Last week Ithaca S+R’s Roger Schonfeld published a characteristically astute post on the race to “own” researcher identity. Schonfeld’s analysis of the commercial players—chess moves from Elsevier, Clarivate, and ResearchGate in particular—is fascinating. More fundamentally, he explains the high stakes for academics and their research:

… the higher education sector remains absent from this landscape. The most prominent engagements from librarians about identity management have focused on opposing publisher efforts out of understandable concern for the protection of privacy and data security. But, we have seen no groundswell of effort to develop decentralized and/or community-controlled infrastructures to enable researcher-centric solutions.

If in the long run there is to be only one researcher identity instance, which will it be? And whose interests will it advance? Researchers strangely seem to have the least voice in the matter.

The post is a wake-up call to the scholarly community, an implicit plea to join the scramble, already underway, for researcher identity.

Schonfeld’s right—there really is a lot at stake. But I do take issue with the piece’s framing—its contrast between “journal-centric” and “researcher-centric” models of scholarly communications. The prevailing journal system, Schonfeld claims, is giving way to a new ecosystem with researcher identity at its core. Whoever wins the researcher wins the ecosystem.

But the real counterpart to the journal system—its opposite number, so to speak—isn’t the researcher but the research work. Articles are still published in journals, and often packaged, anachronistically, into “issues.” The journal’s name, for better and much worse, remains stubbornly important too. But article discovery has already come untethered from the enclosing journal: search, citation chains, and peer recommendation matter far more than clicking through a “current issue” TOC.

Yes, author identity is a quality signal, and perhaps an increasingly important one as the journal’s importance wanes. The two big social networks, and ResearchGate, both interweave ratings for researchers and their works—grant them bi-directional metrical weight. And in the gauzier sense of academic reputation, an author’s name surely helps other scholars decide what’s worth reading. So researcher identity matters.

But the real fulcrum of scholarly communication will be the work—the monograph, the article, the dataset, and so on. Authorial identity will be an important supplement, a contributor to the more fundamental discovery-and-signaling process around scholarly objects. If there’s a transition underway from a “journal-centric” model, then, the destination is a work-centric model. Search and “quality” signals—including citation counts and formalized post-publication recommendation systems like PubPeer, even authorship—will do the work of sifting once performed by the journal issue.

None of this diminishes Schonfeld’s key point: Researcher identity is up for grabs, with the commercial players outmaneouvering a mostly dormant scholarly community. But Schonfeld’s focus on identity and researchers’ “social graph” has the wrong popular-media analogue in mind. The future will be more like Spotify than Facebook.