The Open Journal Project:
First year report 
(May 1995 to May 1996)

  This is an edited version of the project's official report on its first year of activity, which was submitted to the funding body, the Electronic Libraries programme. It is a formal report, and some of the information it contains, especially that referring to the technical implementation, has been superseded. If you are interested in the technical framework, please refer to the latest information.
Submitted 13th August 1996
This version posted to the Web on 8th October 1996. Thumbnail images added 10th December


The Open Journal project is a publishing-scale project, not a single journal as the title might imply. The project is applying innovative techniques to build a new publishing model, and it is the ability of the technical framework to support this new online publishing process for academic journals, rather than the techniques themselves, which are developing in parallel, that is the principal focus of the project.

For this report, it is worth elaborating formally the overall objective for the project as well as the objectives for the first year, against which progress reported here can be judged.

Overall objective

To build a framework for commercial publishing applications which enables online journals (published on the Web) to be interlinked, and to provide users with the ability to create or follow numerous, flexible linked paths designed to support themed study and research using the maximum available online resources.
The outline plan for year 1 that accompanied the original proposal, and which was later formalised in the year 1 plan (Appendix 1), was to build a first implementation based on a single journal. That plan can be encapsulated in the following set of objectives.

First year objectives:

It should be noted that while at some points the report refers to the specific underlying technologies, where the term 'interface' is used this should be taken to mean the whole technical framework of the Open Journal - including document services, link services and the links themselves, and so on - not just a specific instance of an interface or its screen appearance. This is a reasonable description since it is this aspect, the user interaction, with which the project is most concerned.

Progress has been good. Almost all the first year objectives have been achieved within the predicted timescale. In fact, the set of first year objectives understates the achievements of the first year since the project has extended its support among all interested parties: for academic journals these include commercial journal publishers; also editors, authors, readers and academic librarians (or users, as we will collectively call them here). In particular the project has established significant new contacts with publishers to provide additional working materials for subsequent years in biology and other disciplines. 

1 Activities and Progress

1.1 Major Activities

These activities fall into five categories reported below:

1.1.1 PUBLISHING: Establishing relationships with publishers

Publishing partners: From the outset it was planned that the project would explore the disciplines of biology, computer science and cognitive science. This range reflects not only the experience and interests of the original project partners, but represents three fast-moving disciplines which are well differentiated in their response to the challenges of online publishing.

In biology, the Company of Biologists has been involved in the project from the beginning. Two other publishers active in this area joined at the beginning of 1996. Electronic Press (EP), a unique online publisher of materials in biology and medicine, hosts the BioMedNet club for biomedical scientists and publishes journals owned by EP as well as presenting the online versions of journals of many other publishers. Academic Press (AP) has wider subject interests and since the beginning of the year has made all of its journals, over 180 titles, available online, the largest collection of online journals from a single publisher.

The original project partners in computer science were the British Computer Society and Oxford University Press, through their joint publishing enterprise, and John Wiley & Sons. This group now includes MCB University Press which principally publishes business materials but which also has an abstracts service in computing .

Stevan Harnad's online journal Psycoloquy, as well as papers from the Cambridge University Press journal which he edits, Behavioural and Brain Sciences (BBS), continue to be the main resources in cognitive science. It is anticipated that the cognitive science e-print archive recently funded by JISC within the eLib programme, as well as the Los Alamos e-print archive which is mirrored on the same machine, will also be integrated within the Open Journal framework.

In addition, we are close to confirming an arrangement of great significance to the project with the Institute for Scientific Information (ISI) and BIDS for access to comprehensive databases of abstracts, and we have continuing contacts with a number of academic publishers - Blackwell Science, Kluwer, Cambridge University Press among them - with a view to their possible participation later in the project.

1.1.2 TECHNOLOGY: Developing the Open Journal interface

Developers: A Web server was installed to host the major project materials, including the archives of some of the projectís journals. The current interface includes: To elaborate, the unique feature of this project is to remove the need for the hypertext link to be encoded within the body of a document, as it is in the de facto language of the Web, html. Instead, the data for each link is held individually in a link database, or linkbase. When called by the user, links can be overlaid on the Web document currently in the Web browser window. The process of calling and overlaying links is handled by the link service. What the user sees of the link service is a forms interface or two drop-down menus offering follow-link or make-link actions, and allowing the sets of links called to be specified. Although the link service supports user development of links, the project will be the main developer, and major collections of links are being built for the biology Open Journal . The advantage of this approach is the flexibility it gives to present the user with additional linked information, forward citations for example, that in a constantly changing information environment will not have been known to the author of the document being viewed.

Already, the interface components developed at Southampton University have evolved through different implementations. The DMS first adopted a File Manager-type structure but has since been rewritten in Sun's Java language to make it faster and more dynamic.
Early DMSFig. 1 Early document management system interface (31 kb .gif image)
The first link service required users to install a piece of software on their machine, a 'plug-in' application.
Browser plug-inFig. 2 Browser plug-in application provides extra menu of actions
A recent version adopts a Web-based philosophy and makes the service available remotely to users, who connect to the service as a proxy server, rather than having to manage software on their own machines.
Proxy session formFig. 3 Sample session form for proxy link service

Adding links in pdf, for those journals viewed through Acrobat, is more complex than for the Web's native html. Acrobat is optimised for page reproduction, and despite the inclusion of improved link facilities in recent releases, the underlying format makes it difficult to locate, place and highlight links. To support the linking features sought by the project, the Electronic Publishing group at Nottingham University has demonstrated a plug-in application that adds the required link functionality.
Acrobat plug-inFig. 4 Acrobat link plug-in adds to standard menu

Some work has been aimed at longer-term features of an Open Journal, such as investigating more sophisticated search and information retrieval tools than are currently provided for the project's journals. This will become more important as the volume of information grows. Research on the application of intelligent agents in an Open Journal environment is ongoing.

1.1.3 RESOURCES: Compiling online resources

Principal journal resources (with years for which articles are available):

On project server

On publishers' servers

Resource for linking

Substantial archives from the years stated have been installed for each of the journals held on the project server. For COB journals, this is currently the only online source of papers in full-text form. JMB is principally available through AP's Ideal subscriber service. For the project the importance of this arrangement is that these parts of the journals are openly accessible for experimental work. Each of these journals was supplied on CD in pdf form and are viewed with Acrobat. The project has derived a searchable list of articles in html format for each journal.
Typical search engineFig. 5 Search engine applied to Development

In contrast, the ten review journals, associated databases and abstracts service made available to the project by EP are accessed by arrangement with its subscriber service. Although access to these materials must be restricted to specified project users, this was considered the most appropriate arrangement for this range of materials. All are available in html.

An unusual feature of the biology resources is the Dictionary of Cell Biology. This is published in paper form by AP, and although the full text cannot be viewed online, there is a service which allows search requests for particular terms. Using a list of keywords supplied by the dictionary editor, the project extends these versions by linking TO the dictionary from any instance of a term that appears in it, from say an article in Development. This linking is mediated through the link service and can be switched on or off according to preference.

In cognitive science, Psycoloquy has for some time been hosted on a number of servers worldwide, and BBS has recently launched a Web site. Both are open access sites with a large volume of material. Early in the project, assistance was given to create hypertext versions of these sites.

Resources in computer science are building more slowly. After a delayed start, BCS/OUP's The Computer Journal is now each month expanding its online collection of full-text papers from the journal. Wiley has been developing electronic editions of selected journals through the CAJUN project with Nottingham University. These editions have been released on CD, but Wiley is now embracing an online publishing strategy and the project expects to have access to the journal Electronic Publishing-ODD. This journal and The Computer Journal will be hosted by the publishers rather than the project, and are in pdf format. MCB's Computer Abstracts Online is also publisher-hosted with privileged access for the project.

The above are the arranged materials. One of the features of an Open Journal is the ability to link FROM other, third-party resources which are openly accessible on the Web. A wide range of relevant resources has been discovered, including new Web journals, the abstracts of established paper journals (full text is not commonly available for such journals, and is usually subscriber-only when it is), university ftp archives and databases. Once again, biology is particularly richly served in this area.

To discover the extent and nature of these online resources, the project surveyed full-text scientific journals and published an extensive report [ref. 1].

1.1.4 USER SUPPORT: Design and test of an Open Journal in biology

Given the scope of the project and the number of people involved, there are a number of ways in which feedback on the work is being motivated.


Biology Open Journal

Similar user groups will be assembled for the other two disciplines covered by the project as the relevant resources grow and Open Journal links are developed for them, as anticipated in the plans for future years.


1.2 Outputs

The projectís principal communications to date have been: Describing the project to the uninitiated is perhaps the hardest task we have to accomplish. In classic marketing terms, the project is a solution in search of a problem. There are good reasons for believing that realisation of the problem is not far away. Hence the purpose of the materials produced by the project is not simply the typical one, to promote awareness and understanding, but also to be influential in contributing to the new online medium and its agenda, and to encourage wider support for this agenda as well as participation in our particular model of it.

To this end the project has produced a range of materials: a press release targetted at journals serving publishers and users across higher education; electronic postings on relevant mailing lists; technical papers for Web developers at two of the prestigious international Web conferences [ref 2][ref 3]; as well as papers intended for librarians, publishers, editors, authors, readers and everyone else involved in developing online journals [ref. 1][ref 4]. At the end of the first year the project fulfilled its plan to hold a full-day seminar, in London, for partners, users and invited guests, to demonstrate and discuss the project in a publishing context [ref. 5]. This seminar was perhaps the project's most vivid learning experience so far.

The press release resulted in a short feature in the Times' weekly Interfacesupplement on computing. It was also reported in technical journals and journals aimed at information scientists.Better targetted and immediate circulation can now be achieved with electronic mailing lists, which produced useful feedback.

Perhaps the most effective means to date of promoting the project has been by indirect reference, that is, through papers and correspondence that put the work in a wider perspective. The journals survey paper is an example [ref. 1].

1.3 Successes

The main successes so far have been: Publishers are integral to the project. That the project has been able to expand its group of participating publishers to include further committed publishers that share the project vision has been one of the most encouraging features of the first year.

An offshoot of this development is a new, and separate, collaboration with EP to add link services to its BioMedNet service. This online service, now launched into its commercial phase, imposes requirements on the link service that immediately differ from the longer-term horizons of the project, although results from both implementations will inform the larger applications possible in the future. BioMedNet will also bring greater visibility to the link service, which is central to the project strategy, and is significant recognition for the project from the UKís first online science publisher.

The survey paper, published on the Web and thereby promoting the project philosophy in word and deed, has been widely read and favourably commented upon. The paper is also to receive recognition in print as the invited paper in the 1996 Directory of Electronic Journals, Newsletters and Academic Discussion Lists published by the American Association of Research Libraries. 

2 Learning from Experience

The open linking strategies being applied in the project have deep roots in the hypertext research community. The potential for information linking was envisaged as far back as 1945, and early hypertext publishing systems were built in the 1960s. The difference between those systems and now is the scale of connectivity: through the Web, there is now a substantial online user base. Open hypertext systems address the problems of managing the larger information environment.

Hypertext links are fast becoming the currency of the Web, and the prospect is for their use to multiply dramatically. One major learned society, the Association for Computing Machinery, has stated in its electronic publishing plan that it will treat links as citations, that is, it will encourage the use of links to and from its published, and otherwise proprietary, materials. We are, however, only at the beginning of a major cultural change. Many US media professionals - journalists and producers, many from established national and regional TV stations or newspapers as well as from new Web publishing start-ups - recognise of the power of links and are visibly adding greater numbers of links to commercial online products. In the US there is a large and rapidly growing online user base, to the extent that we might speculate that the market there for new media developments is 2-3 years ahead of the rest of the world. The best ideas will migrate quickly, as will the new demands this generates.

This is by way of saying that the overall vision of an Open Journal remains strong and unchanged. Nevertheless, the learning process of the first year has informed perspectives on the implementation technologies, the nature and speed of the cultural change, and presentation skills. These experiences are discussed below.

2.1 Building a transferrable technology

Technology is invariably easier to build for a single user. The apparent irrationality of a larger user group introduces familiar problems: technology integration, new cognitive demands, and the ever-present conflict between research and development. The project is learning from experience in each of these areas.

The Web has become a multilayered technology, its great strength being the ability to integrate new and old technologies. The Web can present new types of hypertext-linked, Java-based multimedia materials. As authoring support and plug-in viewers proliferate, by next year there will hardly be a single mainstream application - from word processing to spreadsheets and presentations - that does not have a facility for generating something that can be viewed on the Web. The long-term divide between different computer platforms will be challenged, it is argued, by the emergence of the Network Computer, of limited capabilities but for which the network itself provides the computing power.

The present reality of the extent of this integration, however, is that not every user can experience the same view of all the Web has to offer. The problem: synchronisation, in other words, you can't always have what you want when you want it. The project has discovered this problem on a smaller scale. The aim of the project is to add enhanced link functions not to a single application but to a range of Web applications, notably Web browsers and Acrobat viewers, as has been mentioned already. Initially this link service was 'attached' to the various applications using software written in the Multimedia Research Group at Southampton University. It worked well in the laboratory, but it had problems with new versions of Netscape, the Macintosh version needed additional support, and the code has to be rewritten to work with Windows 95.

Add the development overhead to the user overhead of installing new software, and it became clear a new strategy was required. Link functions are now provided from a remote server and are seen by the user simply as an additional Web page (Fig. 3). Integration with the Web is therefore optimal, but for the Open Journal it is not yet seamless: enter Acrobat. Currently Acrobat does not have the same level of communication with Web servers, and the interpretation of link commands must be accomplished within the viewer, so the attachment lives on. Despite the short delay this redesign has caused in the schedule, an improved interface will be made available to users early in the second year of the project. In the context of the project as whole the new interface marks major progress.

A critical issue the project must solve is that of creating high quality links in volume. The project has demonstrated the application of links on a large scale, but not yet the effectiveness to produce only useful links on the scale that commercial link publishing will demand..
no linksFig. 6a Original page without links (Note. Large file. This is combined with Fig. 6b for download forming a 62 kb .gif file.)
links addedFig. 6b Links added by link service
How can the automation features of the link service be moderated to ensure quality links? First tests with biology links have begun to indicate what a quality link is, but it can differ for a given user or group of users. This development involves what we shall call the 'cognitive link overhead', that is, the link editing task requires detailed knowledge of the subject, the resources and the effects and characteristics of the link service. Reducing this overhead is a top priority when the new interface is available.

The projectís development programme includes longer-term research into the application of intelligent agents and the more immediate interface issues. During the second year the two threads will begin to converge. Despite the longer-term ambitions for intelligent agents within the project, this work will play a key role in helping us understand the cognitive link overhead discussed above. Bringing the agent work closer to the journal interface, specifying agent tasks and building real applications, will illuminate both the cognitive and technical link creation processes.

2.2 Web publishing: the culture gap

Experience of using the Internet, and the Web in particular, diverge markedly even in academia, not just in society as a whole. Hard data on the level of access to computers and the Internet in higher education is difficult to find, but the project's survey of online journals found a clear disparity between the major science disciplines in their development, use and acceptance of online journals.

Another culture gap is that between traditional publishers, who own the print journals, and the new generation of would-be Web publishers. A publisher can be both at the same time, but the gap is still there. Traditional publishers are naturally conservative and, under pressure to preserve commercial profitability, are faced with a new medium that has not demonstrated the capacity for sustained revenue generation. Such publishers are not inclined to be 'open' in the same terms that support the Web philosophy; the publishing process itself is staunchly resistant to any apparent form of standardisation: 'the anti-Procrustean tendency is strongly represented' said one publisher.

It is against this background that the project has to involve publishers in developing new products that may, or may not, be consistent with their existing commercial strategies, and for which the demand from the academic community is unclear. An added dimension for the project is the extension of the Web culture to its underlying link culture.

In fact, the popularity of the Web has generated a momentum all of its own, even among publishers, so the barriers are not as great as they may at first seem. Beyond our original partners, those UK publishers with the most active programmes for putting journals on the Web, EP and AP for example, were first to approach us and have been enthusiastic from the outset.

That said, involving new publishers in the project has had to be handled carefully, openly and with as many demonstrations as could be provided. Participation does not demand, or imply, similar views, just an open mind and a willingness to explore new possibilities in a controlled environment.

The issue has thus proved to be manageable on a relatively local scale, within the UK say, when it involves a focussed audience. Our ambition is to convince a larger constituency of publishers and academic users of the benefits of the approach, but this will have to be achieved without the same scope for individual contact. How can we best use the Web to bring hands-on experience to a range of users given the technology issues discussed above and the limitations of current online resources or the conditions imposed on our use of them? These are real publishing questions for the project to answer.

As with publishers, first reactions from our target user group have been positive. The London seminar provided the first opportunity to meet many from this group and demonstrate the Open Journal approach. Perhaps one of the most convincing arguments in favour of the approach was given at the meeting not by the project team but by the biology open journal editor David Shotton, who is also one of the test users. Within the biology field our problem will not be persuading users to use an Open Journal, but to amply fulfill the latent demand among this group.

2.3 Facing the audience: the London seminar

Speaking in public is hardly unusual for academic researchers, and representatives of the project have regularly given talks at conferences and seminars. It is rarer, however, for a group to have the opportunity to expand on a theme for a full-day. With the London seminar the Open Journal project did this, and discovered the different challenges this presents.

The meeting was held to bring together for the first time as many of the projectís diverse participants as possible, to give everyone the same view of the latest implementation of the biology Open Journal, and to seek feedback. Speakers included publishers and users as well as the project developers. All participants were invited to comment informally at any time during proceedings, which many did, and there was a general discussion session. Thus, although attendance was by invitation only, the content of the meeting was truly Ďopení.

In addition to the above objectives, we were also aware that the seminar would be a forerunner of more public demonstrations to be held later in 1996 and beyond. To be given the experience of presenting such a meeting in front of a supportive and tolerant audience was invaluable.

Despite achieving our immediate objectives, the meeting provided some hard lessons. The demonstrations reinforced the need for thorough testing of the interface some way in advance of a meeting, although this is not easy in mid-development. Themed meetings have to be more carefully scripted than typical, broader seminars, with all speakers aware in advance of other presentations. The overall message has to be coherent and complete. While open discussion can be enlightening, it requires some control, and speakers discovered the importance of pace and direction in motivating and handling this type of feedback. 

3 Evaluation

The project is just beginning its formal evaluation process. There will be two aspects to the evaluation procedure, both internal and external:

Evaluating the interface

Feedback will be generated from two contributing groups: The activities of the project are directed by the management steering committee. The committee met six times during the reporting period, agreeing forward plans, checking progress and generally subjecting the project to regular scrutiny. It is the publishers within this group who are likely to be the arbiters of the commercial prospects of the Open Journal interface and its value as a new mechanism for publishing, and as the project develops this response will be an important means by which to gauge progress.

The project is creating a more formal framework for the specialist test users, involving structured as well as exploratory use of the interface and the various resources. Responses will be monitored through questionnaires, individual meetings and group sessions where possible. The Web, however, will be the principal means of communication, for issuing materials and inviting immediate response.

Evaluating the project

The project will be evaluated externally by an appointed specialist evaluator.

Issues to be evaluated

As well as testing the technical framework, the general issues that the internal evaluation will need to explore are:

4 Future Development

The overall project objective remains clear and is is achievable. Further progress towards this goal is outlined in the schedule for the second year (Appendix 2). This plan can be summarised by the following objectives.

Second year objectives:

The project will not produce a commercial Open Journal, but clearly publishers and the developers will want it to generate information on which to judge the viability of building a commercial Open Journal beyond the project. The work with BioMedNet could be important in this respect.

The task of achieving sustainability beyond the project will require corporate change, risk and new investment. To justify this, commercial players must be convinced of the reliability and accessibility of the technical infrastructure, satisfied with the legal framework, yet prepared to relinquish some currently demanded rights and be amenable to greater cooperation between commercial interests. Most importantly, they will want evidence of a significant switch in the market for the product, in this case towards online scholarly information. The commercial players must remember, however, that they cannot control this change; it is their speed of response to the change, to the changing publishing culture, that will be critical in their own success.

Increasingly, the projectís technical advances will be tempered by user preferences and the commercial framework. This framework will likely not be the one that exists now, but it will ultimately be commercial. How the project balances these outcomes will determine the longer-term viability of the Open Journal model. 

5 Project publications and related publications

  1. Hitchcock, S, Carr, L, and Hall, W, 1996, A survey of STM online journals 1990-95: the calm before the storm. In Directory of Electronic Journals, Newsletters and Academic Discussion Lists, sixth edition, edited by D. Mogge, (Washington, D.C.: Association of Research Libraries), pp. 7-32,
  2. Carr, L, DeRoure, D, Hall, W, and Hill, G, 1995, The Distributed Link Service: a tool for publishers, authors and readers. World Wide Web Journal, Proceedings of the Fourth International WWW Conference, No. 1, Winter 1995/96,
  3. Carr, L, Davis, H, De Roure, D, Hall, W, and Hill, G, 1996, Open information services. Computer Networks and ISDN Systems, Proceedings of the Fifth International WWW Conference, Vol. 28, 1996, 1027-1036,
  4. Carr, L, Davis, H, Hall, W, and Hey, J, 1996, Using the World Wide Web as an electronic library. Third international ELVIRA conference, Milton Keynes, May,
  5. Open Journal project team, 1996, What is an Open Journal? Open Journal seminar, LSE, London, May 1996
  6. Hitchcock, S, 1996, Publishing reinvented in the age of the Web. Open Journal seminar, LSE, London, May 1996, to be published
  7. Hitchcock, S, 1996, Web publishing: speed changes everything. IEEE Computer, Vol. 29, No. 8, August, 91-93,
Open Journal project team
13th August 1996

Further information

If you would like further information about the project see the Open Journal project home page. If you would like to be kept informed of new developments or reports, please email Steve Hitchcock, our Liaison Officer.