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Business Transition at Turnitin

Smart Libraries Newsletter [April 2019]

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Copyright (c) 2019 ALA TechSource

Abstract: Turnitin has become established as the leading brand associated with technologies and services related to the verification of writing for originality and related services. The products of Turnitin are used by educational institutions, publishers, companies, and other organizations to look for indications that portions of a submitted text may have been copied from other sources. While generally thought of as automated plagiarism checking, these tools do not necessarily make categorical judgements, but present scores of similarity that can be reviewed for any necessary follow-up. Turnitin's products have become a routine component of an educational institution's technology infrastructure through integrations with learning management systems (LMSs) as well as an expected element of the review and grading of student papers submitted for course requirements. In addition to reviewing originality of papers, Turnitin offers additional services that can help automate the grading of student papers, providing some relief to instructors with onerous workloads. The service is used by 34 million students in 15,000 educational institutions, including both K-12 and higher educational institutions.


Turnitin has become established as the leading brand associated with technologies and services related to the verification of writing for originality and related services. The products of Turnitin are used by educational institutions, publishers, companies, and other organizations to look for indications that portions of a submitted text may have been copied from other sources. While generally thought of as automated plagiarism checking, these tools do not necessarily make categorical judgements, but present scores of similarity that can be reviewed for any necessary follow-up. Turnitin's products have become a routine component of an educational institution's technology infrastructure through integrations with learning management systems (LMSs) as well as an expected element of the review and grading of student papers submitted for course requirements. In addition to reviewing originality of papers, Turnitin offers additional services that can help automate the grading of student papers, providing some relief to instructors with onerous workloads. The service is used by 34 million students in 15,000 educational institutions, including both K-12 and higher educational institutions.

Turnitin is also involved in the workflow of scholarly publishing. In cooperation with Crossref, the company offers the iThenticate service, which provides a similar service for articles submitted to scholarly journals. The indexes supporting iThenticate bear interesting parallels to those associated with library-provided discovery services. Its position in the academic infrastructure in support of the teaching curriculum and in the broader scholarly publishing ecosystem brings Turnitin within the scope of interest to libraries. In the academic environment, the services of Turnitin may be licensed by the unit of the school district, college, or university responsible for educational technology, or it may be licensed directly through the library.

Turnitin Finds New Ownership

Turnitin has been acquired by Advance Publications. This holding company based in New York, NY, has previously invested primarily in mass market publications and communications companies. The portfolio of Advance Publications includes full ownership of publishing conglomerate Condé Nast, American City Business Journals, and it has stakes in Discovery and Charter Communications. Advance Publications was founded in 1922 by Sam Newhouse and continues to be owned and managed by family members. Although not previously involved in the scholarly publishing sector, Advance Publications is one of the largest and most influential financial backers of popular media and mass communications.

Details of the Acquisition

Although the press announcements did not include financial details, The Wall Street Journal estimates an acquisition price of $1.75 billion.1 The company will continue to be led by incumbent Chief Executive Officer Chris Caren.

Advance Publications Expands into Educational Tech and Analytics

The acquisition of Turnitin is the most significant foray by Advance Publications into the educational technology sector. The holding company has owned the popular social news and media site Reddit via its 2006 acquisition by Condé Nast. In August 2015, Advance Publications acquired 1010data, a company with a platform for the discovery, analysis, and sharing of big data in the consumer and retail sectors. Advance Publications made an investment in April 2017 in EVERFI, a company that produces interactive digital learning solutions.[2]

It is noteworthy that Arne Duncan, former US Secretary of Education under President Barack Obama, is on the boards of both Turnitin and EVERFI. Prior to that appointment, Duncan was Superintendent of Chicago Public Schools.

Background of Turnitin

Turnitin traces its origin to a group of researchers at the University of California at Berkeley that began working on resources and software to help universities deal with issues related to the recycling of student papers in the mid-1990s. Two of these researchers, John Barrie and Christian Storm, founded iParadigms in 1998. Initial projects included the plagiarism.org service, which has since evolved into an educational site as the company has developed new products and services. Chris Caren has headed the company since its founding and currently serves as its Chief Executive Officer and services on its board of directors. Christian Storm is now the CTO for Deep Grammar (http://deepgrammar.com/).

Turnitin, including its iParadigms corporate identity, has gone through multiple stages of investment and ownership. The company was initially founded in about 1998. In 2008, Warburg Pincus made a $51 million investment in iParadigms, which gave it controlling interest in the company. In June 2014, Insight Venture Partners, along with Singaporebased GIC, acquired iParadigms for $752 million. Insight is a major private equity firm that manages over $20 billion in assets, with investments in over 300 companies. In October 2014, Georgian Partners also made an investment in the company. While structured within an entity called Palladian Holdings, the company began doing business as Turnitin, taking on the brand of its flagship product. The recent March 2019 acquisition of Turnitin for $1.75 billion represents more than a doubling of the value of the company in a span of just under five years.

The company's corporate history has also included multiple business acquisitions, including some to gain new technologies as well as others that absorbed competitors. Those that brought new technologies into the company included the October 2018 acquisition of Gradescope. This company had developed technology based on artificial intelligence technologies to assist instructors in grading essays and papers now part of the Revision Studio service. In October 2015, the company acquired LightSide Labs, a company that had developed a service to analyze student writing in real time using machine learning algorithms. In September 2010, the company acquired nLearning Limited, a company based in Newcastle, England that had previously been its exclusive distributor for Europe. Key Products and Services

For much of its corporate history, the company was known as iParadigms, with Turnitin as its flagship product. Today, the company does business as Turnitin with several strategic products:

  • Feedback Studio. In April 2015, the Turnitin service was renamed to Feedback Studio. The initial version of Turnitin was launched in 2000. This service processes student papers submitted for assignments through a proprietary database comprised of previously submitted papers and content harvested from the web and other sources.

    The submission is usually initiated by course instructors through the institution's LMS. Turnitin supports the LTI protocols that enable it to integrate its services with Blackboard, Canvas, Moodle, or any of the other major LMS products. Instructors receive a report for each paper submitted with a similarity score and any text highlighted that matches resources in its database.

  • Revision Assistant, which was launched in January 2016, is oriented to students in grades 6-12 to improve their writing.
  • iThenticate, a service offered in partnership with Crossref to validate scholarly articles against plagiarism.
  • iThenticate for Admissions, a service designed to help higher education admissions offices check originality of applications.
  • WriteCheck, a service to help students check their papers for improper copying of source material, with optional tools for reviewing grammar and style. The service charges students a fee (currently at $7.95) for checking papers, but it does not add the papers to its proprietary database. The optional grammar review relies on technology from the Educational Testing Service (ETS). ETS also provides the technology used for scoring the GRE and TOEFL standardized student tests.
  • Authorship Investigation, a set of services to help institutions pursue possible cases of contract cheating, where a student hires a third party to write papers. This category of cheating cannot necessarily be detected by anti-plagiarism techniques that depend on text matching. Other technologies such as natural language processing and forensic linguistic analysis can be used as part of an investigation of a suspected incident. This service was launched by Turnitin in February 2017.

Competitors

While Turnitin dominates this product category, there are some smaller competitors. PlagScan, based in Germany, states that it is used by 1,500 organizations, serving an aggregate 1.2 million students (see https://www.plagscan.com/en/). UniCheck, founded in 2014, relies on a large-scale index of text from websites but does not have a proprietary database of submitted papers and is used by around 600 institutions (see https://unicheck.com/). Stockholm-based Prio Infocenter AB, has been involved in plagiarism detection technologies since 1999 with URKUND as its primary product. Though concentrated in Scandinavia and Europe, the product is used in 70 countries. In 2018, URKUND was acquired by Procuritas Capital Investors, a private equity firm (see https://www. urkund.com/).

VeriCite was one of the chief competitors to in this product category before it was acquired by Turnitin in February 2018. Turnitin acquired Ephorus, a European company specializing in plagiarism in November 2015.

Anti-Plagiarism Services and the
Number of Institutions and Users Implementing Them
ProductInstitutionsUsers
Turnitin15,00030 million
URKUND2,000
PlagScan1,5001.2 million
UniCheck600

IThenticate and Crossref Similarity Check

While Turnitin is best known for its anti-plagiarism software for student papers, the company also manages a similar service for scholarly articles submitted to publishers. The Similarity Service, offered through a partnership between Crossref and Turnitin, compares the text of submitted papers with a large database of internet sources and published articles. The Crossref Similarity Check helps editors to validate the originality of submitted papers. This is offered as a service for Crossref members, based on a business model of an additional annual fee scaled to the revenue of the publisher and charges per article based on annual volume of articles checked.[3 This service was known as CrossCheck from its launch in 2007 until 2016 when it was rebranded as Similarity Check. At this time, Crossref and Turnitin also implemented a redesigned content ingestion system.

The proprietary database underlying Similarity Check includes the full text of articles from publishers participating in the program. Currently, over 800 STM publishers and 30 other content providers participate in Similarity Check. The custom database includes about 60 million articles derived from publishers, 114 content items from aggregators and other content providers, and 68 billion pages harvested from the web. The web content includes both current content as well as archived pages that may no longer be available.

The service is based on a Content Intake System that includes a mechanism for ingesting the full text of articles from participating publishers. The Crossref service is based on a database comprised of metadata describing content items, including a DOI and a link to the full text of the item on the publisher's site. To populate the database for Similarity Check, Turnitin ingests Crossref records and follows the full-text link provided to gain access to the text for ingestion. Publishers enable Turnitin harvesting processes to penetrate their firewalls to access full text content. To be eligible for participation in the service, publishers must have 90 percent of their content available through full-text URLs represented in the Crossref database. In addition to Similarity Check, it also provides iThenticate as a service to organizations not part of Crossref.

Criticisms

Turnitin's services have not gone without controversy. Its use of student papers without permission has been validated in the courts as legal and within the bounds of fair use.4 Submitting student papers to Turnitin is mandatory in some institutions. In effect, student works contribute to a large-scale proprietary resource without direct compensation. Turnitin, however, does not claim copyright to papers submitted to its database and does not redistribute those papers externally.

The company has also been criticized for profiting off both sides of the battle against plagiarism. Its Feedback Studio helps instructors and institutions check for unattributed copying, and its WriteCheck service enables students to pre-check their work against plagiarism as well as receive suggestions related to grammar and writing style. A student using WriteCheck would be able to make modifications in a submitted paper to clear checks performed once the paper is submitted.[5]

Significance and Perspective

The acquisition of Turnitin and EVERFI by Advance Publications is consistent with the trend for publishers to diversify their portfolios with companies that address areas of workflow or analysis beyond the creation of content. Turnitin, in addition to its proven business growth, brings a massive database of proprietary content from the educational, scholarly, and professional publishing arena into the sphere of a publisher of popular and consumer content.

Turnitin collects personal information about students associated with submitted papers and publishes a detailed Privacy and Security Policy regarding that data.[6] Under its new ownership, as part of a portfolio of companies that includes consumer and business big data and analytics capacity, the proprietary data of Turnitin would offer attractive insights and opportunities, though any such potential actual use of the data has not been mentioned.

Chronology of Turnitin
DateEvent
1998iParadigms is founded by John Barrie and Christian Storm.
2000Turnitin product launched.
2006Emerald licenses iThenticate. Emerald content in iThenticate database since September 2006.
2007Crossref and iThenticate launch pilot for CrossCheck.
2008Warburg Pincus invests $51 million to gain controlling stake in iParadigms.
Oct 2010iParadigms acquired nLearning Ltd, the UK distributor of Turnitin established in 2002.
Jun 2014Private equity firm Insight Venture Partners acquired iParadigms for $752 million.
Nov 2015Turnitin acquires LightSide Labs.
Oct 2017Turnitin acquires Gradescope.
Feb 2018Turnitin acquires VeriCite.
Mar 2019Turnitin acquired by Advance Publications for $1.75 billion.

Notes

  1. Melissa Korn, “Advance Publications to Buy PlagiarismScanning Company Turnitin for Nearly $1.75 Billion,” Wall Street Journal, March 6, 2019, https://www.wsj.com /articles/advance-publications-nearing-deal-to-buy -plagiarism-scanning-company-turnitin-for-1-75-billion -11551887268.
  2. EVERFI, “EVERFI Lands Historic $190 Million Investment from The Rise Fund, TPG Growth, and Existing Investors,” news release, April 26, 2017, https://everfi.com /press-releases/everfi-lands-historic-190-million-invest ment-from-the-rise-fund-tpg-growth-and-existing -investors/.
  3. For more information, see “Fees,” Crossref, last modified March 15, 2019, https://www.crossref.org/fees/.
  4. For example, see Erica Hendry, “Students Reach Settlement in Turnitin Suit,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, August 3, 2009, https://www.chronicle.com/blogs/wired campus/students-reach-settlement-in-turnitin-suit/7569.
  5. See Kent Anderson, “Is It Plagiarism? iParadigms Walks Both Sides of the Question,” The Scholarly Kitchen, September 12, 2011, https://scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org /2011/09/12/is-it-plagiarism-iparadigms-walks-both -sides-of-the-question/.
  6. See “Privacy and Security,” Turnitin, last modified August 29, 2018, https://help.turnitin.com/Privacy_and _Security/Privacy_and_Security.htm.
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Publication Year:2019
Type of Material:Article
Language English
Published in: Smart Libraries Newsletter
Publication Info:Volume 39 Number 04
Issue:April 2019
Page(s):2-5
Publisher:ALA TechSource
Place of Publication:Chicago, IL
ISSN:1541-8820
Record Number:24233
Last Update:2019-09-28 07:05:00
Date Created:2019-04-20 09:52:31