Editor in Chief Fei-Yue Wang discusses the recent IEEE Computer Society Magazine Operations Committee Workshop, the implications of new media for academic publishing, and the future of IEEE Intelligent Systems.
In the middle of last September, I went on a delightful trip to Seal Beach, California, for the IEEE Computer Society's Magazine Operations Committee (MOC) Workshop. The quiet, idyllic small town reminded me of my own childhood in Qingdao (or "green island," famous for its Tsingtao beer), a beautiful coastal city in northern China.
To my surprise, I found a dozen oil wells there. A colleague told me that this area could be a major oil field, but people here are more concerned with environmental protection than oil profits. Like Qingdao, Seal Beach has a fishing pier, and at its end, a five-minute walk from the shoreline, is a restaurant overlooking the sea. The pier was my favorite spot, so much so that I visited it three times in two days—dawn, morning, and night—to walk and to watch the local fishermen begin and end their day … so much like my hometown.
The only problem with the comparison is that Qingdao is no longer either small or idyllic. The momentum of the 2008 Summer Olympics' water-sports events catapulted the old fishing village into a reconstruction from which it emerged as a sprawling metropolis—a change I find somewhat incomprehensible.
In experiencing and reflecting upon these two different cities, I am confronted with a question: Should our magazine remain as it is now, or should we capitalize on the wave of new media and catapult it into new expansion?
At present, the IEEE CS manages 14 magazines and 12 transactions. The MOC Workshop is an annual gathering of magazine editors in chief and their editorial staff members. MOC Chair David Grier led this year's workshop; also in attendance was Sorel Reisman, the CS's current vice president for publications and its newly elected 2010 president-elect.
Besides addressing the state and future of our magazines, the main topic of discussion was the potential impact of new-media techniques on academic publications. During the meeting, everyone got a copy of Reisman's article "Changing the Publishing Model," published in the September/October 2009 issue of IT Professional and adapted from his May 2009 report "Strategic Directions for the IEEE Computer Society Publications Board" (more on this later).
We participated in two interesting exercises: creating themes for Computing Now (CN) and converting CS articles for Kindle. CN is a newly launched free public Web site (www.computer.org/cn) for CS magazine content, offering entry points to our magazines with the help of a few social-networking tools. The theme I generated for CN was social computing, based on Intelligent Systems' 2007 special issue on this topic. In the Kindle test, I tried to convert one of my Letters to a format readable on Kindle. For the most part, the conversion was successful; however, my pictorial captions ended up dispersed randomly within the Kindle document. In the near future, I hope that our magazines will be publishable directly onto e-readers such as Kindle, giving our readers immediate access to IEEE IS content at their convenience.
In his May 2009 report to the IEEE CS on strategic directions for publication, Reisman argued that major social changes are sweeping the publishing industry and that these changes have already caused great upheaval in traditional media. He explains that these changes have been driven by a public that has developed a preference for receiving information online, as well as an expectation that this content be available for free. Academic publishing is in danger of following the path of many of today's newspapers—either to the verge of disappearance or on the way to changing its form entirely—and thus must react quickly to sustain itself. Reisman calls for a change in the business model for IEEE CS publications: he proposes supplementing our current magazine-centric model with a domain-centric one, supported by social-networking tools online and special interest groups (SIGs) within the CS professional community.
However, Reisman notes two major conceptual barriers to implementing such a model. First, despite our significant efforts to become digital, our conception of what that entails is still far from that of our readers; we are still very much document oriented, delivering information in a traditional fashion. Our stance is still reactive rather than interactive, passive instead of proactive. Second, the great diversity and number of topics make it hard for our members to receive the content they want in a single publication. For example, Computer simply cannot cover all the information you might want on computers. There is also significant content overlap among our publications. At this point, if members want to pursue a topic of interest fully, they might have to pay additional fees to subscribe to the digital library or to more journals.
Reisman proposes two solutions to overcome the conceptual barriers: the first is a challenge to rethink the way we perceive publishing, and the second is a summons, calling us to action. He calls the challenge "New Formats for New Times": Reisman explains that to address the digital generation and its needs, we should present online academic content as just-in-time information, delivered in a multimedia format with the support of social-networking tools. An example of this is Jove, the Journal of Visualized Experiments, to which I was first introduced at the March 2009 IEEE Panel of Editors meeting in Atlanta, Georgia. In the second proposal, Reisman suggests that we reuse our intellectual property by creating domains of common interest. In addition to subscribing to individual magazines, readers could also subscribe to various online domains. Each domain denotes a topic and draws its content from all of our existing publications such as magazines, transactions, and proceedings. Therefore, the domain model requires no new content or publications; rather, it is a sort of reorganization and reprocessing. CN is the Society's first effort in this direction.
Reisman concludes his report with a list of seven possible action items that the CS should consider to begin planning changes to its publication model, warning that the convergence of several factors could lead to a "perfect storm" that would threaten the existence of our publishing business. In fact, Reisman says in his abridged article, "We must move quickly, deliberately, and intelligently to avoid the kind of disaster that seems to be befalling the newspaper industry. If we don't take action now, we may not have much of a future."
In the face of so many challenges, what should we do at IEEE Intelligent Systems?
At present, IS is in great shape in terms of its quality and influence; the need for change is not yet imminent. However, we must realize that our world has been changed and is still changing now. Within our capacity, we at IS must react to those social and technical shifts to maintain our lead as a publication of high quality and serve our professional community effectively.
With this in mind, I'd like to follow the CN approach and consider the possibility of creating "Intelligent Systems Now" (ISN) as an online front-end promotional Web site with various Web 2.0 tools for all materials published in IS. This would include
• extensive use of new-media techniques, the intelligent-systems domain, and SIGs, as suggested by Reisman;
• integration of all IS-related publications and conferences; and ultimately,
• outreach to other AI and IS organizations.
We can consider the influx of new media as a means to help improve IS, raising it to a higher level of quality, effectiveness, and influence. With help from our authors, readers, Editorial Board members, reviewers, and members of the professional community, we are confident that the future of IS will be a bright and successful one.
At the end of September, I was invited to stay at the Grand Hyatt Beijing Hotel near Tiananmen Square to celebrate the 60th anniversary of New China. At the end of October, I came to the Grand Hyatt New York near Times Square for the ACM Council Meeting. The differences in facilities, services, and amenities between two Grand Hyatt hotels highlighted an important fact for me: that there is indeed an advantage to later development.
At that meeting, I learned that the ACM had just created a new publication, ACM Transactions on Intelligent Systems and Technology, and that Qiang Yang, of our Editorial Board, will be its founding editor in chief. I am happy about this new development because I believe that ACM TIST will be complementary to our IEEE Intelligent Systems.
Actually, this reminds me of my unsuccessful suggestion years ago for an intelligent systems journal: When the IEEE Robotics and Automation Society (founded by my PhD advisor George N. Saridis) wanted to split IEEE Transactions on Robotics and Automation into two publications—one on robotics and the other on automation science and engineering—I suggested including "intelligent systems" in the title. That is, instead of IEEE Transactions on Robotics, it would be IEEE Transactions on Robotics and Intelligent Systems. Unfortunately, the idea was not accepted. Now it is great to see that the ACM has launched an academic journal in intelligent systems.
Selected CS articles and columns are also available for free at http://ComputingNow.computer.org.