Yesterday, Elsevier announced the availability of its first prototypes in its “Article of the Future” initiative. They include links to two prototype articles at Cell.
This seems a follow-up to last year’s “Article 2.0 Contest,” which Elsevier also sponsored. I can’t really tell, because the link from the press release to the “Article of the Future” explanation is dead.
Dead links seem to be a theme here, as you’ll see.
Back in 2008, a few weeks after Elsevier announced the “Article 2.0″ contest (which ended December 31, 2008), I wrote a post comparing the effort to putting lipstick on a pig:
I think Elsevier is looking for baubles and tricks, not a fundamentally new approach to publishing and authorship. . . . I think this is akin to putting lipstick (Web 2.0) on a pig (the traditional print article)
The problem with the premise of the contest was that it focused on how an article written for print could be presented online, rather than taking the essence of the communication itself and shifting it from a print environment to a networked, digital environment.
The winners were announced March 31, 2009. You can find a link to all three of the winners’ entries on a page Elsevier has for the contest. Well, except for one of them, the third-place winner, whose link is dead.
The first-place winner of the contest has a pretty interesting approach, but one that would likely fail for a well-used article, for a variety of reasons. The second-place winner’s entry is an Android application, justifying my concerns that the contest would attract only those people facile with software development. The third-place contestant’s application is described as “stochastic,” and “presented is one instance of the interface which the user would be able to customize as they needed.” I mean, isn’t that what we all want? An interface we can reconfigure each time?
No matter, really. It appears that few if any of the ideas offered by the contestants were absorbed into the Cell prototypes Elsevier has on display. And these prototypes reflect the same inherent problem as the contest — article 1.0 in a 2.0 outfit.
So, how are the prototypes? Elaborate, unusable, and disappointing overall. There are a few nice touches (a reference list showing reciprocal context is probably one of the best, and the extended views of some elements are OK). But, ultimately, the information isn’t clearly presented. In fact, it suffers from all the limitations of a print article, but without the benefits of print. The hyperlinking is anemic (either limited pop-ups or Scopus-centric links). The author interview is embedded, so if you go to another tab, it stops playing, a major usability oversight. The figures jump around as you scroll through them — a perfect way to feel like you’re having a seizure — and the element counts don’t always jibe. Social media integration is basic — a standard, off-the-shelf “share” widget and comments that don’t look threaded or robust.
So, Elsevier’s “Article of the Future” looks like an article from the past, with some embedded hyperlinks, some AJAX tabs, two basic social media elements, and not much else.
I’ll close with a few lines from my post about the contest last October:
Article 2.0 as a true experiment would mean that the authoring experience and tools would change, the fundamental data would deepen and become networked, and the presentation would be re-imagined based on the possibilities of Web 2.0. This would fundamentally change the genesis of a research report. The thing that should scare Elsevier and every other traditional publisher is that they are not the ones doing those experiments. These experiments are being created elsewhere.
The results of these Elsevier initiatives — “Article 2.0″ and “Article of the Future” — do nothing to change that statement, in my opinion. They are still applying last year’s lipstick to the same old pig.