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eLife Lens: new article layout making the most of the Web

16 Aug, 13 | by BMJ

There is general consensus in the publishing community that online documents have too long been like yesterday’s paper—flat, lifeless, inactive. For many years, we have been trying to move away from ‘paper under glass’ and reconceptualise scholarly output using the technologies available now.

Elsevier have invested significant time in their Article of the Future project, many have experimented with semantic publishing, and services such as Utopia Docs have attempted to breathe new life into PDFs. Now the innovative open access journal, eLife, has released a new tool in the hope of making articles easier to read online for researchers, authors and editors alike: eLife Lens.

The initial idea for Lens came from Ivan Grubisic, a UC Berkeley graduate student. His motivation seems to have come through the “frustration of not being able to see the figures and references while, at the same time, reading scientific articles”. However, the thinking behind Lens goes much deeper:

Working with digital documents has been difficult for the most part, because they come in presentation-centric formats, optimized for print and with the intent to have the same display across multiple devices. Ultimately, the display of these documents is preserved to allow the user to print the exact same document across any device. Content today, however, is no longer being printed out readily; instead, it is read on a variety of platforms spanning computers and mobile devices. The limitations presented by different screen sizes, the lack of tactile feedback that comes from flipping between pages and inability to purely focus on the author’s arguments are problems present in all disciplines.

The web browser provides a unified platform for viewing content. Instead of binding the content to a presentation focused format, we can view the content as data (Aufreiter 2013). Thereby making the content readily accessible by utilizing a defined data structure. This data structure can then be processed in similar ways to databases — allowing users to query the content, create new content and build new tools.

Key features

The main body of the article is displayed within a scrolling left-hand column. Resources are then displayed in the right-hand column, containing tabs for a dynamic table of contents, figures and supporting data, references and article information.

  • Separated figures/references allow the reader to view the figure/reference and see what the author is saying about it within the same view
  • When scrolling through the text, the figures/references relevant to the paragraph in view will automatically display in the resource column
  • The reverse is also true – if the reader selects a specific figures/reference, the points within the article at which it is cited will be highlighted (see below)

You can try Lens for yourself at and leave any feedback you might have on the GitHub issues page.

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