In recent polls,6 users of physics information servers rated as most important their breadth and depth of coverage, comprehensiveness, timeliness, free and readily accessible full-text content, powerful search index, organization and quality of content, spam filtering, non-commerciality, and convenience of browsing. They also emphasized the importance of notification functions (newly received articles, author/keyword/reference alerts), whether by e-mail, separate webpage listing, or RSS feed. Users have grown to expect seamless access to older articles, most conveniently from one universal portal. Considered less important were user friendliness and general ease of use, quality of submission interface, availability of citation analysis, measures of readership, multimedia content, personalization, keywords and classification, and other collaborative tools. Users also mentioned the expected future utility of citation and reference linkages to open access articles, comment threads, access to associated data and ancillary material (data underlying tables and figures, code fragments underlying plots), and various forms of smarter search tools. A majority reports being willing to spend at least a few minutes per day tagging materials for collaborative filtering purposes.
More than 80% of respondents reported a desire for article synopses and overviews, although these would likely be just as labor-intensive to produce as in the paper age. A variety of other navigation tools were suggested, some potentially automatable, including personalized table of contents, and flow diagrams representing the relations among research articles on a topic. Some suggested in addition a descriptive page for each research area including lists of recent reviews, cutting-edge research articles, experimental results, and primary researchers involved, with links to their own web pages. Many of the desired features are prompted by the increasing wealth of information available in bibliographic and other databases. Their realization will rely on tools for organizing a hierarchical literature search and that are able to preserve the context of retrieved items. Users also extol the potential utility of having conference presentations in the form of slides or video linked to articles, and more generally having linked together all instances of a given piece of research: notes, thesis, conference slides, articles, video, simulations, and associated data.
The connection between scientific literature and data in astronomy and astrophysics was illustrated by Kurtz.7 The new research methodology employed can involve multiple steps back and forth through a bibliographic database: following citations, references, looking for other articles by the same authors, or searching for keywords in abstracts of articles. It can also involve looking for related articles, or related objects, or articles about those objects in over a dozen different databases, e.g., finding reference codes of objects, finding the experimental source, examining the observation itself, finding publications at the website of experiment, following references to other external archives, including finding object catalogs and active missions, checking a sky atlas or digital sky survey at yet another site, checking an extragalactic database, cross-checking an archival catalog search, etc. While the possibilities enabled by these distributed resources are already quite impressive and result in fundamental improvements over prior methods, various manual steps in the search process are quite awkward due to the independent configurations of all the pieces of the system. 7 Many navigation functions could be automated and usefully centralized if the separate databases were set up to interoperate more efficiently. Analogs of these inefficiencies exist in other fields of research.
"Next generation" implications depend significantly on what the next generation of users will expect. Some clues in this respect are available from surveying the generic functionality of current commonly used websites. Many top-level browsing features are held in common among sites devoted to scholarship on the one hand, and to those designed for shopping, entertainment and popular file-sharing on the other, including: browse by groups, categories, subject area, most recent, or by a variety of "popularity" measures including recently featured, most viewed, top rated, most discussed, top favorites, most linked, most honored, most shared, most blogged, or most searched. The convergence of features in the parallel realms is also evident in pages devoted to specific items, including standard descriptive metadata (title, author(s), submitter), links to browse "related items," "more from this user," "related keywords" (both local at the site or linked to 3rd party aggregators), and in collaborative features including functions to add tags and labels, rate items, flag as inappropriate, save to favorites, add to groups, share/e-mail to friend, blog item, post to 3rd party site, and add or read comments and responses. Some features specific to publisher sites are links to retrieve full text and supplemental data, show references/citations, addenda/corrigenda, related web pages, export citation, cite or link using DOI, alert when cited, find same object in 3rd party database, search 3rd party database, or find similar articles by various flavors of relatedness (text similarity, co-citation, co-reference, co-readership). Many sites include a subscribe function, with the option to be alerted to new issues or when specific keywords appear, the possibility to upload content, and as well there are various forms of personalization, including provisions for a private library of "my articles" with view, and add/subtract functions. These private libraries can optionally be made open to other users, providing a potential collective enhancement, though with possible privacy issues.