Article of the Future

Starting from scratch is what not many people do. It is not natural, sometimes not quite useful (my fellow fans of Zdenek Jirotka´s book Saturnin will know exactly what I mean) but in other instances it can be very innovative and revealing. I think one such project was recently announced by Elsevier and is called The Article of the Future.

It is mainly about scientific articles, but I feel that the connection with journalism is very strong. Of course, scientific article has a set structure, which Elsevier here tries to present in a way suitable for the media where probably most scientific articles are now read – a browser. While a news story or even an opinion piece have a structure a bit less formalised, this is, I think, marginal. If I look at a typical news agency story, we do provide an abstract (lead), discussion (body), references (quotes)…, even though we call them differently. Figures (ie. multimedia) are a necessary part of new age storytelling.

In fact our internal Multimedia editorial system (abbreviated MRS) that we introduced several years ago, works to a large extent with these concepts. But then all (or most of it) is lost “in translation”, as the companies that sell editorial and news production systems to the media do not work with these concepts at all.

I am not suggesting that our MRS mastered these concepts, but it largely moves along similar path, thanks, among others, to the NewsML standards developed by the IPTC. We would need a massive step forward if we were to provide full “Article of the Future” compatibility.

So what is the Elsevier project about? To quote from their press release:

The project takes full advantage of online capabilities, allowing readers individualized entry points and routes through content, while exploiting the latest advances in visualization techniques.

The first prototypes launch this week and key features include:

  • A hierarchical presentation of text and figures – readers can elect to drill down through the layers based on their current task in the scientific work-flow and their level of expertise and interest.
  • Bulleted article highlights and graphical abstract – readers can quickly gain an understanding of the paper’s main message and navigate directly to specific sub-sections of the results and figures.
  • The graphical abstract encourages browsing, promotes interdisciplinary scholarship and helps readers identify more quickly which papers are most relevant to their research interests.

Where do I feel current journalism needs to learn from the concept?

1) Multiple entry points. This is for a long time the accepted wisdom for websites – we do not presume that the homepage is the entry point for readers. But when it comes to a particular story, we journalists generaly still work “sequentially” and presume, that the story is read from top. It might not be the entry point. A reader might first see a photograph, a reference, a video.

2) Graphical abstract. This is a very difficult nut to crack. Forms and methods, money and time, quality and price for the customers are aspects of the issue when one needs to run this commercially, ie. for profit. We have spent hours on debating this.

3) Hierarchy. Cool. We are doing this for ages.

So there we are. I hope this is not the last entry on the subject.