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Hypermedia Online Publishing: the Transformation of the Scholarly Journal

9.3.1 Insights from theoretical perspectives

Ecology of communicative transactions

The concepts in Kaufer and Carley's model that relate to the functions of the scholarly journal are reach, asynchronicity, and multiplicity.

Reach for an individual can be defined as the number of people whose mental model is affected by a signatured communication from that individual. Reach is a property of the author, but technology can extend an author's reach. Technology extends communication at a distance through asynchronicity , durability (discussed already under journal form) and multiplicity .

Asynchronicity removes the requirement that partners in a communicative transaction have to be coexistent in time (and by implication, in space). A move to online hypermedia journals will not alter this existing property of print journals. Such a move does have the potential to enhance discussion around journal articles particularly with innovations like the open peer commentary associated with journals like JIME.

Multiplicity is "the number of communication partners that can be communicated with at the same time" [Kaufer and Carley, 1994, p. 35]. Multiplicity implies greater distance and greater speed in spreading information. Network technologies provide for the largest potential asynchronicity, durability and multiplicity of any communications technologies to date. One of the attractions of e-journals is their ability to dramatically increase multiplicity. Large consortium licences allow groups institutions to gain access to journal titles online that they had not previously subscribed to in print at no or little extra cost. There is no (or little) incremental opportunity cost to the publishers in increasing such access. As an example, the author's university now has a site licence for all of the Project Muse journals (see 8.6: Project Muse on page 156), even though it had not subscribed to many of them previously. As a multi-site institution, having the full text online also simplifies access to titles that had been previously only been easily available within the campus on which they had been located.

Kaufer and Carley argue for a necessary role for print in the activities of scholarly professions in the sense that large diverse professions need to be structured around printed texts. But print is merely a supporting technology, not a deterministic one. The nature of professions depend on the characteristics of a group and not the medium through which they communicate. Like the later technologies of electronic mail, print increased the reach of individuals within a profession and thus supported a wider geographical spread of members. Print also bound the members of a profession more closely together through shared experiences of common printed materials in the forms of journals and newsletters. In diffusing new ideas journals are simultaneously faster than book publication or face-to-face interaction (due to their frequency of issue and increased reach respectively), and slower than newspapers (due to the gatekeeper function of peer review). The obvious question is whether the current system is too fast or too slow. The consensus according to Kaufer and Carley is that many scientists regard the speed of journals as too slow, particularly in very fast-moving fields.

Punctuated equilibrium and speciation

The significance of the punctuated equilibrium model to the transformation of the scholarly journal is that speciation (and hence changes in the scholarly journal) are driven by environmental change. For example, one could (just) imagine the reward structures for scholarship altering so that publishing refereed journal articles was regarded as significantly inferior to excellence teaching. In this case, the pressures for changes in scholarly communication would be quite severe. However, if one makes the reasonable assumption that scholarship is not going to be radically transformed in the next century, then it follows that the functions of scholarship currently embodied in the print scholarly journal system will not dramatically alter either. Instead, technological transformation should allow scholars to carry out their existing functions more effectively.

Genres and new media

Agre's categories of analysis (activities and relationships) are relevant to the functions of the scholarly journal and its transformation into an online hypermedia environment.

The functions of the scholarly journal are designed to support the activities of scholarship. These activities of writing and reading articles, conference papers and books, and taking part in the processes of journal publishing by refereeing and editing are a core part of the scholarly life. They serve as the way in which research is communicated to one's peers and validated as worthy of dissemination. Any functional transformation associated with new hypermedia journals needs to build on this established rich pattern of activities. This is a theme that is reinforced by the survey data (see below).

Scholarly journals also need to support the relationships within scholarly communities. Hypermedia journals should do no less than existing print journals, but can potentially do much more through increased possibilities for feedback to the author and interaction between author and reader. The sort of online peer commentary being trialled by JIME is an excellent example of how the form of a journal can provide a sense of embedding within an online community.

Last modified: Monday, 18-Sep-2017 03:27:58 AEST

© Andrew Treloar, 2001. * *