Birte Twisselmann on the HighWire Spring Publisher’s conference—massive, open, online, and individualised

Every three years or so I am lucky enough to attend our webhost HighWire’s spring publisher’s meeting at Stanford University in sunny California. This year was no exception—the meeting was an absolute delight. Some 200 participants shared the products showcase, presentations by publishers, insights from industry, and Highwire’s plans and projects over the two days of the meeting, interspersed with lovely al fresco dining and Californian wine.

Recurring themes throughout the two days included the development and launch of “Open” journals by some publishers, funder policies, data sharing, minisites/microsites/portals on Drupal, the continuing popularity of pdfs/epub, open access (OA), research management/referencing tools, CME integration with HighWire sites, the role of the editor/publisher/peer review, and making the information seeking process more efficient—and that is a very brief overview.

Chris Bourg, a sociologist and assistant university librarian for public services at Stanford, presented her take on massive open online courses (MOOCs), which seem to have taken the academic world by storm over the past year or so and were developed originally to “provide education to the masses.” No one at the meeting seemed to actually have taken a MOOC or taught one, so maybe their “disruption of higher education” has had only a limited impact to date, and business models for providers are still emerging. Chris provided a useful distinction between MOOCs and traditional distance learning/correspondence courses. Stanford has included MOOCs in its online learning portfolio (, whose wider remit is to understand new models of learning). One of the obvious major problems in an open online environment is the use of copyrighted material—this affects the humanities and social sciences, which require a great deal of reading, more than science and engineering, which may not. To find a solution, Stanford started up a research project (Stanford Intellectual Property Exchange), which has now morphed into a for-profit company: provides a cloud-based solution to copyright management and digital course materials, while working with libraries and publishers to provide appropriate pricing and access to teachers and students. At the very least, MOOCs will enable us to study what works in education and may even prompt new thinking among publishers of how to deliver digital content.

In another presentation on “bundled” content, Joe Puskarz introduced the AAP Gateway, a time-saving, customisable, and intuitive tool for members of the American Academy of Pediatrics to search, sort, and curate content from AAP journals and its other publications. The portal offers a comprehensive, intelligent search facility, mobile synchronisation, and a real-time research reporting widget.

And also on the subject of curation and customisation, Allison Belan, assistant director for digital publishing at Duke University Press, explained how and why Duke is combining its books (120/year) and 46 journals to give online users the opportunity to browse and search across publications, collating research materials in an ever more efficient way.

At the 2010 HighWire meeting, part of the debate was around “pared down” homepages, modelled on the Google search page or a Twitter homepage, or, in the words of Kent Anderson, publisher and CEO of the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, “a simple website that acts more like a hub for all of the other spokes.” Three years on, and the trend seems to be towards providing users with tools that enable them to search resources and compose the website layouts that serve their individual needs best.

Birte Twisselmann, web editor and obituaries editor, BMJ.