No, I did not go to STM in Frankfurt. Or ToC for that matter. I spent the day in bed, instead, trying to clear an infection and raging at hotels and their procedures. Big American chain hotels. Run by Germans. “We cannot check you in without you paying for all of the room occupancy in advance”. “But I am a long-standing member of your loyalty scheme…” “It doesn’t matter – the new rule is cash in advance before you get a key…” “Now my key has stopped working…”. “You can get a new one if you show me photo ID…”  “But it is locked into the room… .” “No excuse, all Germans are expected to carry photo ID at all times…” “Mr Manager, I want to be catered for as an individual with a good credit record in your hotels…” “Sir, I am simply following our rules and policies.” The sooner this man is replaced by some workflow software the better, in my view – since he cannot vary any procedure then this would be a logical step. In the meanwhile I vent my spleen on TripAdvisor and ponder the wonder of Elsevier and the Article of the Future.

Yesterday Elsevier Science Direct unveiled a new web HTML version of the articles held in Science Direct. And having once played a tiny role as a judge in the unfolding Article of the Future story I have a sympathy for what they are about, and a conviction that they are as close to the money as anyone in taking scholarly communication in science to the next step. Here is what they say their new article format will achieve:

Now please read back through that again carefully. The first is a no brainer. Good market research companies like Euromonitor have been facilitating re-use in this way for some time, and I saw a great application in a different discipline only last week. We should be asking why only now and why Elsevier are the first. The second is more specific, and removes a long-standing annoyance. But it is the third and fourth items which really get me going. Searching horizontally across articles in several different disciplines and moving seamlessly between references and citations is becoming key to the dream of a rational discovery system for science. Science will have its Big Data solutions alright (though very few current publishers will be participants, it seems). But the survival hope for the so-called “journal publishers” is sure that the article will come to be seen as a viewer, or a vorspeisen as we would say in this hotel room. In this vision the article becomes the way of entering the enquiry at one point and then moving horizontally, using references, citations and contextual information, across sub-disciplines and into fields of conjectural interest. Yes, we shall have more effectiveness from the semantic search, and, yes, our advanced taxonomies and ontological structures will do much of the back-breaking stuff. But where the quirky human mind of the researcher is the search engine, we shall want the article to be linked to the relevant evidential data, to the blogs and the posters and the proceedings and the powerpoints and the minutiae of scholarly research, just as we shall want the invaluable navigational aid of A&I to stop us from wasting time with what does not merit attention, and review articles to help us see what others have seen before us.

So we need the Article of the Future. And as the article adds more diverse content by way of embedded video, more images, manipulable graphs, links to evidential data or attached programming, we need it urgently. But it is an emerging standard, so how many do we need? Well, only one. As Elsevier remark, this is and always will be work in progress. But it is work in everyone’s progress. If I have subscriptions with Springer, Sage, Wiley Blackwell and Elsevier, to name but a few, will I not want all articles to be manipulable and cross-searchable in every way, not just cross-referenced in Google? So is this not a point where industry collaboration in the face of overwhelming user dissonance might for once pay dividends?

I have just reread that sentence with a sinking feeling. This industry seldom collaborates. What could happen as a result is, if Elsevier are strategically adroit and make their Article format Open, that users adopt it for their own repositories, loaded onto vehicles like Digital Science Figstore. Then users can launch a search from Science Direct and get everything. Of course, as long as “publishing” equals “tenure and research rating” people will still seek journal publication, but those links are fragile and may collapse under their own weight. Research through searching threatens to become another matter, divorced from the publication cycle. If that happens there will be few survivors in current publishing, but Elsevier at least should be one. Everyone else needs to think hard about collaboration, or plan for business diversification for all they are worth.

My quote of the week? “The solutions will come when science goes mobile in research terms – then someone will have to step in to configure the device and all these publishers will simply be rewarded with royalties for their content contribution to a solution they did not make and cannot control.”

Sounds a bit like Apple meets STM!


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3 Comments so far

  1. Martin Hyndman on October 10, 2012 01:10

    “If only the content was marked-up consistently”. Remember the Dublin Core and Canberra Qualifiers? Well that didn’t work. So Search Engines have to deal with the mess and provide organization without deep domain or subscription knowledge. I don’t see that working either. Don’t you think that STM will just fall in line with the consumer world and adopt whatever Apple decides thinks is necessary for “Research”?

  2. P U B L I S H I N G » Blog Archive » Horizontally Searching the Vertical on October 10, 2012 06:09

    […] more: […]

  3. dworlock on October 10, 2012 07:49

    Martin This is exactly what I fear. Even where compliance with metadata standards was good , we outgrew those levels of co-operation. And if our future really is compliance with how Apple see device-based research , then we lose 30% of potential margin from the very start. I always hope that STM , so often a leader , will buck the trend . Thanks for your note David