I’ve been contributing to JournalTOCs, the free service where researchers keep up-to-date with scholarly papers, since I retired. It’s a great service IMHO, with a lot of further potential, and many people are finding it useful. In January, there were record levels of use.
JournalTOCs grew out of another similar service called ticTOCs, and so it was with mixed feelings that I read recently that the ticTOCs service will be discontinued at the end of March 2012. Just to be very clear about things, JournalTOCs will continue as a top service for researchers.
My feelings are mixed because on the one hand it has been confusing having two similar services in existence at the same time, even though JournalTOCs has many more journal Tables of Contents than ticTOCs and has also several more features (such as search within TOCs, RESTful APIs and email alerts). The reason why there have been two services is because projects funded by JISC (such as ticTOCs) are mandated to keep available their outcomes for at least three years after the end of the project. After March, there will be only one, freely available to all, journal Table of Contents current awareness service, called JournalTOCs, which will make the situation much clearer (Zetoc is not freely available to all).
On the other hand I’m a bit sad to see ticTOCs go, because I worked on it from 2007 to May 2009 on a .25 fte basis. I wrote the bid proposal with input from Terry Bucknell, and was delighted when it received funding of £200,000 from JISC. A lot of work went into the ticTOCs bid – building the consortium, explaining and testing the concepts, getting backing and in some cases money from various organisations, institutions and publishers, etc. A lot of work also went into the two-year project, but even so, some things remained uncompleted at the end of the project, which was a disappointment. The delays also had a negative effect on the connected Gold Dust project, which although very well managed, was also not able to fulfill all of its potential as a result.
Both of these projects sat slightly uncomfortably within the JISC Users and Innovation programme, where most of the other projects seemed to be about learning technology. I remember one programme meeting at York where we had to draw lines to represent the connections between all the projects in the programme on a large sheet of paper – there was only one line going into ticTOCs (from Gold Dust, which itself had a few lines connecting it with other projects that used RSS). Most other projects had lines going all over the place.
The original ticTOCs concept recognised the importance, to researchers, of keeping up-to-date with the latest publications via the contents of newly published journals, where the results of much scholarly research are reported.
Ensuring efficient and easy access to the contents of the latest journal publications is also, of course, important for journal publishers. Publishers have an interest in ensuring better exploitation of the latest output of what has been estimated to be a $5 billion+ industry.
Authors of scholarly publications also want their output to be available to as wide an audience as possible, as soon after publication as possible.
Therefore, the ticTOCs work had relevance to researchers, publishers and authors.
ticTOCs was designed to be at the centre of work which would enable the smart aggregation, recombination, synthesization, output and reuse of standardised journal TOC RSS feeds and their content. There’s a lot in that statement, and it is all still relevant today.
The objectives listed in the bid were:
a) To create a ticTOCs web-based environment that allows researchers to easily discover, subscribe to, search within, be alerted to, aggregate, personalise, export and reuse standardised Table of Contents RSS feeds and their content from any networked PC at their convenience
b) To facilitate the exploitation and acquisition (via site license, subscription, open access or purchases) of the full text of articles discovered by users via ticTOCs, in the period shortly after their publication
c) To facilitate the re-use of aggregated journal TOC content on a subject or topic basis by gateways, subject-based resource discovery services, library services, VREs and other services, where it can be exposed to a wider market, act as a showcase of the latest research output, and deliver relevant content to researchers.
d) To enable library and information services, publishers, gateways, content aggregators and journal directories to allow their users to embed journal TOC RSS feeds of interest, with one click, into a freely available personalisable web-based interface which will perform as a current awareness environment.
e) To create advocacy materials on journal TOC RSS standardisation, and thereby facilitate their interoperability and improve the quality of their data.
f) To develop a business plan to maintain ticTOCs as a self-sustaining service, free to the individual end user, after the project phase
g) To disseminate the findings of the project to ensure knowledge transfer.
The bits that were not achieved by the project were:
… search within, be alerted to…
…facilitate the re-use of aggregated journal TOC content on a subject or topic basis by gateways, subject-based resource discovery services, library services, VREs and other services, where it can be exposed to a wider market, act as a showcase of the latest research output, and deliver relevant content to researchers. [well, in fact some of that was at least partially possible via the ticTOCs API]
…enable library and information services, publishers, gateways, content aggregators and journal directories to allow their users to embed journal TOC RSS feeds of interest, with one click, into a freely available personalisable web-based interface which will perform as a current awareness environment.
…develop a business plan to maintain ticTOCs as a self-sustaining service, free to the individual end user, after the project phase. [Well, there was a business plan, but it didn’t result in a viable and self-sustaining service]
JournalTOCs has since achieved some of the above things which were not possible within ticTOCs. Some other things might one day be possible, though they would need to be altered to take into account the rise of social media.
Reading the ticTOCs Plan, I realise that I’d forgotten all about the bit about ‘chicklets’.
A miniature verson of this sort of ‘chicklet’ graphic, which was a play on Chiclet, was supposed to be available and used all over the place – especially at publishers’ and library websites, to enable users with one-click to embed a TOC into their freely available personalisable current awareness interface. i.e. you see the chicklet somewhere that a journal is listed, mentioned or displayed, and you click on it, and that journal’s present and future Table of Contents will automatically appear in your own personalisable current awareness webpage (in a vaguely similar way to how Sharing now works in Facebook and Twitter, etc).
From the ticTOCs Project Plan, I can see that the total project budget was £391,093 which shows how big a project it was.
Other things we didn’t get round to completing, apart from investigating them, include:
- Ranking journals in ticTOCs displays by impact factor, or by download use using data from SFX servers.
- Development of ‘more like this’ selection options for displayed content.
- Collaborative filtering concepts in feed selection and content display.
- Data mining possibilities (showcasing popular items, plus “broad issue scanning”, etc).
I think that nowadays, ‘collaborative filtering…’ etc would come under the heading of social media stuff.
The work detailed in the bid document was way too ambitious for a two-year project, I knew that from the start, but I had hoped that by listing some of the possibilities for the future that these could form the basis of a further bid.
We didn’t manage to get a semi-automatic in-flow of new TOCs via DOAJ, CrossRef and Open J Gate (which has now disappeared), plus various other things, but I feel that the ticTOCs Project did achieve quite a lot. We built a major database of journal Tables of Content from freely available RSS metadata, we made it available on an easy-to-use website which many researchers have made use of, we produced the Recommendations on RSS Feeds for Scholarly Publishers (which now needs to be updated to take account of hybrid journal Open Access content), and we generated some good publicity (amazing that that article has been viewed nearly 15,000 times).
More important, today, is how much further can be done to develop the JournalTOCs service in the future.
Watching the ticTOCs concept develop was a pleasure for me. I’d like to thank all of those who were involved in one way or another: Lawrie Phipps the JISC Programme Manager, Terry Bucknell the ticTOCs Project Leader, Joe Hilton the ticTOCs Project Manager, Santiago Chumbe the ticTOCS Technical Manager (who now continues as the very able JournalTOCS Manager), Malcolm Moffat (Project Support) and later, Lisa Rogers (Project Support), Geoffrey Bilder (CrossRef), Helle Lauridsen (ProQuest), Paul Evans (Emerald), the ever-enthusiastic John Harrington from Cranfield University, and all the others who contributed to, or supported, the project.
I think I can draw a line under ticTOCs, now.