed a preference for 12 May. He used travel funds from the Swedish project and couched surfed at my flat in Martyr Court, Guildford. Sune arrived on the 8th at about 16:00. We went out for a walk to St. Martha’s Hill. On the hike, I popped the question to him. What did he think about my drafts? I was much relieved when he revealed that he thought they were reasonable.

The meeting as such was rather uneventful. The attendees were Corry Stuyts, who was the head of DEGREE, JMBC, Sune, Thomas, and myself. My office was too small and had too many computers in it, so we met in David Hawden’s office across the corridor. We basically set down and worked through the documents I had prepared. That’s all we did. We did not finish them. Thomas and Cory had to leave early. We went in great details through the two documents I had prepared. They are ReDIF specification and the Guildford protocol. Both documents are still the basis of RePEc. Sune contributed important corrections on May 16.

RePEc is a grass-roots initiative. Typically, grass-root initiatives take time to grow. Thus the precise start of such initiatives is not that easy to fix. The date of May 12, 1997 is generally accepted as the birthday of RePEc. But 25 years later, we need new directions. I have ideas but unfortunately, I am funded at this time to work on other business.


RePEc in March 2022

April 4, 2022

Over the past month, we counted 532,252 file downloads and 2,018,681 abstract views. We welcomed the following new RePEc archives: Institute of Economic Growth, International Association of Deposit Insurers, Pontifical Catholic University of Argentina, Pressburg Economic Centre Ltd, Libertas International University. And we reached:

3,600,000 items available online
2,000,000 articles with abstracts
70,000 book chapters available online


RePEc introduces NFT registration for academic papers

April 1, 2022

Every item (papers, article, etc.) in RePEc is identified by a unique and persistent handle, and has been for 25 years. Still, there is constant demand for additional persistent identifiers, see for example the introduction of the DOI. Yet, none of those identifiers clearly indicate who the owner of that item is. RePEc now introduces a way to take care of that by leveraging blockchain technology. A non-fungible token (NFT) is a non-interchangeable unit of data stored on a blockchain, a form of digital ledger (Wikipedia).

Authors can create a record on a blockchain (a NFT) for their, say, article, by specifying the relevant RePEc handle. Then, they can log into their profile in the RePEc Author Service and register the NFT with the corresponding item. For this purpose, a new NFT section was created on the site. They just need to find the work this token applies to, and add it through a menu.

Authors need to be aware of certain limitations, though:

  1. The RePEc registration is not a wallet. While the registered token is checked against its blockchain, it is not a proof of ownership. The author still needs a crypto wallet to store the token securely.
  2. Registration is on a first come first serve basis in the sense that if a co-author already registered a token for a RePEc handle, no other can be added.
  3. There are many blockchains and new ones are continually created. The RePEc form is populated with 50 popular blockchains, but one can add another one in free text.
  4. Keep in mind that having a token on one blockchain does not prevent somebody from obtaining a token for the same RePEc handle on another blockchain. Thus one needs to secure NFTs on several blockchains. One can register with RePEc the tokens from several blockchains for the same handle.
  5. Registered tokens are only for the RePEc handle. The actual full text is still with the relevant publisher, who keeps the appropriate rights.
  6. RePEc handles are created by the publishers indexing their works in RePEc. They are free to delete those handles.

If this does not make sense to you, don’t worry, it works.


RePEc in February 2022

March 7, 2022

New RePEc archives in February: Carleton College and Academic Publishing Group. We counted 432,263 file downloads and 1,649,255 abstract views. And finally, the milestones we reached:
8,000,000 cumulative book chapter abstract views
900,000 working paper with abstracts
64,000 registered authors
30,000 Covid-19 related research items


How RePEc publisher data gets disseminated

March 3, 2022

RePEc’s mission is about the dissemination of research in Economics. Publishers (commercial, non-profit, academic, or policy institutions) offer metadata about their publications and RePEc then “takes care of it.” How?

Basically, RePEc makes the data available, and then is it up on others to build user-facing services with that data. Some of those services collaborate with each other by enhancing the data and exchanging it among themselves. Those can be identified by being in the repec.org domain, like EconPapers, IDEAS, NEP, RePEc Author Service, etc. These in particular exchange usage data that allows to get a picture of how much RePEc data is used, through LogEc.

But there is more. RePEc data is leveraged by many other sites. While the resulting use and traffic is not reported, and we thus have no idea how much RePEc data is used there, these other sites are contributing to the research dissemination mission of RePEc. To take a few examples: Econlit and EBSCO use RePEc data for working papers, Google Scholar and ORCID got started with data dumps from RePEc. Some resort to scraping RePEc websites instead of using the original data (which is freely available), such as ResearchGate as well as a myriad of new sites targeted towards researchers.

In the end, this is what it is all about: a publisher indexes its publications in one spot, and from there it gets widely disseminated. This is what RePEc is all about.


RePEc in January 2022

February 9, 2022

With the new year, LogEc had to amend the method it uses to count legitimate human traffic on RePEc sites. Thus the 447,566 file downloads and 1,745,403 abstract views in counted during the last month cannot be compared to previous months. The change is described in a separate post. We also reached the following milestones

2,500,000 online journal articles
900,000 online working papers
80,000 NEP report issues


Methodological changes to LogEc data

February 7, 2022

LogEc is the RePEc project that consolidates usage statistics from several RePEc services. It provides publishers and authors some insight into how popular their works are with RePEc users. The participating RePEc services are EconPapers, IDEAS, NEP, and Socionet.

The idea of LogEc is to measure human traffic, not traffic from robots, spiders, or other manipulations. Typically, over 90% has been thrown away as not considered human, using a variety of controls, both scripted and manual. A continuous increase in robotic traffic has made it more and more difficult to handle the separation of good and bad use of the sites. In recent months, it has been especially worrisome that several DDOS attacks have taken place on some of the sites, leading to sub-optimal service from the servers, and an even larger share of robotic traffic. Note also that web scrapers do not need to get the RePEc data that way, as it is already freely available through various means described here.

In light of these problems and the workload on the volunteers they generate, we have changed the way legitimate traffic is counted. The new approach leads to lower final numbers that, while likely eliminating some legitimate human traffic, gives a better picture of human traffic. The approach is used uniformly across all the data, thus we do not believe this introduces any bias. But one consequence dear to any of users familiar to time series: From January 2022, the numbers will not be comparable to the numbers until December 2021.


Link to a RePEc page, not directly to the full text

February 5, 2022

Say you mention economic research in an online essay, social media, or your web page. You want to provide a link to that research. We want to argue that you should not link to the full text (pdf file or even publisher abstract page), but rather to the abstract page on a RePEc service such as EconPapers or IDEAS. Here is why.

RePEc URLs are stable. Publishers may reorganize their website or change URLs. In some cases the URL you see is personalized and invalid for other users. But RePEc URLs almost never change, and in the very rare cases where they do, a redirection is present. Thus, you do not need to verify that the link is still valid in the future.

RePEc offers alternative versions. Say you link to a journal article that is behind a paywall that your readers cannot pass. Often RePEc proposes alternative versions such as working papers that may not be the final version, but at least your readers have something to use. Or if you link to a working paper, RePEc will offer a link to the corresponding journal article once it is published.

RePEc offers context. A RePEc abstract page offer additional links to the author profiles, cited works, works citing that research (with a count to show impact), and more. While some publishers also offer such context, it is limited to their own publications. RePEc encompasses all of economics.