GetFTR user research

26th May 2022

By Dianne Benham, GetFTR Product Lead

The publishing space and market, how we access and expect to access content, is one of constant evolution. Two years ago when we developed the GetFTR proposition, it was to meet several core needs:

  • Improve access to scholarly content
  • Remove some of the noise researchers face around which link takes them to what they want
  • Reduce the numbers of steps researchers have to go through to get content, an often time consuming and frustrating process
  • Ensure that researchers have a simple path to get the research they need in the best format available to them

Two years on, with 30 Discovery Services and Publishers using GetFTR, and additional use cases supported, we have revisited our initial research to ensure that what we are doing, and how we are doing it, continues to meet and address the needs of the community we are positioned to support.


In January this year, GetFTR commissioned Clearleft to conduct an independent study with the following goals:

  • Re-validate the current GetFTR value proposition, to ensure it meets the needs of researchers, discovery services and other stakeholders
  • Test the concept of delivering the GetFTR service through a browser extension
  • Explore the value of providing an alternative version, where user’s institution doesn’t provide access to the full text version of record

Through conducting 1:1 interviews with over 15 researchers in 4 continents, Clearleft were able to observe how researchers discover and access content. When the researcher was unable to access content, they explored what the researcher did next. They observed researchers using a browser extension prototype, which delivered the GetFTR experience on a website of choice. Additionally, 187 people responded to an online survey, providing data to back the qualitative insights.

Researcher challenges

Clearleft observed that researchers faced the same set of challenges when carrying out day to day activities, and that the discovery-to-access process was disjointed, with researchers using multiple tools, institution logins, steps, and tabs. It can be a time consuming and frustrating experience.

“I try to get to the page of the article, I have to look for the login, and only then do I find out if I have access or not”

Researchers suffered from disruptive context shifting from the reading experience to identifying if they have access. Without indication of whether they’re entitled to access content earlier in their process, they often hit dead ends and paywalls. 

The survey provided data on researcher needs that were not met today:

  • Ease of finding most up-to-date content
  • Time taken to access content
  • Understanding which content they have access to
  • Finding an alternative to the published article when without access

The following diagram illustrates a typical discovery and access process today:

When a user’s institution doesn’t provide access, common next steps:

  • Finding freely available content online content via Google, Unpaywall, Sci-Hub and other sources
  • Using other affiliated institution logins to check for access
  • Requesting for content from the author, peers, or librarian, which is time consuming and may incur additional costs

What the research confirmed

Speed to knowledge

  • Many researchers seek “early versions” of research to help them understand emerging ideas and concepts
  • This need is amplified for researchers in fast-moving fields e.g. AI, medicine (Covid)

Shift to Open Access

  • Researchers are aware of the Open Access (OA) model and focus is starting to shift toward OA content as a default starting point in the process
  • The OA model is considered simpler, by removing tedious steps in their existing process

Off-campus access is key

  • Covid has forced a standard of “access anywhere”
  • VPNs are now the status quo for researchers accessing content off-campus
  • Mix of hybrid contexts using multiple devices: Campus office, Lab, Home

Proliferation of tools

  • Researchers are spoilt for choice with tools to improve the access process, however tools often don’t work together
  • Institutions (librarians) have partnered with specific tools and made these available to researchers

Change in access

  • Researchers have experienced institutes dropping subscriptions 
  • Thus feeding anxiety of the longer term access, and contributes to ‘save now, access later’ behaviour
  • However, 38% of 114 survey respondents were affiliated with more than one institution increasing their pathways to content

What this means for GetFTR

Clearleft identified that the GetFTR value proposition is well positioned to solve the problem that researchers have today, which is the disconnect between the point of discovery and access of scholarly content.

They saw that GetFTR is not yet part of a typical user discovery and access flow. We’re working hard to grow scale, by onboarding more integrators and publishers, and introducing new use cases. Today GetFTR enables easier access to more than half of scholarly content.

We’re exploring new ways to deliver the power of GetFTR to users in a discovery service of their choice, through integrating with or developing a browser extension.

We’ll be working with publishers to explore opportunities that can better streamline the post-denial process, ensuring the user is provided with the best version that’s available to them via GetFTR.

The following diagram illustrates how GetFTR could streamline the research process to the version of record (VOR), if possible, or to an alternative version (AV) if available:

If you would like more information, or are interesting in joining GetFTR, please contact me at

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