AIP'S APPLIED PHYSICS LETTERS ONLINE: COMING IN JANUARY

by Tim Ingoldsby, Director, New Product Development, AIP


Reprinted with kind permission from Computers in Physics, Vol.8, No. 4, pp. 398-401, July/August 1994. Mirrored from the host site: http://www.aip.org/epub/ingold.html; please see the original.
A Look Ahead ...
In this article ...
o Discover what surveys say are the desired characteristics for electronic journals
o Learn about the the Guidon interface and how it works (and view sample screens)
o Read about the evolution of Electronic Publishing at AIP
o Find out what's been done to make the online journal "experience" easy and efficient

For longer than the past 100 years, physicists have relied on the printed journal to convey research results. [1] the acceptance of this dissemination method has been confirmed by the hundreds of physics research journals that publish well in excess of 1 million pages every year. Unfortunately, the very success of this methodology has led to problems that threaten its continued well-being. Readers, suffering from "information overload," find it extremely difficult to keep up with research in their specialties; authors struggle with increasing publication delay in journals attempting to keep up with rapidly expanding submissions; and subscription prices climb as publishers are forced to deal with a declining subscription base at the same time that page counts continue to grow.

Since the development of the personal computer in the 1970s, and, in particular, since widespread networking of PCs exploded in the last ten years, scientists and publishers have been forecasting a revolution in the way research results are conveyed to the community. The APS Task Force on Electronic Information Systems, in its final report [2], predicted a transformation of the scholarly research report process to a fully electronic worldwide physics-information database by the year 2020. Within the past three years, pioneers such as Paul Ginsparg [3] at Los Alamos have begun to demonstrate very useful services available on the Internet (see p. 390). The American Vacuum Society currently offers a CD-ROM subscription to its primary journal, The Journal of Vacuum Science & Technology. Now, the American Institute of Physics enters the arena with its announcement of the first online full-content version of a print physics journal, Applied Physics Letters Online (APL Online), which will begin publication in January 1995.

APL Online represents the culmination of a six-year effort to position AIP to deliver a broad range of electronic-publishing products and services. Prior to announcing the online version, we worked with physicists and publishing experts (through surveys of AIP member subscribers and discussions with expert members of the AIP publishing advisory committees) to define the most desired characteristics of an online journal. We investigated a variety of search and display software systems before selecting Electronic Journals Online (EJO), a product of the Online Computer Library Center (OCLC), as our delivery system. AIP's production process, which has worked well for over 60 years of print-journal composition, has been enhanced to incorporate electronic-publishing requirements. Finally, because we recognize that the transition from print to electronic is not all positive, we have taken steps to minimize the downside risks to readers and authors.

Desired characteristics

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Early experiments with electronic presentation of scientific-journal information have demonstrated that nothing less than representation of the full content■including formulas, tables, charts and photographs■meets the expectations of readers. [4] Accordingly, the most basic requirement for APL Online is to represent every aspect of the article as it appears in printed form. Text, math, and tables are presented in a high-quality, variable-width font similar to that used for the printed page. Charts, diagrams, and photographs appear on screen at the highest-resolution possible for current display technology (100 dots/in) and are printed at laser-printer resolution (300 dots/in or greater). Rather than retaining the column width of the dual-column-page print journal, which "wastes" from 10% to 40% of the display screen, the online version is formatted for a wider, single-column display.

Our surveys of member subscribers have indicated that another important requirement of scientists is universal availability. This requirement takes several forms. Potential subscribers want to be able to use the online journal on whatever computer hardware they prefer. Just like their print subscriptions, the online subscription should offer access from both the office and home■and via portable computer while subscribers are traveling. They want the online journal to be available 24 hours per day, 7 days per week. APL Online will come close to meeting these requirements. Subscribers can choose among DOS/Windows, Macintosh, and Unix X-windows computers. Access is supported via Internet or modem, providing connection mechanisms for office, home, or travel. The journal will be available at least 23 hours per day on weekdays, and 20 hours per day on Sundays.

The scientists we surveyed also indicated that they did not want to have to learn a new user interface to make use of the search-and-display software. APL Online uses the standard graphical-user-interface concepts of each hardware platform. For a Windows user, the interface will look like any standard Windows application, and for a Macintosh user, the interface will look like any other Mac application. The same characteristics will apply for X-windows subscribers.

Beyond these most basic (but also most important) requirements come the requests that distinguish an online electronic product from its print predecessor. Scientists want a single search to span across multiple issues and volumes. They want to be able to jump from place to place within a single article and also between an article and other articles. They want to be notified automatically every time an article is published in their particular area(s) of interest, and they want to retain access to the issues covered by their subscription even should they choose not to renew. APL Online provides all of these capabilities. When the service commences in January 1995, subscribers will find available nearly the entire 1994 year of articles, in addition to new issues as they are published weekly. Hypertext links will allow users to jump between sections■to figures, tables, and equations, and even to bibliographic records for most references contained within each article. Corrections to or comments about previously published articles will also be hyperlinked. The next release of the EJO software will support hyperlinks between the references in an article and the actual article being referenced, if that referenced article was previously published through EJO. Subscribers will have an option to purchase a CD-ROM version of all articles published during each subscription term, to permit offline or post-term access.

OCLC's server and client

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Once the requirements had been identified, AIP began a thorough search for suitable online software. It soon became clear that the closest match to the requirements was provided by OCLC's EJO, the award-winning [5] online journal system that combines a centralized database server and full-text search engine with an intuitive client software product called Guidon, which controls communication with the server and near-print-quality display of selected articles. OCLC's system was originally developed as the delivery platform for the American Association for the Advancement of Science's groundbreaking Online Journal of Current Clinical Trials (OJCCT). APL Online will be the fourth journal using the EJO/Guidon system, joining OJCCT, The Online Journal of Knowledge Synthesis for Nursing, and the Institution of Electrical Engineer's Electronics Letters Online. Several other publishers are negotiating with OCLC to add their journals to the EJO product in the near future.

The Guidon interface was originally developed for Windows and is being extended to Macintosh and X-windows for APL Online. When first invoked, Guidon establishes a connection with the EJO server, either using Internet (TCP/IP) or a modem to connect to a public communications network, such as Compuserve. The subscriber is first presented with a query screen (see Fig. 1), where direct-search commands can be entered using simple terms or where several pre-established queries can be executed by clicking on a button with the mouse. Among these queries are requests to see all articles, to see every article published since the user last connected to EJO, to see all articles published within the past 30 days, or to see the most recent issue. The result of each query is returned as a "hit list" of titles, from which individual articles can be displayed (see Fig. 2). Included on the Guidon toolbar is an icon that will jump to the first or next occurrence of the term(s) used in the search. Other icons on the toolbar include choices to print the article, to jump to lists of figures or tables, or to return the display to the hit list. Two special choices are also provided on the toolbar. A "news" icon connects the user to items of interest to subscribers, such as a calendar of events, information about EJO availability, and other service information. A "see also" icon becomes active whenever the current article contains links to related articles, which may include corrections to the article as originally published, or comments on the original article.

A subscriber can navigate through a displayed article in several ways. The standard vertical scroll bar permits straight line-reading of the article, a list box allows direct jumps to any sections within the article (title, abstract, text, references, etc.), and hyperlinks within text■indicated by colored text■provide a means of jumping directly to the linked item (reference, table, equation, figure, etc.). References contain another type of hyperlink. Most references can be linked to databases, such as AIP's SPIN or IEE's INSPEC, that provide bibliographic information (title, author, abstract, keyword classification, etc.) about the referenced work. Standard Windows cut-and-paste techniques permit the selection and transfer of text to word processors or other applications.

Guidon also provides advanced features. In addition to local printing, article files may be downloaded as ASCII (text), SGML, or Guidon format files. Users lacking printers can order high-resolution printed copies of articles to be delivered via fax or mail (extra charges apply). Subscribers may also enter requests for weekly automated searches, which will send "hit lists" of documents matching the search criteria to subscribers via e-mail, fax, or mail. (Extra charges may apply for fax or mail delivery.) The Guidon interface and EJO capabilities are continually being enhanced and improved. By the time that APL Online begins operation on January 1, 1995, there will be support for greyscale (photographs) and color graphics, in addition to the current support for line drawings. Support will be provided for "boxed information" (such as sidebars) in a separate, scrollable window hyperlinked to the main text window. E-mail support will be provided for communication between subscribers and editors, as well as subscribers and advertisers. Future enhancements will include support for scanned pages (making possible the incorporation of pre-1994 "legacy" articles), integration between Guidon and OCLC's FirstSearch catalog of over 40 bibliographic databases, and support for hyperlinks between references in a displayed article and the article being referenced, if it is mounted on EJO.

Subscribers will be mailed copies of the Guidon software for installation on their PCs or workstations. The subscription price for one copy will be the same as for the print journal ($145 for individual subscriptions, $1195 for institutional single-user subscriptions), but discounts will be offered to charter-member subscribers. The economics of electronic journals certainly play a role in AIP's APL Online experiment. While savings occur on paper, printing, binding, and distribution costs, there are additional charges for software licenses, support services, and electronic enhancements to the composition process. At least at present, these additional charges more than consume the savings in print-related costs.

Changes behind the scenes

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To move itself into position to deliver electronic services such as APL Online, AIP has transformed its entire publishing process over the past five years. No fully electronic product could be offered until all elements of the printed page were converted into fully electronic form. In 1988, and for more than a decade prior to 1988, all journal pages were composed using a combination of four sources. AIP's Atex system produced single-column "galleys" of typeset text. A Datapoint system created "header" and "footer" text, giving page numbers, journal titles, etc., as well as indexes and tables of contents. AIP's illustrations section produced photographic reductions of original line art and "screens" of photographs. A graphic artist in the Pasteup section completed the process by pasting all elements onto the final page "boards," which were then sent to the printer. Starting in 1989, AIP began a transition to a new electronic composition system from Xyvision, with the intent of fully digitizing the composition process.

Xyvision is a special-purpose technical-composition application, running on Unix servers and employing X-windows composition terminals. AIP selected Xyvision because it promised to deliver many of the most important capabilities required for fully electronic composition. Most important, it is a full-page composition system. No longer does AIP require a pasteup process. Xyvision also supports incorporation of digitized graphics, the necessary final element for making the entire page available in electronic form. Finally, although its internal data structures are proprietary, Xyvision offers excellent support for translation of standard file formats such as TeX, Word, and WordPerfect into "Xycode" [see CIP 8:3 (1994), p. 255], as well as both input and output translations from and to the Standard Generalized Markup Language (SGML). SGML, an international standard, has been uniformly adopted by publishers as the format of choice for the exchange and manipulation of published information. (OCLC uses SGML for its EJO system.)

Beginning in the fall of 1989, AIP began the transition from Atex/Datapoint to the new Xyvision system for its more than 125,000 annual pages of composition. For the first few years, the photographic process for graphics was retained; that is, line art and halftone figures continued to be pasted into blank spaces reserved in the otherwise fully composed page. With the incorporation of an Eskofot digital scanner and photographic "touch-up" software in the fall of 1993, AIP put the final piece in place for completely electronic pages. This fully digital process has been in use for Applied Physics Letters and some other journals since January 1994. By the end of 1995, all AIP-composed pages will be fully digital. At the same time that the transition to the digital scanner was accomplished, AIP also moved from a proprietary typesetter to producing the final, fully electronic pages as PostScript files. These files will be available for electronic products based on PostScript, such as the CD-ROM version of the Journal of Vacuum Science & Technology, produced by AIP for the American Vacuum Society.

Having electronic versions of all page elements is only the first step in producing an electronic product. Information must be available in the correct electronic format. For EJO/Guidon, that means text (including equations and tables) in Standard Generalized Markup Language (SGML), line art in Tagged Image File Format (TIFF), and photographs in the new standard known as JPEG, for Joint Photographic Experts Group. For AIP, these requirements have meant development of translation software to convert Xyvision files into SGML, changes to the line-art scanning procedures to support different scanning resolutions required for screen display, and incorporation of batch programs to convert halftone files from the TIFF greyscale used by Xyvision into JPEG required by OCLC. Changes have also been made to the copy-marking and keyboarding process, to incorporate the necessary tags to identify hypertext links.

The SGML translation process is further complicated by the need to agree on a particular Document Type Definition (DTD), which describes the content of a particular form of document (in this instance, the scholarly journal article). Fortunately, there exists a DTD, ISO12083, that is being embraced by the international physics publishing community. AIP and OCLC have agreed to use this DTD for APL Online, rather than develop another, highly specialized DTD.

Minimizing the downside

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As we have learned from scientists and the results of early experiments in electronic publishing, not everything about online journals represents an improvement for the subscriber. Chief among the concerns of physicists is the feeling that the mechanisms provided for selecting what is to be read will diminish the possibility for "serendipitous discovery" of articles of interest that perhaps lie outside the search terms that might be used to select articles. APL Online hopes to mitigate this potential problem by providing an equivalent to the print-journal procedure of reviewing the table of contents of an issue to select what to read. Surveys have also revealed concern about the time required to transfer the contents of an article from a central server to the desktop PC or workstation. Anyone using an Internet connection should be satisfied with the response of the system. Users connecting via modem will note some delays in downloading figures. Fortunately, public networks widely offer 9.6-kbits/s modem access, and even 14.4-kbits/s access is becoming common.

It must be emphasized that Applied Physics Letters Online represents AIP's first experiment with an online, full-text product. It is early in the game, and we have many miles to go before realizing the vision for the future expressed in the APS report: "The dominant mode [of dissemination] will be via a single electronic physics library, or Physics Database, which will be the heart of a worldwide Physics Information System. [6]


References
[1] "Physical Review Centennial from Basic Research to High Technology," Special issue of Phys. Today 46 (October 1993). Back to Citation Point.

[2] "Report of the APS Task Force on Electronic Information Systems," Bull. Am. Phys. Soc. 36, 1119-1151 (1991). Back to Citation Point.

[3] G. Taubs, Science 262, 173-174 (1993). Back to Citation Point.

[4] In the early 1980s, the American Chemical Society began offering online, full-text access to several journals. Subscribers indicated dissatisfaction with the service, citing lack of access to figures and other graphics contained in the printed article but missing from the online version. (Private communication with L. Garson, Publications Division of the ACS.) AIP has also learned from early electronic-publishing experiments such as the Chemistry Online Retrieval Experiment (CORE) at Cornell University. Back to Citation Point.

[5] Selected as 1992 Product of the Year by Database magazine. A. Keyhani, Database 16, 14-23 (1993). Back to Citation Point.

[6] "Report of the APS Task Force on Electronic Information Systems," op. cit., p. 1133. Back to Citation Point.


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