January 2012

Tailoring journal content online

JBC Editor-in-Chief Fedor says
new ‘affinity group sites’
will make browsing more efficient
and possibly foster collaboration


JBC_affinity_groupsThe Journal of Biological Chemistry in late November launched a new platform that aggregate the journal’s new and archived content in four areas of study. The “affinity group sites,” which are publicly available but essentially still in a testing phase, represent just one of the innovations the journal will be implementing in 2012, the first year the journal will be published only online.

JBC Editor-in-Chief Marty Fedor said she hopes the four new affinity group sites will offer content that is both specific to an individual reader’s interests and complementary to those interests.

“One of the big challenges with scientific communication these days is that it has become like drinking from a fire hose: There is just a flood of information, and no one diving into that stream can easily sort out what of that information is of special interest to them,” Fedor said. “The affinity group sites are designed to collect the information related to a particular area and present it in a way that it can be easily accessed by anyone in the field — from those who are conducting research to students who are just dipping into it for the first time.”

A major advantage of publishing in the JBC, Fedor said, is that the journal captures information from the wide array of subjects in biological chemistry and reaches a broad audience. But, she added, “We need to find ways to connect people with the information that most interests them.”

The deployment of the affinity group sites comes just a few months after the JBC redesigned its online editorial board directory to organize reviewing editors according to affinity groups so that they can be identified easily by prospective and current authors. Fedor said the new content sites were a natural next step after publicly categorizing reviewing editors by their shared expertise.

The JBC has 22 affinity groups representing each of the journal’s table-of-contents categories, and the first four group webpages that aggregate journal content are the ones for RNA, signal transduction, gene regulation and enzymology. Other affinity group sites are in the pipeline.

Fedor said one advantage of providing a one-stop shop for articles about a certain area of study is that readers won’t have to wade through the large number of articles the JBC publishes daily to find the most relevant ones.

"The collections could make people aware of material that they didn’t know to look for but that we were able to identify as being related to the subject they’re interested in,” Fedor said. “So I think it could very well put people in touch with salient information before they even know that they’re interested in it. And, in that way, it could build bridges across different focused areas within a group.” By presenting current research articles together with Minireviews, Classics and Reflections by leading scientists on similar subjects, affinity sites provide a rich context for understanding cutting-edge research.

Fedor emphasized that information consumers today expect content providers to customize information to their wants and needs, and she said the JBC consistently has been a leader in harnessing technology to satisfy those wants and needs.

“This is our experiment in tailoring scientific communication to the people who can best make use of the information,” Fedor said. “With the JBC being published only online starting in 2012, I think the affinity sites illustrate how we’ll be taking advantage of the opportunities now available to scientific communication since it has broken free from the conventional paper format.”

Angela Hopp (ahopp@asbmb.org) is editor of ASBMB Today.

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