Pioneering Internet Publishing Efforts

One of the earliest examples of an Internet publishing effort was the Project Gutenberg endeavor described in Chapter 2. Conceived by Professor Michael Hart of the Illinois Benedictine College, the Gutenberg effort has a goal of converting converting classical works into machine readable form and making them available for online access via networks such as the Internet. Besides the Gopher pointer available at the University of Minnesota and many other Gophers, you can access the Gutenberg texts via FTP to this location: A LISTSERV mailing list is devoted to discussion of this project; to subscribe, send the following e-mail:

[use any subject you wish]

subscribe gutnberg Jane Doe

Another common early use of the Internet for a type of informal electronic publishing was the exchange of "preprints" of articles intended for print in traditional journals. This commonly took place between individuals on an ad hoc basis, and gradually have grown to reacher a broader audience. Common formats include flat ASCII and PostScript. Distribution channels include e- mail, Usenet News, and anonymous FTP as well as more recent tools such as Gopher and World- Wide Web.

During the period of intense interest in Cold Fusion in 1989, the preprint process saw a flurry of activity, as scientists worldwide announced studies either proving or disproving the findings of Ponds and Fleischman. Articles intended for paper journals such as Physical Review Letters were made available via FTP and announced in news groups such as sci.physics and in a special group named alt.fusion created for the subject. Readers at the University of Michigan and Carnegie-Mellon University were able to fetch articles directly over the Internet via their inter- institutional Andrew File System network.

The Cold Fusion example makes for an interesting case study as to whether rapid deployment of findings enhances or impedes to goal of good science. When corroborations and denunciations hit the network daily, one wonders if scholarship has been enhanced, or if it has turned into a feeding frenzy. Regardless of the merits of rapid electronic dissemination of articles in that case and in general, the existence of the network has made it impossible for discussion of an alleged scientific breakthrough to wait months and years for print articles to be delivered.

The preprint process has become more formalized and has become in some cases a major mode of exchange of scholarly writings. One example of this is the physics preprint archive maintained at Los Alamos National Laboratories. This archive has become so popular among some physicists so as to reduce their reliance on print journals. Having read a carefully-written article in preprint form, a scientist may feel no need to review the final form of the article as published. The value of the Los Alamos archive was made clear when its creator, Paul Ginsburg, temporarily shut it down due to lack of adequate support staff: an outpouring of support and demands for restoration came (via e-mail) from around the world. [2]

You can access the Los Alamos physics preprint service, as well as other similar services, via a Gopher-based list offered at the University of Chicago. The server is (port 70) and the selector is 1/Preprints. In addition to e-mail and Gopher access to their archives, Los Alamos is experimenting with the World-Wide Web as a delivery medium; here is what their home page looks like:

Electronic publishing has moved beyond the distribution of preprints to the creation of electronic journals -- regularly-issued materials whose primary distribution channel is the Internet (or other networks). An early example of a serious electronic journal delivered via the Internet is the PACS Review. Founded in 1989 by Dr. Charles Bailey of the University of Houston, the PACS Review publishes articles concerning end-user computer systems in libraries. Articles published in the PACS Review undergo careful editorial and peer review. Initially, PACS Review was delivered via LISTSERV. In January 1994 the University of Houston libraries established their own Gopher server, which, among other things, houses archives of the PACS Review. [3]

The enthusiasm for electronic delivery of journals was demonstrated when the American Library Association offered a print edition of the PACS Review, causing at least one e-journal maven to denounce a paper edition of an e-journal as retrograde.

Another early example of an electronic journal was conceived and is edited by Dr. Steven Harnard, a cognitive scientist at Princeton University. His e-journal, Psycholoquy, was started in 1989. Dr. Harnad's goal was to provide a refereed forum for what he calls "scholarly skywriting." He believes that the process of writing itself can be enhanced through electronic publishing. He argues "The prepublication phase of scientific inquiry, after all, is the one in which most of the cognitive work is done" [4] With electronic publishing, not only can the author and editor interact more quickly and effectively than via the traditional mechanism of mailing paper drafts back and forth; the author and the audience of readers can also interact. This interaction is important to the nurturing of the author's ideas; the author conveys his thinking and receives reaction at speeds much closer to the speed at which his mind concocts ideas in the first place. Dr. Harnad sees peer review as an important part of the process, ensuring high quality of original work.

Dave Rodgers, manager of electronic publishing efforts for the American Mathematical Society, has proposed a model for online publishing where the entire life cycle of a journal article is supported in a comprehensive online system. From the germ of a concept for a proposed article to the editing cycle to the actual event of "publishing" to the letters to the editor, all transactions would be supported by this online system. If such a system were based on SGML, it could relatively easily support multiple views of a document. For instance, an author could see any or all of the comments of peer reviewers in context. Similarly, a reviewer could page through successive online drafts, ensuring that areas of concern have been rectified.

Many publishers and would-be publishers in academe see the World-Wide Web and Mosaic as the tools they have been looking for. At a November 1993 meeting of directors of university presses and members of the Association of Research Libraries, numerous speakers mentioned these tools as their choices for current or upcoming projects. Significantly, there was little mention of proprietary solutions as a means for broad distribution of electronic journals. This could be because such tools were only recently deployed, or it could reflect a distaste for proprietary solutions given the advent of tools that are freely available for use by educational institutions.

One example of a relatively early e-journal that now offers a Web edition is PostModern Culture, an interdisciplinary journal with writings ranging from analytical to highly personalized essays. Like many e-journals, this periodical was delivered originally using LISTSERV. The Web edition includes a complete archive of back issues.

With a browser like Mosaic, scholars could use the World-Wide Web to disseminate research results in a far more graphic form. For instance, many researchers are using visualization to understand processes that cannot be seen by the human eye. The ability to include animation within a research paper could allow scholars to convey their thinking in ways that a paper journal could never approach. Following is an example of a screen offering visualizations of how molecules called buckyballs interact, as prepared by physicists and computer scientists at Michigan State University. Given access to Mosaic and a properly-installed MPEG viewer on the local workstation, a reader anywhere on the Internet could browse these documents, and could view one of the animations by simply clicking on the inline still image.

The ability to incorporate animation and sound into online documents opens countless possibilities for scholarly communication. One could envision applications for medical journals (animations of healthy versus diseased hearts, biomechanical models) to architectural journals (visualizations of a building from different perspectives) to rhetoric (sounds from a voice library with synchronized still images or film clips).

Go To Section 2 of Chapter 18
Go To Section 4 of Chapter 18
Chapter 18, Section 3. Copyright (c) 1994, Richard W. Wiggins. All rights reserved.