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Hypermedia Online Publishing: the Transformation of the Scholarly Journal

5.2.5 Distribution and access

Once notified, the scholar needs to be able to gain access to the information. This includes locating the journal, and being able to identify and read articles of interest.

In the print world, the journal has to be physically delivered to its destination. For readers of the journal located outside the country of publication this involves the invidious choice between fast airmail (but expensive delivery charges) or slow surface mail and delays of weeks or months. For some journals (particularly those which are both large and frequent), the cost of shipping is a significant component of the total subscription cost. If the journal is delivered directly to the user, the problem of journal location is limited to finding the journal within the context of the scholar's own personal information management system. If the journal is delivered to the library, it will be filed in some well-defined sequence. To assist with locating articles within journals, the publishing industry has developed a range of standard tools: contents pages at the front of issues, yearly cumulative printed indexes, and the like.

For e-journals, distribution and access are quite different. In the first place, for most e-journals nothing is actually delivered. The exceptions are those e-journals that still use CD-ROM distribution and so require the movement of a physical object. For all other e-journal types, either a sequence of bits is delivered automatically or the user connects to a server to access the content of an article or issue.

Listserv archives enable scholars to access information via email. All that is required is to email a GET command to the listserver address requesting that a specified file be sent by return email. As email is the lowest common denominator for users of the Internet, this provides the widest possible audience. As an example, consider the reference in this thesis to Harnad (1991). This article in the refereed e-journal Public-Access Computer Systems Review (PACS-R) can be retrieved by sending the email message get harnad prv2n1 f=mail to listserv@uhupvm1. Of course, before issuing a GET command, one needs to know that the file exists. Some journals, including PACS-R, handle this by sending the table of contents and abstracts to users subscribed to the PACS-L or PACS-P mailing lists. Alternatively, it is possible to email commands to some listservers instructing them to search a database and return a list of articles that match the search criteria. These articles can then be retrieved as above. It is also possible for the entire issue of a journal to be delivered by email.

Scholars can access articles in anonymous FTP archives either by using a dedicated FTP client, or by providing an FTP URL to a Web browser like Lynx, Mosaic or Netscape. If the URL formalism is not being used, then the FTP location of the article will need to specify host machine, directory path and filename. For example, the information encoded in the URL FTP://cogsci.ecs.soton.ac.uk/pub/harnad/Harnad/harnad95.quo.vadis can also be expanded into (more or less) plain English as 'Make an anonymous FTP connection to cogsci.ecs.soton.ac.uk, move into the directory pub/harnad/Harnad/ and get the file harnad95.quo.vadis'. The URL formalism has the advantage of being more compact as well as parseable by both humans and machines. One example of a journal accessed by AFTP is Psycholoquy, edited by Stevan Harnad.

Gopher was initially developed to provide a basis for mounting Campus Wide Information Systems (CWISs). It is based around the idea of hierarchical menus, and allows the server administrators a lot of flexibility in how they structure their information space. One fairly standard way to mount e-journals on a gopher server is to have a menu of possible journals. Each journal points to a menu of issues for that journal. Each issue points to the individual articles. Given unambiguous information about the path to be followed, scholars can navigate through the menus until they locate the files they want. It is also possible to provide Gopher URLs for direct access using a Web browser. An example of a journal available through Gopher is the Mathematical Physics Electronic Journal.

The Web, with its non-hierarchical document-based networked hypermedia architecture provides a much richer environment for electronic publishing. Documents can either be reached by following an existing link, or can be accessed directly by entering a valid URL. Documents can in turn refer to other documents and provide direct links to them (something that is not possible with documents accessed using a Gopher client). The Web can also be used to point to documents in PDF format (as discussed already)

Last modified: Monday, 11-Dec-2017 14:41:44 AEDT

© Andrew Treloar, 2001. * http://andrew.treloar.net/ * andrew.treloar@gmail.com