Seeing through the eLife Lens: A new way to view research

Seeing through the eLife Lens: A new way to view research

Thursday, June 6, 2013 - 15:00

We’re excited to announce the release of an innovative, still experimental, new tool that will make reading articles online easier for researchers, authors and editors alike: eLife Lens. This product is an important step in realising eLife's commitment to innovation and openness. eLife Lens makes using scientific articles easier by making it possible to explore figures, figure descriptions, references and more – without losing your place in the article text. While most online research articles simply replicate print, eLife Lens takes full advantage of the Internet’s flexibility. You can absorb key elements in an important paper more readily, more quickly, and more effectively. While this is still an experimental product, and far from complete, we wanted to get it into the hands of as many people as possible as soon as possible so that we can find out how to best move forward. We are trying to "move fast, and break things".

Experimental release notes

With that in mind, there are some health warnings duty requires us to give:

  1. eLife content will not be published instantly through Lens, the primary location for our articles is and will remain elife.elifesciences.org.
  2. Not all operating systems and browsers have been tested, so it might break for you. If it does, let us know. We are very interested in finding out where it works well, and where it doesn't.
  3. If you find something odd in the display of scientific content, let us know. We’re looking for edge cases we may have missed.
  4. eLife Lens has not yet been optimised for mobile. The key value now is in using eLife Lens on a large screen, but we can also see how to make it great on mobile.
  5. The tool has been built against eLife content, but we can see it working against many other sources of content and the code is open for you to give it a try. If you do throw your content at it, good luck, and let us know how you get on!
  6. We know that some figures may not render in the tool.

Try eLife Lens now at lens.elifesciences.org Watch a short introductory video (2:56s) Read the introductory article Give feedback at the GitHub issues page

Document as data

What is truly awesome about this tool is that, with it, eLife and our partners have broken out of the mould of replicating the print version of a research article online. Instead we have treated the document as data, and used the tools the web provides to make the links that exist within a research article really easy to navigate. It helps solve the problem of only being able to see a small part of an article at any one moment – one reason why many people still print out articles to read on paper.

It helps solve the problem of only being able to see a small part of an article at any one moment – one reason why many people still print out articles to read on paper.

While this approach is not revolutionary in how things are done, it's definitely evolutionary and one that puts the user experience at the fore.

eLife plans

We see this tool potentially fitting with eLife in clear ways. For example:

  • Forming the basis for a mobile view of our articles
  • Forming the basis for a "deep read" view of our articles
  • Extending its use into the peer review system.

Our direction will depend on the input you give us now. At this stage eLife Lens should not become the default view for research online (at least not yet). We believe the majority of interaction events between a researcher and the journal site are where the researcher makes a very quick assessment as to whether they want to interact with a specific article – usually based on title, authors, and abstract. They pop in and out quickly, and have expectations for what an academic article looks like online. If we introduced a radically different view at the first stage of engagement, we would run the risk of creating friction. On the other hand, when they decide they do want to read an article, that's when Lens can shine.

While this approach is not revolutionary in how things are done, it's definitely evolutionary and one that puts the user experience at the fore.

Credits

eLife Lens was developed in collaboration with UC Berkeley graduate student Ivan Grubisic. He was supported by: Michael Aufreiter from Substance, who helped with the design and implementation of the tool; Ian Hamilton from ripe who gave advice on the UI design; and Graham Nott, who implemented the deployment workflow. eLife provided support for the project and the initial corpus of documents against which the tool was developed. This version of eLife Lens is a prototype, it was developed with the goal of getting it to market, and in your hands, as quickly as possible. The entire project went from idea to launch in just 16 weeks.

Invitation to comment

The bottom line is that we think that eLife Lens is pretty awesome, we hope you do too, and with your feedback we hope we can make it even better, faster. Please share your thoughts, suggestions for improvements, or bugs at https://github.com/elifesciences/lens/issues. You can also leave a comment here or tweet @eLife. In addition, if you would like to be a part of this story we are still hiring.

Try eLife Lens now at lens.elifesciences.org Watch a short introductory video (2:56s) Read the introductory article Give feedback at the GitHub issues page

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