Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Fifteen Years After The Fact

Thanks to Colin Smith for pointing out this new discussion from The Council of Editors of Learned Journals on the future of the journal in which they propose the following four principles.

  1. Journals must pursue interoperability with the other online tools that are shaping the techne of scholarly practice

  2. Journals have opportunity to reframe their role in the academy as curators of the noise of the web.

  3. Electronic journals will have the opportunity to expand their curatorial mandate include different forms of publication.

  4. Broadening the community of participation.

I was expecting to be disappointed - this set of blogged responses of journals to a web-based future expends 3400 words failing to mention open access or repositories. But then in principle #3 they went and completely exceeded my expectations by proposing a model of scholarly publication that genuinely fits in with the web.

It is contrary to utility, in the world of web 2.0, to maintain exclusive publication rights on an article. Exclusivity of publication places a text in only one domain. Yet non-exclusive text gets reproduced and recopied, circulated around the internet, and rapidly floats onward to mimetic influence in other cultures, excerpted and referenced. For every web 2.0 author, non-exclusivity and easy republication is ideal. For every would-be-idea-of-influence in the age of web 2.0, easy reduplication is crucial.
Exclusivity has been the format followed by most online journals, which seek to mimic in form the traditional journal: one essay, neatly formatted, looking as professional as possible. Exclusive re-publication suggests the old model of authority, and is superficially reassuring to editors without actually promoting the real functions of the journal: disseminating ideas and establishing the authority of the journal-as-canon and disciplinary metric.
Significantly more desirable would be setting a different precedent: for all disseminated forms of the text to advertise the article's accreditation as having been curated by inclusion in the journal-as-stream. (the text might end with, for instance, "please recirculate with this citation: by-Professor-Bonnie-Wheeler, SMU, 2009; officially tagged in 'Arthuriana,' [link] May 2010") Advertising the link between article and journal in many reproduced/cross-referenced copies would function both to the benefit of the article and the prestige of the journal.
Again, if the dissemination model is followed, the journal homepage need not include reprints of the articles themselves: merely links to the original blogspace or university-housed-pdf or slideshow where the material was originally posted, with all of its links, illustrations, video, and wallpaper as the author originally presented it. The journal's role is reduced to curation, not to presentaiton. Not having a use for a graphic designer, typesetter, or illustrations layout person, the journal's workflow will be considerably reduced.

This isn't exactly a new model - syndicated scholarly dissemination based on links and certification - but I didn't expect to hear a council of learned journal editors proposing it in my lifetime! The times they are a-changin! Or perhaps, the web is finally changing us all.

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