SuperJournal  is studying the factors that will make electronic journals successful. What features and functionalities should be present in electronic journals to deliver real value to the academic community, and what are the implications for publishers and libraries? This article gives a brief update on the project research and the early results.
The objective of the research is to answer the question: What do readers really want from electronic journals? The problem is that if you ask them the question directly, they can't answer it. They need hands-on experience using electronic journals to provide a context for their views and opinions. The project has therefore adopted the following method:
To guide the research, we developed lists of hypotheses that could be tested in the following areas:
Manchester Computing developed the SuperJournal electronic journal application, which contains clusters of journals contributed by participating publisher. To date three clusters have been launched: Communication & Cultural Studies (CCS), Molecular Genetics & Proteins (MGP), and Political Science (PS), and a further cluster will be launched early in 1998: Materials Chemistry (MC). All clusters are available to the ten participating university sites, though baseline studies and promotion have been targeted at sites and departments where we felt there would be greatest interest. Access is password protected, all usage is logged, and the resulting logfiles are analysed in detail.
The baseline studies allowed us to explore with readers their initial views on electronic journals and what they thought would be important features. The following potential benefits were mentioned most frequently by readers in the sciences and humanities:
Users in the sciences also mentioned the following:
Users in the humanities also mentioned the following:
So already we're building a list of the features that readers think will be important. Now that they have access to the electronic journals, we're looking at how they use the journals to see if usage patterns support their initial wish list.
SuperJournal has been available to eight of the user sites for a year, and to two newer sites for four months. Over this time period, 1,770 users have registered, and in a typical month there might be 350-450 user sessions. We're just starting to analyse usage and map out patterns. These work will be followed up with interviews to explain the behaviour behind the usage patterns. So far the following initial trends have been observed:
We're now studying the logfiles in detail to see how users really use the journal clusters, what features they use, how often, and why. Watch this space or visit the SuperJournal Web site over the coming months to find out what we learn!