Q&A: Neliti Co-Founder Anton Lucanus - “We’re hoping this becomes the Wordpress for Digital Libraries”

Neliti is a fast-growing research service that aims to connect academics in Indonesia by aggregating research from universities around the archipelago.

Neliti currently distributes journals, reports, data and books from just over 500 universities in Indonesia, with the ambitious aim of digitising 95% of Indonesia’s library and journal collections. It has more than two million monthly users. Neliti is The Conversation Indonesia’s content partner, providing a list of selected new academic articles each month.

Neliti’s co-founder, Australian expatriate Anton Lucanus, a former biology researcher, spoke to The Conversation in Jakarta about the origins of the business, how he wants to engage with researchers and Indonesia, as well as the business’ future direction.

The Conversation Indonesia (TC): How did you start Neliti?

Anton Lucanus (Co-founder, Neliti) (AL): I was interning in Jakarta three years ago, in a molecular biology lab, and they were producing cool data on things like the rates of Japanese Encephalitis in West Java or the genome of the first ever case of Zika in Indonesia.

But a lot of this important data wasn’t made immediately available because to get that data out to the public you’ve got to go through the whole publication and peer-review process. It was getting released eight or nine months down the track. I thought this was an inefficient system and some of this data is very urgent – it needs to be released immediately.

I met my co-founder Andrew [Wrigley] while studying in Singapore, who had a similar passion for open access to scientific research and a background in computer science. Together we designed and built a beta version of Neliti as an open repository of Indonesian scientific research.

Neliti grew rapidly, a lot of institutions jumped on board, and we started adding more and more. They’re not just universities either; they’re NGO’s, think tanks, research institutes and government bodies.

TC: What are the main services you’re aiming to provide for those stakeholders?

Right now, we just index their content and make it publicly available for free, like a database. It is pretty simple. But we’re developing it into something more, and it’ll probably be ready within the next six months.

Let’s say you work for Universitas Indonesia. Currently, all end users can do is just read and download publications from Universitas Indonesia. But in the future, you, as the librarian of Universitas Indonesia, will be able to control this page. You can change the URL of Neliti to Universitas Indonesia’s. You can view analytics about who’s reading your papers, where they come from and so on.

You can upload your papers. You can change all the descriptive stuff, and eventually, you’ll be able to redesign this page, remove the Neliti logo and change the colours.

We’re hoping this becomes the Wordpress for digital libraries.

TC: And I guess it’s also to remove those barriers to access as well. Removing from it from a University library and putting it into to open data spaces where possible.

AL: One of the barriers of moving that from offline to online is that existing software and mechanisms to build an online library or journal are a little bit too complicated for laypeople, and they often have to pay web developers to build their journal websites.

Of the 4000 universities and 122,000 libraries in Indonesia, the majority of them are extremely low budget, and they can’t afford it, so they don’t even have a website for their institution, let alone their journals and libraries. Only an estimated 30% of Indonesia’s academic research is online.

So what we’re hoping to build is at the click of a button, users can log-in and create a library or a journal.

TC: You’ve talked about increasing the interactivity that universities can have with Neliti regarding customising and designing the landing page to suit their needs. Would you look to expand interactivity for individual researchers or academics within those universities or would that be a matter for each institute that signs up to customise the site?

AL: We’re primarily building Neliti for institutions, but eventually individual academics will be able to log on, claim their papers, comment and post reviews on other articles.

We’re aiming to completely “gamify” the entire peer-review process because it completely slows down academic publication. That’s the main bottleneck between submitting a paper and getting it published.

We’re aiming to design a peer review system where the paper gets published, and then there’s a “post-review” process, so people get points or pay people for reviews, to really involve the academic community.

TC: As an Australian with a longstanding involvement in Indonesia, what appealed to you about starting a business in Jakarta. It’s interesting that you’ve come to this as a medical researcher and now you’re developing a start-up.

AL: I think it’s just the enormity of the problem. If you ever try to find data on Indonesia, it’s so hard to find, and that’s because any data you want is probably not online. Even if it is online, it isn’t in one centralised database like the majority of Australian research is on Google Scholar or PubMed. When combined with Indonesia’s whopping number of libraries, universities and journals, this makes it extremely appealing.

It’s just such a crazy, big problem in Indonesia and I think Neliti can solve it.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and space.