A minute is a long time on the internet – Google processes approximately two million searches and around 571 websites are launched. It is estimated that in 2011 there were around 555 million websites, more than doubling in size from 2010. There are now 2.27 billion internet users. To put that into perspective, there were only 361 million users in 2000, which is just one third of Facebook users today.

In this age of staggering online growth and information overload, it is becoming increasingly difficult for readers to identify the content they need quickly and easily without getting bogged down in all the noise. Publishers are faced with the challenge of ensuring their content stands out from the crowd and can be easily accessed and consumed amid changing habits. Readers want to use and manage content “their way”, anytime, anywhere, and certain publishers are adapting accordingly to guarantee that they provide the optimal user experience and remain competitive.

Many of the academic publishers we serve have invested heavily to adapt their online delivery and content to suit their users –here are the top trends that we have observed.

User Experience is King

One of the biggest challenges STM publishers have had to face in the digital world is a complete change in perception of how their content should be structured, disseminated and received by the consumer. Traditional journal publishers, many of whom have only ever published via the print medium for decades, have had to learn quickly that the online reader experience should differ dramatically from that of journal readership. Online readers commonly want to search for a specific topic or expert field, so an online model which displays articles and other material by issue number, for example, can not only look outdated, but also makes life difficult for the reader in terms of search and navigation

The American Society for Microbiology (ASM) is one such publisher leveraging its content platform to enhance user experience for its audience and stakeholders. Semantic technology enables tagging and faceted search and allows site visitors to access close to 100 years of material quickly and efficiently. ASM also provides flexible delivery formats and is able to bundle content, which can be of huge benefit to readers who can request a one-off journal issue on a certain topic, for example.

Semantic Web – Lifesaving Technology?

There is a growing need, particularly in the academic market, for intelligent solutions that can help reduce the amount of time taken for a reader to find the content they need. A number of recent innovations in this area are driven by semantic technology and Clinical Key from Elsevier is a good example of this shift away from pure content delivery to the provision of services tailored to a particular function and audience.

Designed as a tool to be used at the point-of-care to support clinical decisions, Clinical Key brings together journal and textbook content from Elsevier, MedLine and third party journals, which have been semantically enriched to drive more intelligent search and discoverability capabilities. The service is billed as “smarter, faster, search for better patient care” and it differs from traditional search engines in that all of the content is peer reviewed from trusted sources, and it delivers fewer but much more relevant results, ultimately saving the physician time in his day.

The Three ‘C’s – Content, Collaboration and Communities

Scholarly publishers are focusing heavily on understanding in great depth how their various audiences consume content within their day-to-day lives and are tailoring their online content delivery experience to match.  The relationship between content and consumer is no longer one-way and information providers are constantly looking at growing engagement, sharing and collaboration on their sites to boost user experience and keep readers coming back for more.

Professional networks are increasingly being used to provide services which give real value to the community and improve engagement, alongside content delivery.  Examples of this credentialed, peer-to-peer approach include the Researcher Exchange from GSE Research, which provides the ability for members to comment on journal content via the open peer review model, ask questions of their peers, allow corporations to find expert consultants and authors to find collaborators via a sophisticated author search whereby a user can pinpoint experts within a particular field within a particular organisation.

With the internet growing exponentially year-on-year and the increasing threat of content getting lost in the crowd, never has it been more important for publishers to take a good, hard look at the way they distribute their content online and the essential lessons that we can all take away from the scholarly marketplace.

This article first appeared in the Publishers’ Weekly Show Daily at Frankfurt Book Fair