The giant publisher Reed Elsevier (in whose capacious bosom LexisNexis rests) is experimenting with the form that a published scientific article takes online. The “Article of the Future” project, in beta, is an attempt to re-think the way in which a scientific article is presented, given the possibilities made available by information technology. At the moment there is a prototype that makes use of a couple of articles originally published in Cell, reformatting them in such a way that, among other things, graphics are more readily available and can be scaled, contents of the article are broken into typical sections made accessible by hyperlinks, authorities are gathered and accessible by hyperlinks, and additional and optional material is presented (such as audio and video presentations).
You ought to be able to examine the prototypes online, however I’ve had a good deal of difficulty getting them to load. And, I might add, a hyperlink in the press release leads to a “page not found” error. ‘Alpha’, I’d say, rather than ‘beta.’ There is, however, a video on the press release page that takes you through the features fairly effectively.
Of course, as interesting as this might be to scientists, the point for us is a more abstract one: what should we learn and propose for legal publishing? What would the legal article of the future look like?
A recent post by John Gregory on citing long URLs drew a large number of comments, indicating to me, at least, that in this period of transition between print and digital forms, there’s a need to re-envision where we’re headed. In a way this is odd, because law was one of the very first disciplines to turn to online data in a serious way. Yet to look at a judgment, a law review article or a law book — whether online or off — is to look at a text that is essentially unchanged in format from what it was fifty or even a hundred years ago. True, there are hyperlinks now in the online material, and, indeed, these can be made to emerge from a plain text through the magic of IT in some cases. But that’s about it.
Perhaps there is no “law article of the future.” Perhaps law articles are resolutely a run of text and nothing more. But I suspect that things could be different—and better —if the imagination were there. What do you think?