In his presentation at SSP's annual meeting Roy Tennant noted the increasing importance of the article page on STM websites, explaining to publishers that "Most users of your content will never see your home page...they don't want to learn how to use your site, nor should they have to...your brand identity has to be at article level". You can read my write-up of the rest of the SSP conference for summary of other related presentations.
We've been monitoring this trend for a while. We've observed increased Google referrals directly to the article level as a result of our ongoing efforts to make IngentaConnect as search engine friendly as possible. While I'm sure that many publishers and hosting providers are aware of this increased traffic, not many have appreciated the important underlying point: i.e. that web sites need to adapt to this change in behaviour.
In the article-based view of the world it's very easy to lose sight of the fact that the article doesn't stand alone. It's part of an edited, managed resource: the journal. Increasing the level of journal branding can help promote this, perhaps drawing the user's attention to the fact that there may be other relevant and related content nearby.
But it's not all about branding; the functionality is also vital. Tennant observed that users don't want to learn a particular site's quirks. They're unlikely to navigate around and thereby stumble across other potentially useful site features. For example, while many sites offer alerting services, how many of them offer sign-ups direct from the article? Or, how many offer the ability to sign up for RSS feeds? Some sites do offer these options at article level, but it's far from consistent.
There are other features that would typically be presented to the user on the journal homepage (subscription activation, subscription purchase options, etc) that are also increasingly important to offer at the article level. The information architecture of a typical academic journal website assumes a user browsing "down" to content, visiting useful information at the journal, table of contents, and ultimately the article level along the way. But this view needs to be turned on its head. The article has become the predominant resource and one needs to draw the user "up" towards other relevant features. Or, better yet, simply offer them directly at the article level.
Avoiding the need to navigate away from the article drives a design towards offering all useful tools, e.g. bookmarking, linking, citation manager exporting, directly on the article page. This avoids the need for the user to navigate away from the content of interest, but there is obviously a trade-off between increasing the utility and branding of the article page and cluttering up the page with too many options.
In the next week or so we're releasing some updates to content and search sections of IngentaConnect that attempt to adapt the site navigation options to meet the changing needs of users. The effects will be most marked on the article page, where the user will be presented with a rich set of tools covering all of the above functionality. There will also be some increased journal branding.
We've tried to make the pages dynamic to allow users to access the new options through expanding/collapsing sections of the navigation bar, avoiding too much page clutter. I'd be very interested to hear comments on how well we've achieved this in practice.
There will be some new features included too. For example, the options to export data to citation managers have been expanded, with EndNote and Bibtext options appearing at all levels. Autodiscovery links for RSS will also appear everywhere, making it quick and easy to sign-up to RSS feeds from any content page. With increasing browser support for RSS autodiscovery, this can now be a single-click operation.
At the recent data webs conference, Ben Lund noted the problems he's encountered when attempting to reliably extract metadata from publishers sites for integration into connotea. To help address this, the revised content pages will also include auto-discovery links for BibText and EndNote along with the RSS links. Use of these links isn't limited to social bookmarking. In fact, coupled with the embedded Dublin Core metadata we're already sharing to good effect, there should now be easy access to metadata in a variety of formats, using a variety of methods. Enough for many different kinds of usage. (Let me know if you've got additional requirements)
I'm also pleased that we've been able to add in direct links to several social bookmarking services including del.icio.us and connotea (of course). So you can quickly bookmark, tag, and share articles direct from the page itself.
There are more features to come, but we'd like to get feedback on these initial changes before plowing on further. Once the changes are live I'll follow up with a more technical posting discussing some of the metadata export options.