CHWP D.1 Kling & Covi, "Electronic Journals"

4. E-journal formats

E-journals are not all alike. Like p-journals, they differ in the care with which their editors (and editorial boards) review papers. But they also differ in the way that they format articles for distribution and their actual distribution channels. We believe that the ways that e-journal editors design these aspects of their journals influence their likely acceptability by productive scholars, and thus their overall legitimacy.

In numerous conversations and interviews with diverse academics and librarians, We have heard some significant and common (but not universal) confusions about the nature and meanings of electronic publication. Scholars who do not work routinely with electronic texts often assume that they are deficient in some ways. For example, when the editorial board of the ACM's Transactions on Information Systems (TOIS) discussed various formats for an electronic alternative, e-TOIS, in 1994, a mathematician colleague of one editorial board member sent a note which stated that "an electronic journal must be deficient in every way when compared with a paper journal". It is ironic that some of the editorial board's discussion was how and whether to make the e-TOIS superior in some ways to p-TOIS (for example by including more artwork, sets of data, and electronic pointers to related research).

One of the remarkable features of today's e-journals is that few of them use special features of the electronic media to scholarly intellectual advantage. Most of the e-journals publish papers that could appear in p-journals. In contrast, the Journal of Current Clinical Trials creates hypertext links between related articles and also letters to the editor related to specific articles. Computer scientists have speculated about including executable algorithms and data sets with e-journal articles. And it might happen in the (electronic) Chicago Journal of Theoretical Computer Science. But, today, the articles that appear in e-journals, such as PostModern Culture, Electronic Journal of Sociology, Electronic Journal of Virtual Culture, and Public Access Computer Systems Review (and so on) do not make special use of their electronic formats, except for distribution.

With a few exceptions, e-journals exist in a kind of ghostly netherworld of academic publishing. As we mentioned earlier, university librarians seem puzzled about how to integrate them into their collections and how to provide them to their clients. They are not (yet) indexed in the Science Citation Index (with the exception of the Journal of Current Clinical Trials) or Social Science Citation indices, or in abstracting services such as MLA Abstracts or Sociological Abstracts.

One e-journal is worth singling out for attention because of its sociologically clever formats. The Journal of Artificial Intelligence Research is a relatively new e-journal that publishes its articles in electronic form, in Postscript, on WWW, gopher, and ftp servers when they are accepted for publication. The title and abstract are also posted on a Usenet newsgroup,, and also available on the Usenet newsgroup JAIR's editors offer authors the promise of rapid international access to their articles. Each article is formatted and paginated as it would appear in a printed journal. Someone who prints the Postscript file has an article which looks like the photocopy of an article from a traditional p-journal. A publishing house, Morgan-Kaufman, also sells a printed version of the journal in an annual issue to libraries and others, so that librarians can readily integrate Journal of Artificial Intelligence Research into their catalogs and collections.

We think of JAIR as the Stealth E-journal of Artificial Intelligence Research. Its editors cleverly exploit the broad rapid international distribution afforded by Internet services such as WWW, while simultaneously calming authors' fears of publishing in a stigmatized electronic medium because it always looks like a p-journal and can be purchased in paper form. In fact, JAIR's editors encourage readers to cite articles published in JAIR in the same format that they would cite a p-journal article (and they do not encourage citations to include URLs).

The case of the Journal of Artificial Intelligence Research illustrates many key social features of electronic scholarly publishing. By publishing polymorphously in paper and electronic media, this journal can offer an electronic edge to authors while appearing traditional to those who do not know its workings. Its authors and readers are part of a scholarly community where there is strong consensus on a computerized typesetting format (in this case Postscript), and in which every research lab has free (or subsidized) electronic access to Internet services. And JAIR is allied with a (commercial) publisher that routinely markets and sells books to libraries, scholars and professionals. One other key feature of JAIR's stealth approach is that it doesn't broadcast its e-journal status in its name. It is a fascinating model.

A few e-journals are affiliated with publishing houses that sell paper versions of the journal in annual bound volumes. We suspect that these e-journals which distribute both e-journal and p-journal versions have a greater chance of being seen as legitimate publication outlets than those e-journals that distribute only in electronic form. However many of these e-journals, such as the Public Access Computer Systems Review, distribute their electronic articles as ASCII text. When they are printed for extended reading, annotation or distribution to colleagues, they do not appear to be bona fide journal articles.

In contrast JAIR takes an important step beyond that of most e-journals that also distribute and sell paper annual volumes by insuring that every printed copy of a JAIR article appears as a visually well-crafted facsimile of a photocopied journal page -- complete with headers, footers and the specific page numbers for each article as they will appear in the paper volume that Morgan-Kaufman sells to libraries. JAIR leaves no traces of its e-journal status for academic administrators such as department chairs and deans to sneer at. If they see a JAIR article during an academic career review, it appears as a bona fide p-journal publication, and can be assessed on the basis of its content.

Some of these serendipitous enabling conditions that help link authors and readers may be found in some other fields, such as mathematics, where LaTex is a typesetting standard and where the active researchers also have Internet access. In many fields, posting articles in multiple print formats -- WordPerfect, RTF, and MS-Word -- would probably make them accessible to most readers.

JAIR was able to become a legitimate computer science journal through a clever set of conventions that hides its e-journal status. However, it can attract good authors by offering the advantages of rapid publication and a startegy of avoiding any stigma of e-publishing. JAIR also allows authors to include elaborate appendices that can contain executable computer programs and data that are not published in the paper version. But aside from these optional appendices, JAIR's articles appear like traditional p-journal articles. The disadvantage of the JAIR format is that it doesn't allow articles to utilize key features of electronic publishing, such as hypertext within articles.

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