The first presenter was Kaitlin Thaney, who talked about the ways in which users are extracting and manipulating metadata into services like Zotero and Readcube or for storing documents in services like Mendeley. This resonated for me very heavily with what I’ve heard from researchers in the various focus groups I’ve attended this year, where it’s become very obvious that the best possible user experience is an open one that allows researchers to interact with data and information in ways they define, whether that happens to be a service like Papers or downloading it to their Kindle. Kaitlin and I had a brief discussion about the issues with data licensing under the Creative Commons licenses she had drafted. Kaitlin was followed by Daniel Mayer from Temis, who talked about the semantic enrichment and text mining services Temis have to offer; it was noticeable that in suggesting techniques like concept pages, ontologies, content recommendations and faceting there was an awful lot of overlap (not surprisingly in truth) between our presentations.
Next up was your truly. This was actually an elaboration of my somewhat notorious ‘dancing bearware’ blog post, wherein I talked about some of the challenges I feel publishers face when designing sites for researchers, some of the common pitfalls that are around and a methodology (not a panacea) for beginning to tackle them. In so far as no-one fell asleep during my presentation and I didn’t get lynched, I think it didn’t go too badly. I was quite amused that Alison Jones from Palgrave had liveblogged my presentation as ‘scathing and harsh but fair.’ I was even more amused when someone recommended it as reading, along with Steve Krug’s Don’t Make Me Think, which is a book I was practically forced to learn by rote in my last job. I was asked some interesting questions about how to migrate content when creating a more unified user experience (incrementally, I thought) and how to develop information architectures for sites with very large amounts of publications (I cited the BBC as an example of an organisation that’s done a good job in creating a coherent user experience across sites that are extremely varied). The curious can find the presentation here.
The afternoon saw Alison Jones speak about the difficulties of managing a print business as it transitions into a digital business. As I’ve never worked in anything other than a digital environment this was fascinating for me and it did make me wonder whether there isn’t a good case for adopting some of the practices of service design, in terms of helping publishers better align their organisational structures to a greatly expanded set of customer touchpoints, rather than trying to bolt digital onto an existing structure. By contrast, John Peters of GSE, spoke about his current thoughts about creating a publishing business and web presence that was ‘born digital.’ More here and here.
One of the things that most stuck in my mind was a conversation I had with Michael Dunn from IWA Publishing. Michael agreed with the view I’d expressed that researchers are omnivorous in their content preferences without wanting to be shackled into journals and was able to give me an absolutely excellent example of this; namely the Water Wiki they’ve created for all the non-journal content they had available to them. It seems to have taken a lot of time and effort but they’ve established a leading and much used resource for their discipline and one that proves that wikis may well be a much better structure for research content in the future than the current journal sites we have.