RSS in Science Publishing: An Expanding Role

Hammond, Hannay, and Lund begin their paper thusly:
RSS is one of a new breed of technologies that is contributing to the ever-expanding dominance of the Web as the pre-eminent, global information medium. It is intimately connected with—though not bound to—social environments such as blogs and wikis, annotation tools such as del.icio.us [1], Flickr [2] and Furl [3], and more recent hybrid utilities such as JotSpot [4], which are reshaping and redefining our view of the Web that has been built up and sustained over the last 10 years and more [n1]. Indeed, Tim Berners-Lee's original conception of the Web [5] was much more of a shared collaboratory than the flat, read-only kaleidoscope that has subsequently emerged: a consumer wonderland, rather than a common cooperative workspace. Where did it all go wrong?

These new 'disruptive' technologies [n2] are now beginning to challenge the orthodoxy of the traditional website and its primacy in users' minds. The bastion of online publishing is under threat as never before. RSS is the very antithesis of the website. It is not a 'home page' for visitors to call at, but rather it provides a synopsis, or snapshot, of the current state of a website with simple titles and links. While titles and links are the joints that articulate an RSS feed, they can be freely embellished with textual descriptions and richer metadata annotations. Thus said, RSS usually functions as a signal of change on a distant website, but it can more generally be interpreted as a kind of network connector—or glue technology—between disparate applications. Syndication and annotation are the order of the day and are beginning to herald a new immediacy in communications and information provision. This paper describes the growing uptake of RSS within science publishing as seen from Nature Publishing Group's (NPG) [6] perspective.

Aside from providing a nice overview of RSS syndication technology, they raise a significant issue: what is the future of traditional academic journals? If scholars can syndicate their work to a global network of researchers, and those researchers can comment back on the strengths/weaknesses of that effort, the potential exists for RSS based publishing networks to yield scholarship and research of a caliber higher than the norm. What are the risks? Are the days of conventional academic journals numbered?

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