Article of the Future

article_of_futureThe 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?


  1. Thanks for pointing this out, Simon. The formatting of article one inspires quite a bit of speculation about how articles (and decisions) could be formatted to make quick scanning easier. Can’t you envision a series of tabs across the top of a decision/article: Facts, Arguments, Outcomes, etc?
    I think that there is lots of room for some truly innovative thinking, and I’m glad you’ve started the conversation.

  2. Very interesting take on where articles may be going. I am sure there are fields other than law that would adopt the new format more readily. But I agree with Wendy that there is lots of room for innovation of this type in the legal arena. As an advocate for more information that is more easily accessible, I would love to see legal documents, articles, opinions, etc. evolve in such a way.

  3. It’d be fun to see if Canada (i.e. Slaw and friends) could beat Lexis to a sturdy version of a new format for online legal textual material — the way that Canada was a pioneer with Quicklaw.

  4. Gary P. Rodrigues

    I checked out the prototypes. There doesn’t seem to be much in the way of the “future” in the “Article of the Future”. Rather, it seems to me to be a collection of everything that it is possible to do now, but for which there is no commercial demand.

    Reed Elsevier faces a major challenge to its dominant position in the market for scientific journals from the Open Access movement. It needs to do something major to meet that challenge. The prototypes just don’t live up to the hype.

  5. I agree, Gary: this is pretty tame stuff in fact. But the notion continues to interest me in connection with law. I’m doing up a column that’ll probably appear on Saturday here where I talk a little more about what intrigues me. I’d love to have your thoughts on it.