"Article of the Future" Addresses Shifting Patterns of Consumption
Beyond mobile apps, Elsevier is also responding to the proliferation of platforms with what it calls the Article of the Future project. The project, which Elsevier first announced in 2009, is an attempt to improve the way scientific articles are formatted on digital mediums.
"The format of a scientific article basically hasn't changed over the last three- to four-hundred years," says Bernard Aleva, Elsevier's senior vice president of innovation and product development for its journal division. "Over the last 25 years, articles have become longer-actually, from about seven and a half to twelve and a half pages on average," says Aleva. "Whereas at the same time, the time that people spend to read an article has decreased from about 45 minutes to 30 minutes. So there's less time, but the articles are longer."
Elsevier set about determining how the formatting of articles could be changed to improve scientists' ability to access its content in a digital environment. The company turned to its deep connections with the scientific community to gather input and feedback, ultimately developing a new model for digital articles that it dubbed the Article of the Future.
The first place the Article of the Future model was applied was the collection of life science journals collected under Elsevier's Cell Press imprint. Some of the changes included the addition of graphical abstracts to help researchers understand the thrust of an article at a glance, article highlights that summarize key findings, and tabs that let users quickly jump to specific sections of an article.
Another key feature of the Article of the Future project is increasing the amount of linking between content, which Aleva notes was previously limited primarily to a list of literature citations and references. "You can add many, many more layers of related context to articles than just their relationship to other scientific articles," he says. "As an example, if a [molecular biology] article talks about proteins, you can recognize the name of those proteins. You can offer all sorts of information about that protein and comparable proteins so that the intuitive next information need of the user is immediately served by offering that information, as well."
For Elsevier, one requirement for the Article of the Future initiative was keeping the new functionality scalable. Although many aspects of the Article of the Future model are generated automatically, some aspects-such as the graphical abstracts-do require additional human effort to add. To minimize the added burden on authors, Aleva says that Elsevier looked for things that would either be part of a scientist's existing workflow or would otherwise be simple to add.
Aleva is quick to emphasize that the Article of the Future template won't be the same for every discipline. "When applying Article of the Future formats to our journals on SciVerse ScienceDirect, later in 2011, we will take a discipline-specific approach," he says. "Graphical abstracts for example may be interesting to readers of articles in the life sciences, [but they're a] bit less relevant to mathematicians."
Elsevier is still rolling out the template, but Aleva says that it plans to greatly step up its efforts to develop and implement the formats over the next year or 2. "Within the academic publishing world, it is really a breakthrough in how scientific articles are presented," says Aleva.