Restructuring Learned Society Communications

From: Murray Turoff <> <harnad_at_COGSCI.SOTON.AC.UK>
Date: Fri, 28 Aug 1998 07:09:06 -0400

I feel that everyone is going through the classic automation flaw. Too
many people seem to feel that the on line journal is going to be the
same as and will operate in the same manner as the paper one. Just
cheaper costs and faster operation. This is why many systems never
realize the opportunities for doing things in new and better ways.

I suspect just about everyone these days has forgotten our NSF
sponsored field trials using group communications on a national basis
to support about 15 invisible colleges during the period of 1976 to
1984. We built and operated a system (EIES) that allowed far more
sophistication in being able to tailor the communication process to
each individual group. We helped a number of the groups to develop
electronic journals and most of these did not look much like the paper
ones at their end even if they started that way. The field trials in
all their detail are reported in "on line communities" by Starr Roxanne
Hiltz, Ablex publishing, 1984 and in more general terms in the new
edition of "The Network Nation" Hiltz and Turoff, MIT Press 1993.

One key paper which specifically addressed the journal issue

Turoff, Murray and Hiltz, S. R., (1982), The Electronic Journal:
A Progress Report, invited paper presented to the Association of
American Publishers, New York, September 1979; published in the Journal
of the American Society for Information Science, 33, 4 (July),

In theory we presented some of the conclusions to the publishers but I
don't think we were believed than and we have since been to a large
extent have been forgotten. So let me take this opportunity to make a
few reflections that follow from those experiences.

Somewhere along the way, even when the journal is published by the
professional society directly, the mission of the professional society
and the journals in the field has seemed to diverge and go separate
ways. In modern jargon, there is a need for "informative" process
re-engineering or "electronic enterprise design," where one looks at
the most fundamental goals and asks how you redesign the whole
organization or process to bring about the goal as opposed to the
reductionist approach of a lot of separate organizational units with
separate applications to accomplish specific lower level goals.

The goal of science is the advancement of knowledge and depends on how
we support the communication process among scientists to advance
knowledge and to allow those that need the results to acquire that

Here is a scenario that is now possible; I suspect that if the
professional societies don't recognize the opportunity and move in this
sort of direction we will find small groups of young scientists doing
it on their own and gradually evolving a whole new set alternative

The professional society provides an electronic group communication
system where all the special interest groups have group communication
systems (transcripts of the discussions, voting capabilities, anonymity
and pen names for frank arguments, and many other useful group
facilitation features). Free access is provided to the society's system
in return for being available for doing reviews and committing to
participating in ongoing research discussion in their area.

When a paper needs to be reviewed the editor forms a discussion group
where everyone is given a pen name and no one knows who is in the
group. The group is asked to put their initial view into the system
(in a special place) before they can begin a discussion with the rest.
The group attempts to reach some sort of agreement about the differing
reviews or reach an understanding of why there is disagreement. The
editor is notified when they are done but can look on or in any time he
or she wants to. When the editor is done he can take the results or in
some cases he could invite the author into the conference to discuss
some of the issues that were raised with the reviewers themselves.
This would probably occur when the decision either way is not clear

For those of you who have not used such systems I am talking about
asynchronous conferencing, where no one has to be there at the same
time; the computer not only maintains the discussion transcript but it
maintains a list of all members that anyone can view which shows what
they have and have not read. So everyone knows who is far behind or
not participating.

Now I notice I said paper, but let's use that in the general context of
a hypermedia document. There can be models or analysis tools and data
bases published as well. Making available the research data from some
experiments in a form where others can do analysis of it is just as
important as a paper. The journal really becomes a nonlinear knowledge
base where the "papers" are not just links to other papers but to
databases, analysis tools, specialized discussion groups. In fact, a new
paper can have an attached discussion where readers can add their
comments (this is being done in the journal of Asynchronous Learning
Networks, as well as for books).

Mentioning ALN reminds me that this system would also have tutorials
and workshops for those learning new areas in the field. The society's
population has three basic components: researchers producing new
knowledge, practitioners in industry utilizing new knowledge and perhaps
producing pragmatic knowledge in that area, and students evolving into
one of the two propulsions. They would all in their own way be
contributing to this collaborative knowledge base for the professional
society as a whole.

All these pieces are around and what we need is some societies willing
to do some innovative field trials to develop the pragmatic knowledge
necessary to make a success of such an effort on a wide basis. For
professional societies and those publishers that want to survive in
this area, my advice is that the only way to understand the future is
to live it in the "small" and start some limited instrumented field
trials now.

Sorry about the length of this but it is a subject I get carried away
with. The journal is a communication system before it is anything else
and we can improve on the classical model in many significant ways. We
can make the refereeing process exciting, interesting and significant
so that people will be begging to have a chance to referee
contributions. We can cut down the work for editors considerably when
faced with conflicting reviews. I had better stop there. More complete
references to our work can be found on our homepages


for related topics like Delphi, Elecrtonic Market places, Virtual
Classroom, etc.

Murray Turoff
Distinguished Professor
Department of Computer and Information Science
New Jersey Institute of Technology
Received on Tue Aug 25 1998 - 19:17:43 BST

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