Hyperlinks are not rocket science: a thing about publishing online

The Archaeology in Europe blog has a notice about a recent award to the Department of Archaeology in York that’s got me thinking, and not thinking much of what I think. The Mellon Foundation have given the department quite a lot of money to develop ways to link their journal Internet Archaeology to other electronic resources, thus allowing articles to “make use of the huge potential of internet publication to present archaeological research in unique and exciting ways“. And indeed, few would contest that online publication can “allow researchers to link their work to related databases, video, audio and other information in a way that traditional paper-based formats do not allow“! So go York, huh?

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I mean, is this money for old rope, or what? There are certainly potentials here which money could bring out, but they could start by actually using the web for what it’s for and linking to stuff. If you have a look at an article in Internet Archaeology they do do various cunning things with links between a table of contents per article and links to bibliographical references and so on. One of the nice things about the web is you can make footnotes clickable, after all. But honestly. Linking to related information? How about to academics’ departmental home pages? How about to universities’ home sites? How about linking to other publications that are online rather than just cite them by URL? How about any hyperlinks at all that lead outside the article? I’m not sure I have seen an online journal that does all or any of this, but to me it seems so obvious a potential. I write my posts here shot through with hyperlinks. One or two of them are ironic or humorous, because there are obviously affected possibilities when you have such a visual way of expressing subtext, but most of them are intended to ensure that no-one needs to read my posts and not know what I’m talking about. Heavy hyperlinking is exactly what allows me to throw what I hope is sometimes academic-quality writing up here and hope that a general audience will be able to follow. I applaud Professor Richards for having got so much money to explore this possibility in his more sophisticated turn, but if I’d realised the Mellon would fund it I’d have applied…

14 responses to “Hyperlinks are not rocket science: a thing about publishing online

  1. “The development of online journals that are linked to other information sources will be tremendously beneficial to the research community”
    Professor Brian Cantor, Vice-Chancellor

    Is this 2008?

    * headdesk *

  2. Perhaps that lack of linking is what distinguishes online journals from those things we used to call websites. I often wondered what the difference actually was…

  3. What is this interweb of which you speak? Does anyone in the academy know if it yet?

  4. Right, Jonathan, that might in fact just be the difference. :-)

    This opens up a lot of exciting possibilities for funding! Hey, look, you dinosaurs! We can put colour pictures in online [digital, electronic, YMMV] publications! Yay, let’s link to stuff too, and make this technological revolution happen!

  5. I don’t think that the project is actually quite so stupid as they manage to make it sound. (My suspicion is that Julian Richards may not understand too much on the techie side, but is acting as a figurehead here). If you look at what it’s building on, they refer to a previous project called LEAP (Linking Electronic Archives and Publications) and I think archiving data is the key point here. In an awful lot of projects (not just archaeology) there is a lot of raw or semi-cooked data that lies behind an article/report that doesn’t normally get published. (For example, some people who analyse loads of charters store their information in databases).

    It obviously makes sense that that additional material (which itself might be useful for future researchers) is stored and accessible, so you don’t have to repeat experiment/observations, and so that later analyses can use the data in different ways. It also makes sense that this is done by the journal concerned (or some other enduring body) rather than by the individuals who wrote the paper. Sticking in hyperlinks to the department where Jon Jarrett did his PhD dissertation is not a lot of help in a few years’ time. People die, they move jobs and prove to be untraceable, they decide to clear out their PC and trash all their old material etc. (Some science journals already do this kind of supplementary publishing/archiving data).

    Archiving electronic material long-term, as the British Library know, brings all sorts of issues about maintaining usability: will the file formats remain accessible (unlike the BBC Domesday Book), will the media itself deteriorate rapidly etc, who has copyright, etc, etc? So any journal has to deal with those kind of issues. Unlike the BL, a journal also has to work out how archaeologists can be encouraged to use these new kinds of possibilities creatively when creating articles. There are multimedia journals already (such as Postmodern Culture), but they’re not common, and there are again issues of how journals can use the different elements effectively, how they make multimedia articles available to those with low bandwidth connections, non-standard computers, etc.

    So I think it makes sense to have a project that works out how you do these things effectively for academic journals. How much you can copy from what other people have already done, I don’t know, but just assuming that it’s a matter of a hyperlink or two seems a bit unfair.

  6. In terms of archiving, though, until very recently that was all being done, for such projects as were interested in it, by the Arts and Humanities Data Service. Now I believe KCL’s Centre for e-Research is taking over at least some of the rôle, including preserving the existing archive (though one really needs multiple copies, as has been discussed here, for the day their money too goes blip). So that rope is not much newer.

    What I think this project actually means, is, to take an example close to my job, that when someone in yer online journal of choice says something like “A search of the Fitzwilliam Museum’s Early Medieval Corpus reveals that as of [date] only five Visigothic coins were recorded from British findspots” they can link through to the search, although I have to admit that as those pages aren’t cached, if that’s what they were trying to do they’d be stuffed. And I don’t understand, as I say, why online journals don’t do this. It’s a battle even to get them to make hyperlinks live when you’re citing an online resource. But does it take hundreds of thousand of pounds from the Mellon Foundation to work out how this should be done? Not unless they’re going to give it to Tim Berners-Lee in retrospect. Look, you see, I’ve just done it! Wow. I can’t wait till we can embed images in webpages too!

  7. At which point it might be useful to point out to the reader that we have the doi system [http://www.doi.org/] which can be used to link to stuff in a permanent way – and keep the links alive. It’s not exactly rocket science either, even though the publishing editor/journal has to do their homework. Again.

    It’s big in the natural sciences, I’m told.

  8. The problem with DOI is that you can’t just click on references to it, you have to go and look them up. Or at least, things like EME and ScienceDirect cite only references like doi:[a number] rather than the actual weblink. As before, I don’t understand why they insist on breaking the chain like this.

  9. Well of course the DOI reference has to be an actual weblink for things to work in a convincing way. Resolving the doi number manually is a bit tedious, but the upside: It still prevents the reference from breaking if the stuff you link to is moved (i.e. the URL changes).

    But putting the DOI reference in an actual hyperlink is not rocket science either.
    For example, the following doi:10.1016/j.jmedhist.2008.09.005 would be made an active link as http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jmedhist.2008.09.005 – easy peasy!

    Now, hand over all you lupins!

  10. I’m not going to ask why you happened to have that link lying around…

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