Issue No. 04 - July/August (2008 vol. 12)
DOI Bookmark: http://doi.ieeecomputersociety.org/10.1109/MIC.2008.74
Dejan Milojicic , HP Labs
The IEEE Computer Society (CS) recently launched Computing Now (CN; http://computingnow.computer.org), a single portal for all 14 CS magazines. CN features individual articles; themes based on editors' top picks, such as gaming or agile development; editors' blogs; news feeds; and multimedia content, such as interviews, podcasts, webinars, and videos. CN is updated more frequently than magazines are issued, and users with IEEE Web accounts can comment on the content. CN is an attempt to expose the traditional peer-reviewed content you can find in CS magazines to users in the more collaborative style of social networks and Web 2.0. Our hope is to build a Web site that merges all the tradition and rigor of peer reviewing with social networks' scale and dynamics.
I've been engaged with the CS for the past two decades as a reader, author, reviewer, chair of technical committees and symposia, and editor of magazines and interviews. However, nothing has excited me as much as the opportunities CN presents. When I applied for the CN editor position, CN had no name, shape, or vision — only the CS staff's intuition that this was the next direction in which magazines needed to go. My colleagues were surprised by my interest, given that it didn't have the stature of a typical "editor in chief" role. So, what got me so excited?
Subscriptions to most magazines, transactions, and journals — published by not only the IEEE but also the ACM and other organizations — are declining. Usenix, for example, gave up on its Computer Systems journal a long time ago, retaining only a newsletter for that audience. Various organizations have experimented with moving publications online, sometimes even pushing hard, but without significant success so far.
The CS has tried various models, including most recently IEEE Distributed Systems Online, but wasn't entirely satisfied, although that publication had some successes in attracting an audience. A lack of IT support or financial sustainability — sometimes both — indicated that we needed something new.
I saw a tremendous opportunity for the CS to finally catch up with the rest of the community that's living and breathing Web 2.0, social networking, and global knowledge. Could we finally rejuvenate CS publications' one-way, broadcast model into two-way communication between authors and the community?
Many of my colleagues have stopped publishing journal papers because they consider it a write-only medium: they publish a paper, but almost nobody reads it thereafter. Instead, they publish at conferences, with immediate community feedback. So, I started asking myself, what if we could let every reader comment on CS articles, possibly even on every article stored in the CS Digital Library (as the editorial board of IEEE Computer Graphics & Applications magazine suggested)? Could we move the Digital Library closer to the Wikipedia model without losing the academic rigor of traditional reviews? Can we leverage this approach to harness new ideas and critiques and fight plagiarism? Not an easy task, but the opportunities are mind-boggling.
CN could provide even more opportunities for hosting useful services for its community, bringing in the best projects from student contests and the best courses for educating engineers, and gathering wisdom from researchers and practitioners worldwide. Can we convert a mostly static operation into a vibrant community — a Wikipedia for not only content but also computer science services?
When CN takes off, I can see it becoming a Facebook, LinkedIn, or MySpace equivalent for the CS. Let's open up authoring and feedback to our whole community. To accomplish this, however, we must first identify our users' real needs.
For example, I can imagine professors creating lectures by mashing up papers from the Digital Library, annotating them, and assigning homework using a CN online service. Similarly, for computer science professionals, we can create an appropriate-level course on Ruby on Rails ( www.rubyonrails.org), packaged with books, papers, tools, and a chat room to answer questions.
Today and Next Steps
We've set some modest yet exciting goals for CN, leveraging efforts across all IEEE CS magazines and bringing together articles, columns, and departments in a unified fashion. Much as IT is consolidated in industry, we're consolidating resources and efforts from all IEEE CS magazines: doing more with less.
For CN's first issue, we went through the CS's recent publications to identify hot topics and interesting articles. We chose to highlight articles on computing gaming from Computer and IEEE Computer Graphics & Applications. For the June issue, we've selected articles on agile development from IEEE Software and Computer. In addition, we spotlight the latest articles from other magazines on hot topics such as green computing, robotics, and social networking. We've also consolidated book reviews from different magazines, and we'll do the same for the standards and education departments in forthcoming issues.
Volunteer editors write weekly blogs on technical topics, such as cloud computing. Free articles rotate weekly, and newsfeeds update daily. Multimedia content is consolidated from all magazines, including webinars, podcasts, and video.
We're also starting a newsletter, which will be another way for readers to receive CN content. We're looking into creating online communities and enabling optional automatic enrollment based on member profiles. We're also exploring how to enable tagging of CN and, subsequently, content from the Digital Library. We plan to develop a way to automatically include magazines' top downloaded articles each month and are developing more convenient user interfaces for CN contributors that will let them more effectively package articles and add content to the CN portal. Ultimately, we'll reach out to IEEE CS transactions and technical committees, but we must first demonstrate CN's value using magazines.
In short, the ideas that volunteers and staff have generated are limited only by the bandwidth of the CS IT staff.
IT Support, Business Model, and Policies
One reason previous CS attempts with online content failed was due to insufficient IT support. The CS was focusing primarily on delivering high-quality print content, while support for online editing, multimedia content, communities, and other features so common in academia and technical communities was insufficient. This resulted in inconvenience for volunteers and staff and, ultimately, in reduced and infrequently updated content for users.
With CN, IT support was a priority for all of us. The new, experienced IT staff is using the Liferay portal and preconfigured portlets, outsourcing some Web page designs and doing some in house.
Each IEEE publication has a financial statement — they cost money to produce (staff, editing, printing, editorial board meetings, and so on), and earn money through subscriptions (individual, corporate, library, and Digital Library). Intuitively, online publications have reduced costs (no physical printing, although content design costs remain). However, justifying subscriptions is also somewhat harder: typically, most online content is free these days, so revenue streams are based on advertisements. CN features ads on the home page, newsletter, and through webinars. To make this possible, IT has helped us better understand Web traffic and use these analytics to adapt our content. All profits from CN go back into making it better for its readers.
The type of self-regulation and self-moderation used on Wikipedia and sites with interactive online content, such as Yahoo and CNN, still isn't accepted within the CS. CN is one of the first efforts to help chart policies for the CS in this regard. We write them by doing and develop them as we go. For example, a simple but effective rule is to enable posting comments only to those who log in with a Web account. As we build our IT support, we envision categories of general users who haven't logged on, Web account users (Web accounts are free), and member users. Members will benefit from single-sign-on across all IEEE Web sites and will be able to access more free online content, participate in communities, and receive increased automated access.
How Can You Help?
We want to hear from you, and we'll listen carefully. Which articles do you want to see more of? What features? Read our About page ( http://computingnow.computer.org/about) and tell us what else you'd like to read. Would you like to see a package of best articles about security? An interview with a professor or a CTO of company Y? Would you like to get discounts on membership or book purchases?
We see CN as a journey together: IEEE CS staff, volunteers, and, foremost, our readership. We're starting with modest goals, but we have high ambitions, the highest being to serve you as a professional, student, or fellow computer scientist. Let's make Computing Now a success for you. Please log in and post your comments, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article is based on a blog posted at http://computingnow.computer.org.
Dejan Milojičić is a senior research manager at HP Labs. He has worked in the area of operating systems and distributed systems for more than 20 years. Milojičić has a PhD in computer science from the University of Kaiserslautern. He is a member of the ACM, the IEEE, and Usenix. Contact him at dejan. email@example.com.