E-Journals OK – Overall User Experience NOK

In my last entry on this topic I mused if I would get a response from the developers to some suggestions I had sent them; and I was awaiting a new version of the mobile app which apparently was going to resolve some of the issues I had. After 5 months, sadly the answer to both points is NO! I’ve had no communication from the developers whatsoever – they seem to have missed the growing trend to interact with customers. And the new mobile app doesn’t seem to enable users to limit the number of different versions of an article that a user is informed about; nor does it make it any easier to find a particular journal amidst the many hundreds published by Taylor & Francis.

However, I think I’ve had enough with messing about with this. I’ve simply stopped taking too much notice of the alerts as they come through in the email. If an article was really of huge interest I might open it up, but otherwise I just wait till I get the email of a full issue when it’s published and at that point take a look at particular papers and if one is particularly interesting I’ll download it to my document management system and make an entry in my index.  Of course this is exactly how I used to do it when I got the hardcopy version of the journal, so I guess, in my case anyway, the promise of a more immediate journal experience has not been realised, except for those rare papers which have titles which inspire a specific and special interest. The price of being able to spot those special few is having a significant number of alert emails added to the mail queue. Is it worth it? Well, I’m not so sure, but at least that’s one thing that is somewhat user configurable – you can elect to have the alerts Daily, Weekly, Monthly or Never. Unfortunately the functionality to just be alerted when a new issue is finally published seems to be missing despite the text in the settings seeming to indicate that such a choice is available. I’m afraid that’s the final straw – this organisation isn’t really bothered about the individual end user, and I have other things to do with my time. I’ve found that taking a journal electronically does work for me – especially when reading it on an iPad – but I suspect there may be better overall user experiences to be had.  It’s time to get of this bus.

The Customer-Developer Divide

I’ve had a frustrating time over the last few months because I lost access to the Behaviour & Information Technology journal (BIT).  I have two equivalent email addresses (@btinternet.com and @btopenworld.com) and the professional body I pay my online access subscription to passed the other email address over to the Publishers. The result – I lost access to the journal – but confusingly some articles are free to all so it didn’t seem like I had lost total access…. It’s all sorted now – but I’m still finding it tortuously time consuming to manage the steady flow of new versions of articles as they pass through the review and refinement process. So much so, that I’ve decided to stop making temporary entries in my filing index. I shall just mark articles I’m interested in as ‘favourites’ in the Taylor & Francis (T&F) mobile app; and only make an entry in my index when the final published journal comes through. I guess only time will tell whether this makes things easier or not

I’ve made a number of attempts to pass on my suggestion of providing functionality for users to manage articles as they flow through the process, but with no success to date. It seems that there is a huge divide between T&F customers and the developers of their mobile app. However, during my recent access difficulties I established contact with a second level support person called Vamshi Tulasi who said he would pass my suggestions on to the appropriate people. So, today I have sent Vamshi the following points and await with interest to see if I do eventually manage to have a dialogue with the  developers.

1. Management of articles that alerts are provided for. A single article appears several times – once for each stage in the process. However, I only want to have to deal with it once. Having decided I’m not interested in an article I don’t want to waste my time rediscovering that fact each time I am alerted to it as it goes through each separate stage. Likewise with articles I HAVE decided I’m interested in: I don’t want to have to keep looking at them at every stage – I want to look at the articles I AM interested in when they are actually published. However, there is no functionality to mark articles so every article has to be checked every time. I think this is probably an issue which most users are experiencing. Did you consider this when designing the application? Do you have any plans for individuals to mark items as they come through so that they know which articles they are or are not interested in?

2. Search function for journal list: When setting up the mobile app it is necessary to navigate to the Journal you have subscribed to. The journal “Behaviour & Information Technology” (BIT) is in a most illogical position and it took me about 15 minutes to find it – very annoying! Try finding it yourself before looking at the end of this message to see where it actually is. Unfortunately there is no search facility for journals – only for articles – so there is no option but to keep trying various categories until you find it. Are you planning to introduce a search function for the journal list? [answer to location of BIT: computer science – computer engineering]

Interestingly, I just got a very quick response from Vamshi saying “We are coming up with the new version LFM 3.1 , which will be going to release soon. In this version hope your all issues will be resolved.”. We shall see.

Personal vs Provided Systems

Today I tried to deal with three email alerts for BIT papers – two for new journal issues (Oct and Nov 2013) and one with some newly received papers. I had previously inspected the papers on my iPhone – a practice which I’m getting used to and finding quite feasible and effective. This despite the back arrows on the Taylor & Francis App no longer working reliably, requiring me to exit the App and re-enter to move to another paper – I shall have to seek advice from the T&F Help Desk for that. When I read a paper on the iPhone, if I decide I want to include it in my filing index, I mark it as a favourite in the App with a view to updating my index when I’m sitting at my PC.  So, today, going through the emails, I was checking the paper titles in the emails against the papers I’d marked as favourites in the iPhone, and I encountered two significant problems:

a)      For one of the papers I had mistakenly made two provisional entries in my index – I must have received two alerts for it at different stages in the acceptance process and when I received the second alert I hadn’t realised that there was already a provisional entry in my index for it. For this to have happened I must have failed to check for an entry in the Favourites section of the App – or maybe I had forgotten to put an entry in the Favourites section when I first saw the paper. This problem is due to the disconnect between the information sent in the emails and the information provided in the iPhone App. Ideally, I’d like to be able to include some information with each paper as it enters the acceptance process – and for that information to be shown presented every time I receive an email about the paper or when I look at the paper in the iPhone App.

b)      I’m finding it very difficult to match the papers in the emails to my index entries. This is because I haven’t been putting the exact title of the paper in the index – my practice up to now has been to put whatever text I want in the index to describe the item concerned. I’ve decided that in future I’m going to have to include the exact title otherwise the whole process is going to be too difficult and time consuming.

These two problems are symptomatic of the two systems (mine and the T&F alerting and App systems) having been designed independently and consequently being highly incompatible with one another. Of course, other users of the T&F system almost certainly operate in different ways and therefore the T&F system is likely to be incompable with many other personal systems. I contend that the best way to address this discrepancy would be to include some general purpose capability that can be moulded in different ways by different users. One such general purpose capability might be to enable each user to attach some personal annotations to each paper and for that private annotation to be presented each time the user sees the title or contents of the paper – regardless whether that is in an email or in the App. Of course there’s no guarantee that such a  solution would work for everyone – or in fact for anyone other than myself. The only way to be sure would be to investigate what all or some real users actually do. I wonder to what extent T&F performed  such a study.

Having completed the exercise of going through the two new issues of the journal, getting my index up to date, downloading copies of the papers for which I’ve made an entry in my index, deleting entries in the ‘Latest’ section of the App, etc., I feel a little exhausted. It was not a quick or pleasant experience – especially when having to deal with two new issues all at once. Overall, the switch from a paper version of BIT to an electronic version is, so far, taking up a lot more of my time and involving me in a lot of extra nugatory work.

All set to go with the new T&F App

Yesterday I finally got the Taylor & Francis App working on my iPhone after being advised I needed to delete all the history and the cookies in my iPhone browser. It looks as though it could be very useful as it will very quickly display the full text of all the latest articles that are published on the main website prior to final versions being produced and included in the Journal proper. Therefore, I will be alerted to new articles by email (which I can pick up on the iPhone) and should be able to quickly scan through them on the iPhone to see if they are of interest. For papers that I’m interested in, I make an entry in my filing index, so there will be a disconnect at that point when I will have to revert to the laptop. However, the ease of access to the papers and the easy-to-use facilities available to navigate through them, promise to make the whole business of initial scanning/reading of the paper a much quicker and easier process.

Another major issue I’ve had is to distinguish between papers I have already looked at and those I haven’t, when the email alerts come in. This is because the papers go through several stages before being included in the journal proper – and as they progress through each stage they are included in alert messages. The iPhone App may resolve this problem because it separates papers into two categories – Latest Articles and Accepted Author Versions. I’m hoping that I can restrict my viewing to just the Latest Articles section – though I’m not really clear on what is included under that heading – I need to try it out a little bit and will provide a further report when I’ve done so.

BIT collection given to Buckingham University Technical College

The advert for my collection of BIT journals went in the July edition of The Ergonomist and read as follows: “If you’d like to own the entire set of Behaviour & Information Technology Journal from Volume 1 (1982) – Volume 31 (2012) this is your chance. The collection is free to any individual or organisation that would like to give them a home. If you’re interested contact Paul Wilson at pwilsonofc@btinternet.com or phone on 01296-488-066”. However, it failed to produce any responses, so I finally asked the Aylesbury Reference Library if they might be interested. They weren’t – but gave me the phone number of the new Buckingham University Technical College based on the Aylesbury College campus on Oxford Road and opening this month. I duly phoned and was put in touch with Toby Payne, Head of Science, who was keen to have them. I delivered them earlier today – but discovered in the course of packing them that the following issues were missing in the otherwise complete collection from inception of the journal in 1982 to the end of 2012:

  • 1984, Vol 3, Numbers 3 and 4
  • 1985, Vol 5, Number 3
  • 1990, Vol 9, Number 3

I’m hoping the missing issues might be in one of the four boxes of papers I have yet to scan, and, if I do so, I’ll take them along to Toby to complete the set.

Ironically, after I got home from delivering the journals, I found an email from an Institute of Ergonomics member in Nigeria asking if they could have the journals…. an extraordinary coincidence!

My conclusion from all this is that demand for hardcopy journals is probably reducing substantially – but there are still some people out there who can find a use for them.

The T&F App

Over the last few days, I’ve been conducting an email correspondence with Taylor & Francis (T&F) about their iPhone and Tablet App.  The App seems to be primarily to enable people to search for, and save, selected papers to their mobile device and to be able to read them offline. T&F’s Alerting functionality is not included in the App. The App is activated by using a code to pair it with one’s username on the main T&F website, however, I’m having problems doing that – the App won’t accept the code I’ve been provided with. In the course of speaking to the Help Desk to resolve this issue, I’ve also started a conversation with the App’s development team who are apparently keen to hear about user requirements and behaviours. I’ll report on the App’s capabilities, and on what its like to read a paper on the iPhone, once I get my device pairing problem sorted.

Free – a hardcopy set of BIT!

Yesterday I completed the process of ensuring that I have electronic copies of all the papers for which I have made an entry in my index, and set about trying to find a home for my hardcopy collection. I first emailed a colleague to give him first refusal, but he already has access to a set. So I sent in a small advert for The Ergonomist – the monthly magazine issued by the Institute of Ergonomics and Human Factors. I’ll have to wait and see if anyone still wants hardcopy now that electronic documents and communication are firmly established in the world at large.

Reading papers – single or several?

I’ve just been catching up on three weeks of BIT Alert emails (3 new volumes and four new paper online alerts) which I haven’t been able to deal with due to other priorities. I’ve found it hard work to deal with the whole volumes – particularly those which include several papers I’m interested in and need to read and digest; and which had been received prior to  me getting Alerts. My rather obvious conclusion is that I would far rather receive the Alerts prior to publication so that dealing with a whole volume is essentially just a checking affair to match up the papers with what I had already dealt with via the Alerts. Having said that if there are several papers that I’m interested in in a single Alert the effect is just the same – its hard work going through several papers in a single session. As with most things, its easier to do things as they occur rather than dealing with a backlog. So I would prefer an Alert to be about a single paper and for it to be sent out immediately it is available for issue, rather than accumulating a number of papers for inclusion in a single Alert message. Having said that there are probably some people who would prefer to work the other way. Perhaps users should be given the option to choose their preferred way of working.

A problem with Alerts

In the last 5 days I’ve received five messages from BIT:

  • three alert messages giving advance notice of various papers accepted for BIT;
  • a message announcing the 2nd issue of BIT for 2013;
  • and another message announcing the 3rd issue of BIT for 2013.

Since I didn’t deal with them all immediately, I now find myself having to do a relatively substantial amount of work all at once. It would have been much better if these emails had been spaced out a little more. It certainly seems undesirable and unplanned to notify users of two whole issues of BIT within 4 days of each other. I presume that it was caused by problems in the production process. However, my view is that, as a matter of policy, notification of new issues should be spaced as far apart as possible.

Neither of the two issues contained papers I had already previously seen through the alerting process, so I reviewed their contents on screen – first checking the abstracts and then the full text if they looked interesting. As noted before, this experience was fine.

However, checking the alert messages was a little less satisfactory. Because several alert messages are sent out for the same paper as it goes through its reviewing and acceptance cycle, I wanted to establish if I had already checked a paper before spending time on reading it again. I’ve worked out that you can identify papers new to the alerting cycle by looking at the publishing history at the beginning of the paper. Basically, if it has more than one Posting/Publishing entry then one can assume an alert has previously been sent out. If this was the case, I double checked all the previous alert messages (stored in my mail system) that I had received. Once reassured that I had already seen the paper I was able to discount the alert and store the email. For the papers I had not already seen, I reviewed them in the same way as described above i.e. read the Abstract and then, if interested, downloaded and scanned/read the full text.

My current feeling is that the alerting process doesn’t quite meet my needs. I haven’t properly thought it through yet, but I suspect I would prefer to be able to specify my alerting requirements at a much finer level of detail i.e. for each of the standard stages in the reviewing and publishing cycle. I know that my choice would be to only get alerted the very first time a paper is made available online. I don’t believe such granular selection options are currently available.

One other thing has happened in the last week: as a result of a conversation between Dave O’Neil (the Chief Exec of the Institute of Ergonomics and Human Factors) and Taylor & Francis (the publisher of BIT), I now have online access to all back issues of BIT. So I am proceeding to download those issues referenced in my filing system, prior to then trying to find a home for all my hardcopy  issues of BIT.

Reading an Electronic Journal

I received notification of my first electronic-only volume of BIT a few days ago and have just finished going through it. The experience was fine. I upped the text size in my browser so it was easy to read and zipped through the papers in pretty much the same way and pace as I used to with the hardcopy. The main difference was that previously I might have gone through the hardcopy in bed and then, later, sat at my desk to index, download and store any of the papers I was interested in; whereas now I need to do all of that at my desk. It could be argued that I could read the papers elsewhere on an iPad and then go to my desk to do the indexing and storing; however, now that I’m accessing the papers directly from the web site, it seems more sensible to do the indexing and downloading as and when I’m doing the reading.

Anyway, overall the experience of receiving an electronic journal, reading it and filing papers I’m interested in, was fine – no problem. However, that is not how it will be going forward. Since I have elected to take alerts on papers as they are accepted into the journal, I will already have seen several if not all of the papers in the electronic editions of the journal that I receive in future. I will report on that after I have experienced it.