Reinventing Content, Discovery, and Delivery for Today’s Academic Environment: An NFAIS Symposium

About 30 attendees gathered in Philadelphia, PA on May 25, 2011 (with about 20 additional virtual attendees) for another NFAIS symposium to hear about current trends and issues in re-inventing content.  Publishers are not only working on previously unpublished and new content, but they are re-inventing their existing products and adding new capabilities to them.  Although much of the focus was on the academic world, many of the presentations were of more general interest.

Integration of Video

Stephen Rhind-Tutt

One of today’s major trends is the integration of video into all types of content.  In fact, Alexander Street Press (ASP) has become a leader in this effort and has modified its business strategy in order to concentrate on video-enhanced products.  They have translated 20,000 CD-ROMs into streaming media.  According to Stephen Rhind-Tutt, ASP President, video is different from other types of content because it is difficult to digest the content quickly; one cannot scan it but must go through the entire stream.  ASP has built a system to transcribe video into text and synchronize the text with the video, so that one can move through the text, with the video following, and pause on portions of interest.  They have also added tools to videos allowing them to be indexed, cited, linked to other content, sent by e-mail, or saved as a clip.  This has greatly enhanced access and usage, particularly in the academic market.  Here are Rhind-Tutt’s predictions on what we can expect in the next 10 years:

Other major content providers are also experimenting with video products.  The American Chemical Society developed a very successful video course, “Publishing Your Research 101”; it was viewed over 24,000 times in one week.  Pearson, a leading educational publisher is adding video and podcasts to its e-book products, which is changing the paradigm of a book.  And Eric Hellman, president of Gluejar, noted that videos carry much context, and video on websites is becoming increasingly common.

Reinventing Content From Traditional Sources

H. Robert Cohen

H. Robert Cohen, Founder and Director of the Retrospective Index to Music Periodicals (RIPM) gave a fascinating presentation on how RIPM deals with very old content—music periodicals from the 1800s and up to about 1950.  They are the only vendor of music information with data from the 19th century, and the problems they have encountered in digitizing this old material are unique.  Some of the publications are literally falling apart; some have wrinkled pages; others have handwritten notes in the margins, etc.


Spelling problems are widespread; for example, there are dozens of ways to spell “Tchaikovsky”, so an auto-suggest feature was implemented.



Just finding complete runs of the journals is a major challenge.  And when they are located, there are, of course, no indexes.

Despite the difficulties, RIPM has assembled a full text database of over 1.2 million pages from over 4,500 journals.  It offers a unique perspective on music and is a major tool for teaching.  Content analysis by music scholars has produced superior indexing results.  One innovative feature of the database interface is the ability to reconfigure one’s keyboard to accommodate non-Roman character sets.


Non-Roman Keyboard Implementation

Search vs. Discovery

Discovery is making content increasingly intelligent.  It is an advance on search, the problems of which are well known.  Search works best when you know what you are looking for.  It finds documents, not answers to questions, knowledge, or new information, and it cannot find answers that are found in multiple documents.  In contrast, discovery leads to answers and finds entities and concepts, facts, opinions, and sentiments.

Maureen Kelly (L), Bruce Kiesel (at podium, L), and Guillaume Mazieres (R)

Bruce Kiesel, Director, Knowledge Base Management, Thomson Reuters IP & Science; and Guillaume Mazières, Executive VP, TEMIS, Inc. collaborated on a presentation discussing semantic content enrichment and how it adds value to information.   One can annotate data, insert knowledge, link to similar documents, etc.  Metadata is used as a springboard to other documents, allowing the creation of document maps, etc.


Company Relationships

The benefits of this technique are that content becomes more findable, exploration is facilitated, and proactive delivery is enabled.  Some products that have benefitted include:

  • A digital archive of Biological Abstracts for 1926 through 1968 was created.  Using OCR and markup, the records were categorized.
  • A full text corpus of Nature Chemistry was processed to find the chemicals mentioned in the articles, which were then linked to free resources on the Web.
  • The BIOSIS Citation Index was scanned to find genes and proteins; synonyms were inserted; and “pathway maps” for unique processes were generated.

Reinventing the Learning Experience

It is no secret that e-book sales are booming.  A new generation of textbooks is creating a new learning experience.  William Zobrist, Director of Product Strategy at Pearson, a leading educational publisher, said that Flash e-books showed us what can be done because they go well beyond simple repurposing of PDF documents.  Although e-ink technology has increased the acceptance of e-book technology, it is actually a downgrade for textbooks because of the lack of color and design features, which has hindered the production of e-book content.

According to Zobrist, the next e-book advance will be the integration of other forms of content such as podcasts and videos into the “learning management experience”.  This will make e-books just part of the body of learning content rather than discrete items and will provide a richer and deeper learning experience.

Luke Curtin

Luke Curtin, Product Manager for WileyPlus, noted that there is a strong emotional context in teaching and learning which goes beyond just receiving a good grade.  For many students, studying has negative emotions and anxiety; they want to feel calm, relaxed, and peaceful, and they believe they can succeed by feeling more organized, focused, and connected.  We must understand these emotions in product development.  Factors such as improving time management, presenting manageable amounts of information, and demonstrating progress frequently were used in the design of Wiley Plus.  For example, tables of contents were organized by time, not topic and displayed on a calendar, which helps students understand where they are in the course and lets them budget their time.  The amount of information was made more manageable by providing tracking and visual reporting.  Content was organized by learning  objective so that students don’t get lost.

Most students don’t know if they are doing poorly in a class until they have failed their first test.  So an early warning system was incorporated in Wiley Plus that uses time and learning objectives as a reporting mechanism, allowing students to know immediately where their weak areas are.  This is a different way of interacting with the textbook content and gives students opportunities to take the initiative to achieve their objectives and increase their confidence levels.

Dana Dreibelbis

Dana Dreibelbis, President & Publisher, M&C Life Sciences, described a different approach to the learning experience for high-level graduate students in the medical area.  The traditional scholarly publishing approach has been frustrating to publishers because many authors are 1 to 3 years late with their submissions; to librarians because they were sold a book that was late; and to authors who did not get paid as much and could not update their work for several years.  M&C’s solution is a 50 to 100 page e-book incorporating animations and video, which is more in-depth than a review and more concise than a typical monograph or textbook.  Bundles of 50 of these are sold primarily to academic librarians at a price of $4,000, which is under the industry average for content of this type.  M&C licenses the content to everyone at the university without any DRM restrictions, thus eliminating the traditional worries and inefficiencies of publishing.

The session on the learning experience concluded with a presentation by Rob Reynolds, Co-Founder of Xplana, which was acquired by MBS Textbook exchange in 2009.  He discussed the trends that matter in today’s education market, some purchasing patterns of students, and his view of the future.

Trends That Matter

Students' Purchasing Patterns

View of the Future

Discovery and Delivery Platforms

Yukun Horsino

The pace of everything is increasing, and researchers must do more with less time.  Despite this, the length of scientific articles continues to increase, so speed is critical, but comprehensiveness is also.  The problem is not too much information but accessing the right information at the right time, in the right place, and in an efficient and effective way. Therefore, content producers must adapt their product offerings.  Yukun Harsono, SVP of Search and Discovery at Elsevier, described Elsevier’s new platform, SciVerse, which offers integrated access to both ScienceDirect and Scopus.  Content buyers want to mash up content in ways that information providers cannot imagine, so on SciVerse, the APIs have been opened for development, which permits customized search and delivery at 3 levels.  Harsono called this “just in need” content that goes deep into users’ workflows.

SciVerse Platform Architecture

Cengage Learning is also working in similar ways, according to Nader  Qaimari, SVP of Marketing.  They have introduced the Personal Learning Experience platform which hosts MindTap,  an open system that has deconstructed print textbooks and allows professors to capture the content they want, add to it, and share best practices.  It was created because Cengage has found in surveys that students are not averse to digital content, but they still prefer print because the best digital solution is not yet available to them.

What is a Book—An Object-Oriented Approach

Eric Hellman

The day concluded with a fascinating presentation by Eric Hellman, founder of Gluejar, who walked us through a systems analysis of publishing.  (Hellman is well qualified to do this, having been a researcher at Bell Labs before founding Openly Informatics, a linking technology now owned by OCLC and then going on to found Gluejar.)  The questions we must ask in this approach are:

  • Is the future of publishing related to paper and ink, or bits?
  • Will we be working with documents or objects (like software)?
  • What are the objects in our environment and what are the relationships between them?
  • What will users do with the objects?

Hellman analyzed a newspaper website (he used the New York Times) and a general news website (CNN).  For the newspaper, the objects are streams of articles or data and photos, and the actions are navigation, search, and sharing.  For CNN, the objects are streams of articles, videos, and photos, and the actions are navigation, search, and sharing.  This analysis shows that these two sites are very much alike.

What is the difference between an article and a video?  A video is focused on a single object and has context.  Actions associated with it include play, change the volume, etc.  An article contains text, metadata, photos, links, and some context.  If the context is absent, an article can still stand on its own.  What about e-books?  They look more like video than an article.  Some of them work as websites.

Selling objects has many advantages.  The most popular model is selling or renting copies, what Hellman calls “pretend it is print”.  This model is compatible with existing businesses.  It has the disadvantage that it competes with free content, which makes sales difficult.  Using context to attract buyers is not a good way to make money because it is a poor fit with the book experience.  Aggregating objects and selling subscriptions is a good fit with the book experience and is compatible with existing businesses.  Gluejar’s new business model for e-books is to sell objects to the public.

Slides from this very useful and interesting symposium are now available on the NFAIS website.

Don Hawkins
Columnist, Information Today and Conference Circuit Blog Editor

Comments are closed.