Electronic Journal of Sociology (1999)

ISSN: 1198 3655

The EJS and SGML Production:
A New Era in Scholarly Communication

Mike Sosteric
Department of Global and Social Analysis
Athabasca University
[email protected]

Hello and welcome to Volume Four, and year five, of the Electronic Journal of Sociology (EJS). As you can see if you've had a look around, we have significantly revamped the EJS's format. While the main page remains largely the same, the “guts” of EJS have been reworked significantly. The “gutting” of the EJS was made possible by the International Consortium for Alternative Academic Publication (ICAAP at www.icaap.org). ICAAP provides copy editing and production work at no charge to freely available electronic journals.

ICAAP production expertise has significantly enhanced the EJS. For example, a new navigational strategy has been implemented that simplifies and enhances reader access to EJS materials. The navigational structure of the journal has been flattened so that all links to articles appear on a single page and the reader is now no more than two clicks to the article of interest. To facilitate browsing, indexes for searching the EJS by volume, author, date, and title have also been added.

More importantly, new article formats have been introduced that exploit the latest technological developments. As the reader will see from browsing the volume index, there are between two and three different file options for each article. A regular HTML file, using Cascading Style Sheets, enhances the online look of the document. The HTML version is a “stripped down” version of an EJS article for those who do not enable javascript by default. In addition to regular HTML there is a Dynamic HTML file that uses document layers, javascript, and other technologies to provide an enhanced online interface. The enhanced DHTML articles currently provide graphic and endnote pop-ups. These “widgets” as they are called, significantly enhance the navigability and presentation sophistication of EJS documents and create (at the EJS) for the first time, an online document that is more than just a screen copy of a print article.

Finally, the reader will notice an IXML file. This file is not designed for online presentation and will not translate to a presentable Web document. Rather, this IXML file (IXML stands for ICAAP eXtended Markup Language) is the source file that is used to automatically generate the multiple file versions you see on EJS pages. From the single IXML source file you see on the index page, HTML, DHTML, or any number of other document formats can be generated “at the speed of thought.” Currently, ICAAP can create DHTML and HTML versions from the original IXML file in less time than it has taken to read this sentence. Plans are in the works to develop a translation process that will create a printable PDF version of all EJS articles from the IXML source files.

The IXML source allows the EJS to add value in other areas. The author, title, and date indexes are all generated automatically by a parser developed at ICAAP that reads the IXML files at the EJS and outputs the index files automatically. In addition, a validator built into the parser ensures that the Web document references are online and available. ICAAP is also working to add value in other ways. For example, in conjunction with Anthony Beavers of the IALAB at the University of Evansville, a search engine that will allow structured queries of all online scholarly journals (not only the EJS) is being developed. ICAAP is also planning on introducing automated current awareness services for all journals marked up in the IXML language. Of course, with IXML, any number of other powerful information technology applications may be implemented in the future.

All this is made possible by the IXML file. Storing EJS documents in IXML not only guarantees document longevity (because IXML is SGML and because it will always be possible to EASILY convert EJS documents to any format required), it also allows extremely sophisticated document handling with very little technological overhead at the “source” of the document. If you examine the source of the IXML files, you will see a file that looks much like regular HTML. The difference is that the IXML source is highly structured and the location and sequence of tags, especially in the <HEAD> of the document, are tightly controlled by an SGML Document Type Definition.

The simplicity of the IXML file is startling when considered against the potential inherent in the document format. Easy incorporation of multimedia “widgets,” sophisticated indexing and multiple format output, are only the earliest manifestations of the potentials which have hitherto remained an elusive desiderata in the realm of scholarly communication and university pedagogy. As flashy as this might appear, the really revolutionary potential lies in the cost of producing materials with IXML. With an automated process developed at ICAAP, a plain journal article (without graphics or tables) can be taken from a copy edited file to an online article in multiple formats comfortably in an hour, but usually in less than half an hour. Graphics can be added with only a moderate increase in time, and tables with another moderate increase.

We hope the new facilities will significantly enhance the utility of the EJS to authors, researchers, and students. We appreciate and invite feedback – especially since these services are new and being tested at the EJS. However, we would also like to ask readers of this journal to consider supporting ICAAP. ICAAP has been in existence for less than six months but has already made significant progress in creating a scholarly communications infrastructure capable of supporting a non-commercial, scholarly communication system in a cost-effective and open manner. The work of ICAAP has been recognized and the organization featured in a number of key publications including The Chronicle of Higher Education, the D-LIB journal, and The Association of Research Libraries Newsletter, to name only a few.

Currently, ICAAP supports a handful of scholarly journals and resources (see http://www.icaap.org/journals.shtml). All ICAAP journals are provided “free of charge.” This means that all ICAAP resources are freely accessible by anyone, anywhere. ICAAP asks only that individuals and libraries donate a suggested amount to support ongoing development and growth of an alternative scholarly communications system.

If you want to learn more about ICAAP, you can peruse the ICAAP home page at http://www.icaap.org. There is an ICAAP mission statement that outlines the politics and raison d'Ítre behind ICAAP at http://www.icaap.org/mission.html and a FAQ which answers some commonly asked questions about ICAAP at http://www.icaap.org/faq/faq.html. ICAAP also maintains a local list of publications that have featured ICAAP or the work of its members at http://www.icaap.org/inthenews.html. Finally, ICAAP has a support page (http://www.icaap.org/join.html) where you will find instructions on faxing or mailing your cheque to ICAAP. The support pages offer suggested dollar amounts, however, all donations of any amount will be gratefully accepted.

We hope you find the new format and navigational structure of EJS useful and innovative. If you have questions or criticisms of the new format, or wish to know more about ICAAP, please contact Mike Sosteric at [email protected]