Tony Delamothe on redesign of (2)

Let’s start at the very beginning will have a new “look and feel” come January 2007, provided by New York interactive agency, Digital Pulp. After that comes a range of new features. This is where you come in.

With the Digital Pulp presentation on Web 2.0 ringing in my ears, I sit down to prepare my presentation on Interaction and Community for the Big Outside (Non-Medical) Publisher. Digital Pulp told us that whereas Web 1.0 was based on a publishing model, Web 2.0 is based on a model of participation. It’s a world where upload is as important as download.

Without too much headscratching, I can think of the following interactive features we’ve introduced on over the years – rapid responses (1998), polls (1998), debates(1998), choosing theme issue topics by public consultation (2000), interactive case reports (2003), Q&A (2003), webchats (2003), blogs (2004), and BMJ audio (this September). Rapid responses have also been pretty potent sources of user generated content, that other favourite of the web 2.0 crowd. We’ve posted 60 000 rapid responses, compared with 50 000 articles, on the site to date. So were we Web 2.0 avant la lettre?

(Puzzling over user generated content the other day, it occurred to me that the conventional scientific journal is actually the paradigm. Most of its content comes from users. Wikipedia’s oversight of its new posts looks like embryonic peer review – a central quality control mechanism used by scientific journals since 1665. And expecting that peer reviewers will contribute their value adding services for nothing lies at the heart of the open source movement. How ironic that the much reviled journal might provide the model for the useful informational website of the future.)

Anyway, the appetite here is not only to be doing something new but also to be seen to be doing something new. Even better, to get talked about again. (It seems that playing well with the industry is as important as playing well with users.) The New England Journal of Medicine has just launched – an instant hit around here. It lists what they’ve launched relatively recently, what they’re working on now, and even asks for advice on what they might do in future (eg what topic they should start a blog on). By being so uncharacteristically open (for the NEJM) they’ve helped to open up the “space” for me to write this blog. In time, it will be available from a beta site of our own.

Phase 1 of the project (for January 2007) is largely a reskinning of, and we hope to include users in the decision-making process around the options. As well as describing some of the competing options, we may share them with you – probably on a microsite.

For Phase 2. we want to provide new, useful “stuff,” and we’ll definitely want users to help us decide what that is. Last time we asked users what would most improve the site one third couldn’t think of any. That was two years ago. My hunch is that with the rapid increase of both broadband access and web sophistication among users a similar question now would yield richer results.

So here’s the challenge: Tell us what would most improve (If you can direct us to a site which already has the feature then so much the better.)

Tony Delamothe
editor in chief,