Regional content expansion in Web of Science®: opening borders to exploration

jim-testaEditor’s note: this guest entry was written by James Testa, Senior Director, Editorial Development & Publisher Relations, Thomson Reuters. It was originally published on an internal Thomson Reuters website. James Testa (pictured to the left) joined Thomson Reuters (then ISI) in 1983. From 1983 through 1996 he managed the Publisher Relations Department and was directly responsible for building and maintaining working relations with the over three thousand international scholarly publishers whose journals are indexed by Thomson Reuters.  In 1996 Mr. Testa was appointed the Director of Editorial Development. In this position he directed a staff of information professionals in the evaluation and selection of journals and other publication formats for coverage in the various Thomson Reuters products. In 2007 he was named Senior Director, Editorial Development & Publisher Relations.  In this combined role he continues to build content for Thomson Reuters products and work to increase efficiency in communication with the international STM publishing community. He is a member of the American Society of Information Science and Technology (ASIST) and has spoken frequently on behalf of Thomson Reuters in the Asia Pacific region, South America, and Europe.

Our thanks also go to Susan Besaw of Thomson Reuters for facilitating access to the essay. This guest entry ties in to one of our earlier entries on this topic (‘Thomson Reuters, China, and ‘regional’ journals: of gifts and knowledge production’), as well as a fascinating new entry (‘The Canadian Center of Science and Education and Academic Nationalism’) posted on the consistently excellent Scott Sommers’ Taiwan Blog.

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thomsonreuterslogoThomson Reuters extends the power of its Journal Selection Process by focusing on the world’s best regional journals. The goal of this initiative is to enrich the collection of important and influential international journals now covered in Web of Science with a number of superbly produced journals whose content is of specific regional importance.

Since its inception nearly fifty years ago by Eugene Garfield, PhD, the primary goal of the Journal Selection Process has been to identify those journals which formed the core literature of the sciences, social sciences, and arts & humanities. These journals publish the bulk of scholarly research, receive the most citations from the surrounding literature, and have the highest citation impact of all journals published today. The journals selected for the Web of Science are, in essence, the scholarly publications that meet the broadest research needs of the international community of researchers. They have been selected on the basis of their high publishing standards, their editorial content, the international diversity of their contributing authors and editorial board members, and on their relative citation frequency and impact. International journals selected for the Web of Science define the very highest standards in the world of scholarly publishing.

In recent years, however, the user community of the Web of Science has expanded gradually from what was once a concentration of major universities and research facilities in the United States and Western Europe to an internationally diverse group including virtually all major universities and research centers in every region of the world. Where once the Thomson Reuters sales force was concentrated in Philadelphia and London, local staff are now committed to the service of customers at offices in Japan, Singapore, Australia, Brazil, China, France, Germany, Taiwan, India, and South Korea.

webofknowledgeAs the global distribution of Web of Science expands into virtually every region on earth, the importance of regional scholarship to our emerging regional user community also grows. Our approach to regional scholarship effectively extends the scope of the Thomson Reuters Journal Selection Process beyond the collection of the great international journal literature: it now moves into the realm of the regional journal literature. Its renewed purpose is to identify, evaluate, and select those scholarly journals that target a regional rather than an international audience. Bringing the best of these regional titles into the Web of Science will illuminate regional studies that would otherwise not have been visible to the broader international community of researchers.

In the Fall of 2006, the Editorial Development Department of Thomson Reuters began this monumental task. Under the direction of Maureen Handel, Manager of Journal Selection, the team of subject editors compiled a list of over 10,000 scholarly publications representing all areas of science, social science, the arts, and humanities. Over the next twelve months the team was able to select 700 regional journals for coverage in the Web of Science.

The Web of Science Regional Journal Profile

These regional journals are typically published outside the US or UK. Their content often centers on topics of regional interest or that are presented with a regional perspective. Authors may be largely from the region rather than an internationally diverse group. Bibliographic information is in English with the exception of some arts and humanities publications that are by definition in native language (e.g. literature studies). Cited references must be in the Roman alphabet. All journals selected are publishing on time and are formally peer reviewed. Citation analysis may be applied but the real importance of the regional journal is measured by the specificity of its content rather than its citation impact.

Subject Areas and Their Characteristics

These first 700 journals selected in 2007 included 161 Social Science titles, 148 Clinical Medicine titles, 108 Agriculture/Biology/Environmental Science titles, 95 Physics/Chemistry/Earth Science titles, 89 Engineering/Computing/Technology titles, 61 Arts/Humanities titles, and 38 Life Sciences titles. The editors’ exploration of each subject area surfaced hidden treasure.

Social Sciences:
The European Union and Asia Pacific regions yielded over 140 social science titles. Subject areas such as business, economics, management, and education have been enriched with regional coverage. Several fine law journals have been selected and will provide balance in an area normally dominated by US journals. Because of the characteristically regional nature of many studies in the social sciences, this area will provide a rich source of coverage that would otherwise not be available to the broader international community.

Clinical Medicine:
Several regional journals dealing with General Medicine, Cardiology, and Orthopedics have been selected. Latin America, Asia Pacific, and European Union are all well represented here. Research in Surgery is a growing area in regional journals. Robotic and other novel surgical technology is no longer limited to the developed nations but now originates in China and India as well and has potential use internationally.

The spread of diseases such as bird flu and SARS eastward and westward from Southeast Asia is a high interest topic regionally and internationally. In some cases host countries develop defensive practices and, if enough time elapses, vaccines. Regional studies on these critical subjects will now be available in Web of Science.

Agriculture/Biology/Environmental Sciences:
Many of the selected regional titles in this area include new or endemic taxa of interest globally. Likewise regional agriculture or environmental issues are now known to result in global consequences. Many titles are devoted to niche topics such as polar/tundra environment issues, or tropical agronomy. Desertification has heightened the value of literature from central Asian countries. Iranian journals report voluminously on the use of native, desert tolerant plants and animals that may soon be in demand by desertification threatened countries.

Physics/Chemistry/Earth Sciences:
Regional journals focused on various aspects of Earth Science are now available in Web of Science. These include titles focused on geology, geography, oceanography, meteorology, climatology, paleontology, remote sensing, and geomorphology. Again, the inherently regional nature of these studies provides a unique view of the subject and brings forward studies heretofore hidden.

Engineering/Computing/Technology:
Engineering is a subject of global interest. Regional Journals in this area typically present subject matter as researched by regional authors for their local audience. Civil and Mechanical Engineering studies are well represented, providing solutions to engineering problems arising from local geological, social, environmental, climatological, or economic factors.

Arts & Humanities:
The already deep coverage of Arts & Humanities in Web of Science is now enhanced by additional regional publications focused on such subjects as History, Linguistics, Archaeology, and Religion. Journals from countries in the European Union, Latin American, Africa, and Asia Pacific regions are included.

Life Sciences:
Life Sciences subject areas lending themselves to regional studies include parasitology, micro-biology, and pharmacology. A specific example of valuable regional activity is stem cell research. The illegality of stem cell studies in an increasing number of developed countries has moved the research to various Asian countries where it is of great interest inside and outside of the region.

Conclusion

The primary mission of the Journal Selection Process is to identify, evaluate and select the top tier international and regional journals for coverage in the Web of Science. These are the journals that have the greatest potential to advance research on a given topic. In the pursuit of this goal Thomson Reuters has partnered with many publishers and societies worldwide in the development of their publications. As an important by-product of the steady application of the Journal Selection Process, Thomson Reuters is actively involved in raising the level of research communication as presented in journals. The objective standards described in the Journal Selection Process will now be focused directly on a new and expansive body of literature. Our hope, therefore, is not only to enrich the editorial content of Web of Science, but also to expand relations with the world’s primary publishers in the achievement of our mutual goal: more effective communication of scientific results to the communities we serve.

James Testa

Author’s note: This essay was compiled by James Testa, Senior Director, Editorial Development & Publisher Relations. Special thanks to Editorial Development staff members Maureen Handel, Mariana Boletta, Rodney Chonka, Lauren Gala, Anne Marie Hinds, Katherine Junkins-Baumgartner, Chang Liu, Kathleen Michael, Luisa Rojo, and, Nancy Thornton for their critical reading and comments.

Multi-scalar governance technologies vs recurring revenue: the dual logics of the rankings phenomenon

Our most recent entry (‘University Systems Ranking (USR)’: an alternative ranking framework from EU think-tank‘) is getting heavy traffic these days, a sign that the rankings phenomenon just won’t go away.  Indeed there is every sign that debates about rankings will be heating up over the next 1-2 year in particular, courtesy of the desire of stakeholders to better understand rankings, generate ‘recurring revenue’ off of rankings, and provide new governance technologies to restructure higher education and research systems.

This said I continue to be struck, as I travel to selective parts of the world for work, by the diversity of scalar emphases at play.

eiffeleu1In France, for example, the broad discourse about rankings elevates the importance of the national (i.e., French) and regional (i.e., European) scales, and only then does the university scale (which I will refer to as the institutional scale in this entry) come into play in importance terms. This situation reflects the strong role of the national state in governing and funding France’s higher education system, and France’s role in European development debates (including, at the moment, presidency of the Council of the European Union).

In UK it is the disciplinary/field and then the institutional scales that matter most, with the institutional made up of a long list of ranked disciplines/fields. Once the new Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) comes out in late 2008 we will see the institutional assess the position of each of their disciplines/fields, which will then lead to more support or relatively rapid allocation of the hatchet at the disciplinary/field level. This is in part because much national government funding (via the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), the Scottish Funding Council (SFC), the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW) and the Department for Employment and Learning, Northern Ireland (DEL)) to each university is structurally dependent upon the relative rankings of each university’s position in the RAE, which is the aggregate effect of the position of the array of fields/disciplines in any one university (see this list from the University of Manchester for an example). The UK is, of course, concerned about its relative place in the two main global ranking schemes, but it doing well at the moment so the scale of concern is of a lower order than most other countries (including all other European countries). Credit rating agencies also assess and factor in rankings with respect to UK universities (e.g. see ‘Passing judgment’: the role of credit rating agencies in the global governance of UK universities‘).

In the US – supposedly the most marketized of contexts – there is highly variably concern with rankings.  Disciplines/fields ranked by media outlets like U.S. News & World Report are concerned, to be sure, but U.S. News & World Report does not allocate funding. Even the National Research Council (NRC) rankings matter less in the USA given that its effects (assuming it eventually comes out following multiple delays) are more diffuse. The NRC rankings are taken note of by deans and other senior administrators, and also faculty, albeit selectively. Again, there is no higher education system in the US – there are systems. I’ve worked in Singapore, England and the US as a faculty member and the US is by far the least addled or concerned by ranking systems, for good and for bad.

While the diversity of ranking dispositions at the national and institutional levels is heterogeneous in nature, the global rankings landscape is continuing to change, and quickly. In the remainder of this entry we’ll profile but two dimensions of the changes.

Anglo-American media networks and recurrent revenue

ustheFirst, new key media networks, largely Anglo-American private sector networks, have become intertwined.  As Inside Higher Ed put it on 24 November:

U.S. News & World Report on Friday announced a new, worldwide set of university rankings — which is really a repackaging of the international rankings produced this year in the Times Higher Education-QS World University Rankings. In some cases, U.S. News is arranging the rankings in different ways, but Robert Morse, director of rankings at the magazine, said that all data and the methodology were straight from the Times Higher’s rankings project, which is affiliated with the British publication about higher education. Asked if his magazine was just paying for reprint rights, Morse declined to discuss financial arrangements. But he said that it made sense for the magazine to look beyond the United States. “There is worldwide competition for the best faculty, best students and best research grants and researchers,” he said. He also said that, in the future, U.S. News may be involved in the methodology. Lloyd Thacker, founder of the Education Conservancy and a leading critic of U.S. News rankings, said of the magazine’s latest project: “The expansion of a business model that has profited at the expense of education is not surprising. This could challenge leaders to distinguish American higher education by providing better indicators of quality and by helping us think beyond ranking.”

This is an unexpected initiative, in some ways, given that the Times Higher Education-QS World University Rankings are already available on line and US New and World Report is simply repackaging these for sale in the American market. Yet if you adopt a market-making perspective this joint venture makes perfect sense. Annual versions of the Times Higher Education-QS World University Rankings will be reprinted in a familiar (to US readers) format, thereby enabling London-based TSL Education Ltd., London/Paris/Singapore-based QS Quacquarelli Symonds, and Washington DC-based U.S. News and World Report to generate recurring revenue with little new effort (apart from repackaging and distribution in the US). The enabling mechanism is, in this case, reprint rights fees. As we have noted before, this is a niche industry in formation, indeed.

More European angst and action

And second, at the regional level, European angst (an issue we profiled on 6 July in ‘Euro angsts, insights and actions regarding global university ranking schemes‘) about the nature and impact of rankings is leading to the production of critical reports on rankings methodologies, the sponsorship of high powered multi-stakeholder workshops, and the emergence of new proposals for European ranking schemes.

ecjrccoverSee, for example, this newly released report on rankings titled Higher Education Rankings: Robustness Issues and Critical Assessment, which is published by the European Commission Joint Research Centre, Institute for the Protection and Security of the Citizen, Centre for Research on Lifelong Learning (CRELL)

The press release is here, and a detailed abstract of the report is below:

The Academic Ranking of World Universities carried out annually by the Shanghai’s Jiao Tong University (mostly known as the ‘Shanghai ranking’) has become, beyond the intention of its developers, a reference for scholars and policy makers in the field of higher education. For example Aghion and co-workers at the Bruegel think tank use the index – together with other data collected by Bruegel researchers – for analysis of how to reform Europe’s universities, while French President Sarkozy has stressed the need for French universities to consolidate in order to promote their ranking under Jiao Tong. Given the political importance of this field the preparation of a new university ranking system is being considered by the French ministry of education.

The questions addressed in the present analysis is whether the Jiao Tong ranking serves the purposes it is used for, and whether its immediate European alternative, the British THES, can do better.

Robustness analysis of the Jiao Tong and THES ranking carried out by JRC researchers, and of an ad hoc created Jiao Tong-THES hybrid, shows that both measures fail when it comes to assessing Europe’s universities. Jiao Tong is only robust in the identification of the top performers, on either side of the Atlantic, but quite unreliable on the ordering of all other institutes. Furthermore Jiao Tong focuses only on the research performance of universities, and hence is based on the strong assumption that research is a universal proxy for education. THES is a step in the right direction in that it includes some measure of education quality, but is otherwise fragile in its ranking, undeniably biased towards British institutes and somehow inconsistent in the relation between subjective variables (from surveys) and objective data (e.g. citations).

JRC analysis is based on 88 universities for which both the THES and Jiao Tong rank were available. European universities covered by the present study thus constitute only about 0.5% of the population of Europe’s universities. Yet the fact that we are unable to reliably rank even the best European universities (apart from the 5 at the top) is a strong call for a better system, whose need is made acute by today’s policy focus on the reform of higher education. For most European students, teachers or researchers not even the Shanghai ranking – taken at face value and leaving aside the reservations raised in the present study – would tell which university is best in their own country. This is a problem for Europe, committed to make its education more comparable, its students more mobile and its researchers part of a European Research Area.

Various attempts in EU countries to address the issue of assessing higher education performance are briefly reviewed in the present study, which offers elements of analysis of which measurement problem could be addressed at the EU scale. [my emphasis]

While ostensibly “European”, does it really matter that the Times Higher Education-QS World University Ranking is produced by firms with European headquarters, while the Jiao Tong ranking is produced by an institution based in China?

The divergent logics underlying the production of discourses about rankings are also clearly visible in two related statements. At the bottom of the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre report summarized above we see “Reproduction is authorised provided the source is acknowledged”, while the Times Higher Education-QS World University Rankings, a market-making discourse, is accompanied by a lengthy copyright warning that can be viewed here.

Yet do not, for a minute, think that ‘Europe’ does not want to be ranked, or use rankings, as much if not more than any Asian or American or Australian institution. At a disciplinary/field level, for example, debates are quickly unfolding about the European Reference Index for the Humanities (ERIH), a European Science Foundation (ESF) backed initiative that has its origins in deliberations about the role of the humanities in the European Research Area. The ESF frames it this way:

Humanities research in Europe is multifaceted and rich in lively national, linguistic and intellectual traditions. Much of Europe’s Humanities scholarship is known to be first rate. However, there are specifities of Humanities research, that can make it difficult to assess and compare with other sciences. Also,  it is not possible to accurately apply to the Humanities assessment tools used to evaluate other types of research. As the transnational mobility of researchers continues to increase, so too does the transdisciplinarity of contemporary science. Humanities researchers must position themselves in changing international contexts and need a tool that offers benchmarking. This is why ERIH (European Reference Index for the Humanities) aims initially to identify, and gain more visibility for top-quality European Humanities research published in academic journals in, potentially, all European languages. It is a fully peer-reviewed, Europe-wide process, in which 15 expert panels sift and aggregate input received from funding agencies, subject associations and specialist research centres across the continent. In addition to being a reference index of the top journals in 15 areas of the Humanities, across the continent and beyond, it is intended that ERIH will be extended to include book-form publications and non-traditional formats. It is also intended that ERIH will form the backbone of a fully-fledged research information system for the Humanities.

See here for a defense of this ranking system by Michael Worton (Vice-Provost, University College London, and a member of the ERIH steering committee).  I was particularly struck by this comment:

However, the aim of the ERIH is not to assess the quality of individual outputs but to assess dissemination and impact. It can therefore provide something that the RAE cannot: it can be used for aggregate benchmarking of national research systems to determine the international standing of research carried out in a particular discipline in a particular country.

Link here for a Google weblog search on this debate, while a recent Chronicle of Higher Education article (‘New Ratings of Humanities Journals Do More Than Rank — They Rankle’) is also worth reviewing.

Thus we see a new rankings initiative emerging to enable (in theory) Europe to better codify its highly developed humanities presence on the global research landscape, but in a way that will enable national (at the intra-European scale) peaks (and presumably) valleys of quality output to be mapped for the humanities, but also for specific disciplines/fields. Imagine the governance opportunities available, at multiple scales, if this scheme is operationalized.

And finally, at the European scale again, University World News noted, on 23 November, that:

The European Union is planning to launch its own international higher education rankings, with emphasis on helping students make informed choices about where to study and encouraging their mobility. Odile Quintin, the European Commission’s Director-General of Education and Culture, announced she would call for proposals before the end of the year, with the first classification appearing in 2010.

A European classification would probably be compiled along the same lines as the German Centre for Higher Education Development Excellence Ranking.

European actors are being spurred into such action by multiple forces, some internal (including the perceived need to ‘modernize European universities in the context of Lisbon and the European Research Area), some external (Shanghai Jiao Tong; Times Higher QS), and some of a global dimension (e.g., audit culture; competition for mobile students).

eurankingsprogThis latest push is also due to the French presidency of the Council of the European Union, as noted above, which is facilitating action at the regional and national scales. See, for example, details on a Paris-based conference titled ‘International comparison of education systems: a european model?’ which was held on 13-14 November 2008. As noted in the programme, the:

objective of the conference is to bring to the fore the strengths and weaknesses of the different international and European education systems, while highlighting the need for regular and objective assessment of the reforms undertaken by European Member States by means of appropriate indicators. It will notably assist in taking stock of:
– the current state and performance of the different European education systems:
– the ability of the different European education systems to curb the rate of failure in schools,
– the relative effectiveness of amounts spent on education by the different Member States.

The programme and list of speakers is worth perusing to acquire a sense of the broad agenda being put forward.

Multi-scalar governance vs (?) recurring revenue: the emerging dual logics of the rankings phenomenon

The rankings phenomenon is here to stay. But which logics will prevail, or at least emerge as the most important in shaping the extension of audit culture into the spheres of higher education and research?  At the moment it appears that the two main logics are:

  • Creating a new niche industry to form markets and generate recurrent revenue; and,
  • Creating new multi-scalar governance technologies to open up previously opaque higher education and research systems, so as to facilitate strategic restructuring for the knowledge economy.

These dual logics are in some ways contradictory, yet in other ways they are interdependent. This is a phenomenon that also has deep roots in the emerging centres of global higher ed and research calculation that are situated in London, Shanghai, New York, Brussels, and Washington DC.  And it is underpinned by the analytical cum revenue generating technologies provided by the Scientific division of Thomson Reuters, which develops and operates the ISI Web of Knowledge.

Market-making and governance enabling…and all unfolding before our very eyes. Yet do we really know enough about the nature of the unfolding process, including the present and absent voices, that seems to be bringing these logics to the fore?

Kris Olds

Thomson Reuters, China, and ‘regional’ journals: of gifts and knowledge production

Numerous funding councils, academics, multilateral organizations, media outlets, and firms, are exhibiting enhanced interest in the evolution of the Chinese higher education system, including its role as a site and space of knowledge production. See these three recent contributions, for example:

It is thus noteworthy that the “Scientific business of Thomson Reuters” (as they are now known) has been seeking to position itself as a key analyst of the changing contribution of China-based scholars to the global research landscape. As anyone who has worked in Asia knows, the power of bibliometrics is immense, and quickly becoming more so, within the relevant governance systems that operate across the region. The strategists at Scientific clearly have their eye on the horizon, and are laying the foundations for a key presence in future of deliberations about the production of knowledge in and on China (and the Asia-Pacific more generally).

Thomson and the gift economy

One of the mechanisms to establish a presence and effect is the production of knowledge about knowledge (in this case patents and ISI Web of Science citable articles), as well as gifts. On the gift economy front, yesterday marked the establishment of the first ‘Thomson Reuters Research Fronts Award 2008’, which was jointly sponsored Thomson Reuters and the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) “Research Front Analysis Center”, National Science Library. The awards ceremony was held in the sumptuous setting of the Hotel Nikko New Century Beijing.

As the Thomson Reuters press release notes:

This accolade is awarded to prominent scientific papers and their corresponding authors in recognition of their outstanding pioneering research and influential contribution to international research and development (R&D). The event was attended by over 150 of the winners’ industry peers from leading research institutions, universities and libraries.

The award is significant to China’s science community as it accords global recognition to their collaborative research work undertaken across all disciplines and institutions and highlights their contribution to groundbreaking research that has made China one of the world’s leading countries for the influence of its scientific papers. According to the citation analysis based on data from Scientific’s Web of Science, China is ranked second in the world by number of scientific papers published in 2007. [my emphasis]

Thomson incorporates ‘regional’ journals into the Web of Science

It was also interesting to receive news two days ago that the Scientific business of Thomson Reuters has just added “700 new regional journals” to the ISI Web of Science, journals that “typically target a regional rather than international audience by approaching subjects from a local perspective or focusing on particular topics of regional interest”. The breakdown of newly included journals is below, and was kindly sent to me by Thomson Reuters:

Scientific only admits journals that meet international standard publishing practices, and include notable elements of English so as to enable the data base development process, as noted here:

All journals added to the Web of Science go through a rigorous selection process. To meet stringent criteria for selection, regional journals must be published on time, have English-language bibliographic information (title, abstract, keywords), and cited references must be in the Roman alphabet.

In a general sense, this is a positive development; one that many regionally-focused scholars have been crying out for for years. There are inevitably some issues being grappled with about just which ‘regional’ journals are included, the implications for authors and publishers to include English-language bibliographic information (not cheap on a mass basis), and whether it really matters in the end to a globalizing higher education system that seems to be fixated on international refereed (IR) journal outlets. Still, this is progress of a notable type.

Intellectual Property (IP) generation (2003-2007)

The horizon scanning Thomson Reuters is engaged in generates relevant information for many audiences. For example, see the two graphics below, which track 2003-2007 patent production rates and levels within select “priority countries”. The graphics are available in World IP Today by Thomson Reuters (2008). Click on them for a sensible (for the eye) size.

Noteworthy is the fact that:

China has almost doubled its volume of patents from 2003-2007 and will become a strong rival to Japan and the United States in years to come. Academia represents a key source of innovation in many countries. China has the largest proportion of academic innovation. This is strong evidence of the Chinese Government’s drive to strengthen its academic institutions

Thus we see China as a rapidly increasing producer of IP (in the form of patents), though in a system that is relatively more dependent upon its universities to act as a base for the production process. To be sure private and state-owned enterprises will become more significant over time in China (and Russia), but the relative importance of universities (versus firms or research-only agencies) in the knowledge production landscape is to be noted.

Through the production of such knowledge, technologies, and events, the Scientific business of Thomson Reuters seeks to function as the key global broker of knowledge about knowledge. Yet the role of this institution in providing and reshaping the architecture that shapes ever more scholars’ careers, and ever more higher education systems, is remarkably under-examined.

Kris Olds

ps: alas GlobalHigherEd is still being censored out in China as we use a WordPress.com blogging platform and the Chinese government is blanket censoring all WordPress.com blogs. So much for knowledge sharing!