[I]t’s effectively replaced journal publication as the primary means for physicists to communicate with each other. Journal publication is still important – but as an imprimatur, a proof of quality, rather than a way to disseminate findings to a wider audience.
This is news on its own, but what Farrell was really reporting was that arXiv now supports trackbacks and pingbacks. These technologies play an important role in fostering and tracking online communication, and in the Google Economy. “[T]his strikes me as a Very Big Deal indeed for academic blogging” he says, and he’s right. It’s a big flashing sign that modes of communication are changing in academia, it’s a sign that there a bunch of physicists who get it. And with all that, one has to assume that standards of promotion and tenure will change too. Is a well received pre-pub in arXive as important as for a print publication? What role does the online response, the trackbacks, the paper’s position in the Google Economy play in such evaluations?
This seems to me to be the nucleus of something like the new approach to academic publishing that John Holbo [link added --Casey] has advocated, in which blogs and bloglike tools become an integrated part of academia, creating conversation around interesting recent papers, filtering the good ones from the not-so-good ones etc etc. I can see potential problems down the line (trackback spam, attempts to game the system etc) – but the promise that this holds for physicists (and for non-physicists when we get around to creating arxiv equivalents) seems to me to be nothing short of extraordinary.