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This Friday, Nov. 6, 2015 – I will contribute to a content curation panel at the Charleston Library Conference along with Will Schweitzer, Director, Product Development at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and Michael Levine-Clark, Interim Dean and Director, University of Denver Libraries. The focus of the panel is to examine the challenge and value of content curation from a technology perspective, a publisher perspective, and a librarian’s perspective, and how we can work together to solve that challenge.

We will discuss different ways to surface the most relevant and the most desired content to the user(s) seeking it. From the point of view of a platform provider, this is not a challenge that can be answered strictly through technological means, but rather one that requires a combined effort by platform providers and by publishers. The publisher effort is specifically needed to provide metadata and additional content in order to fully leverage the technology tools available within online publishing platforms.

Getting users to content involves two basic capabilities, both of which require both the full text content and a certain amount of metadata to work properly:

  • Robust search capabilities which are the  first and most obvious way to lead the user through the site.
  • Browsing and linking which further guides users through the site to related content pages.  There are many different ways to present these links which each have their own needs in terms of the metadata necessary to drive the process. For example, links to content in the same journal or book, related links through keywords, and subject browsing through taxonomies have all been traditionally used to provide linked pathways to similar content.

Taking linking further

There has been a great deal of interest in using semantic enrichment technologies to provide related links.  One of the main draws of this technology is the ability to provide high quality links without the need for a significant expenditure on extra metadata.  However, in many cases, the reality is that simple lists of related content can be underwhelming for users. This is in large part because it is difficult for systems to provide more than just the title of the related content item, which often does not convey just how the content is related.  

So how do we provide more context to help the user quickly understand which links are most likely to provide the results they are looking for?  One idea would be to provide context on why the link was selected.  For example, make it clear to the user that one link will lead them to related research data, while another will provide access to a breaking news item in the research area.  At this point, we are just starting to see some attempts at creating this kind of contextual guidance between linked content. SpringerLink is a very recent example of a publisher who is working in this area and for a subset of their  biotech content extracts key concepts from the article and provides related links based on each of the concepts.  This is intriguing technology, but it is too early to determine whether  or not it is scaleable and can support content across all, or even most disciplines.

Learning Paths

Another approach to creating contextual guides that we have used at Safari is to have subject matter experts create lists and place each piece of content in context to provide a learning path through the list. We refer to these learning paths as lists Of course this requires as much or more editorial effort than creating a taxonomy. One possible way of reducing that load is to rely on your users to provide the data. We have built products that do this, specifically both Sage Research Methods Online and the Loeb Classical Library allow users to build and share lists.  

A common lament about the online world, especially as it involves publishing, is that we have lost the serendipity that we had in the real world. The nostalgic assertion that when walking into a good bookstore or a good library we were liable to stumble upon things of interest that we didn’t even realize that we were looking for. To the degree that this is true and, not just nostalgia for the past, it happened because of a conscious curation effort on the part of the store clerks and librarians. As we improve our online publishing products the question becomes how can we bring this serendipity back?  

As you can see from the discussion above we are just at the beginning of these efforts. There is hope (and a level of observable success) for technological solutions to the problem of bringing most needed content to the user in need/want at the right time, but most of the solutions require substantial effort on the part of the publishers involved to create the metadata necessary to provide a shape to the content collection and allow users to navigate through it. The as yet unachieved “trick” to-date is marrying human intervention with technology tools to create the most precise content connections in the most efficient manner possible.

“Digital Content Curation: How to Lead Users to Where They Need to Go and Make Sense of What They Find When They Get There” takes place at 3:30pm on Friday November 6, 2015 at the Charleston Conference.

Tags: AAAS, browse, charleston, content, curation, earch, library, linking, pubfactory, publishers, user experience, UX,

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